Category Archives: Black lighting
I know, I haven’t even finished my stories about the Texas trip, and now I’ve gone to Colorado for more moth and caterpillar wrangling! All the pictures and stories will keep me busy for a while. Recently got home after a week of beautiful mountain views, black lighting, caterpillar hunting, rainstorms, great people, visiting collections, and spending time with my aunt (who lives in Boulder) as an added bonus. My mom accompanied me for part of the trip, and was a great sport about helping me find collecting locations.
I started by flying into Denver late Thursday night (a trip fraught with nearly missing flights, booking the wrong hotel, and a long but interesting cab ride). I met up with my advisor in the morning and we hashed out our plans. Nearly everything had to be improvised due to the weather and who could meet with us. Before I had started grad school this approach would have sent me into a panic attack, but by now the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-approach (championed by both my advisor and my boyfriend) is standard. We visited several collaborators, hunted for caterpillars, and set up sheets at night before parting ways – I stayed a few extra days to be with my family.
Here are some highlights from the trip. You will notice a severe lack of caterpillars – there were hardly any to be found! Not sure if it was the weather or the time of year?
I had a wonderful time in Colorado, and really hope it’s not too long before I can visit again. Besides, next time I need to get some female Acronicta and some eggs!
Happy egg dance
On Saturday night I joined a bunch of entomologists for the 5th Annual Moth Ball in Massachusetts. Lights, sheets, cameras, beer, hotdogs, snacks, and tents for staying overnight. What could be better?
I was also on a mission. One species my advisor has been telling me I need to get ahold of is Acronicta hastulifera. As an adult it is nearly indistinguishable from Acronicta dactylina, though their caterpillars are quite different. The best way to make an ID, then, would be to catch a caterpillar and rear it to adulthood, or to get eggs from a female and raise the caterpillars. This is not always easy to do.
I found a few Acronicta females at the moth ball, nothing terribly exciting. Though it wasn’t long before a friend of mine approached with the grand prize in his hands (from a nearby sheet): Acronicta hastulifera. A big fat female! Success! The rest of the night paled in comparison to that moment.
When I awoke in my tent the next morning (after only a few hours of sleep), the first thing I did was check her container for eggs. About a dozen big green eggs dotted the sides of the vial. Woohoo! Last night I set her up in a larger container, and she really let loose. I estimate 200+ eggs.
At first I was a little worried that all of the eggs were remaining green. With other species that is sometimes a sign they are infertile. But once they gain some spots and other coloration, you know the larva is developing inside. Like this:
I hadn’t seen a spot pattern quite like that before (the things on top are the mother’s scales).
Now I must be patient and wait for them to hatch. Most Acronicta eggs take five or six days. I’ll be ready with some Alder (their favorite food), and my camera to get pics of the little ones.
Better than Christmas
I came home tonight to find this at my door:
I could hardly contain my excitement – the box was holding my order from Bioquip, the entomological supply company! Last year I received a small grant to purchase supplies, and with the field season approaching, I finally made up my mind on what to buy.
Some of the loot: field pinning box, forceps, iris scissors, 000 pins, collapsible net, AC/DC blacklight and protector tube, and a portable battery pack.
The jackpot – my very own mercury vapor light!
I’m tempted to get some stickers made with my name and contact info, I’m going to be protective of these bad boys. Will probably make some padded carrying cases too, might as well put my sewing skills to good use.
I’m in the process of writing several travel grant proposals, as well as some collecting permit applications. I can’t wait for the snow to melt and for the moths to come out to play! They don’t stand a chance.
National Moth Week
My blogging has been delinquent – I never got around to talking about National Moth Week last week!
The very first National Moth Week was July 23-29, celebrated by gatherings all over the country. This map shows just how popular this event was, and there were probably even more gatherings not officially registered.
The week is designed to allow more public participation in entomology, and to raise awareness of moths and other night-time denizens. It really is amazing what you can see at a blacklighting sheet at night – it’s like a whole new world.
So of course, our lab organized an event. About 20 people attended, ranging from seasoned scientists to enthusiastic amateur naturalists. I brought along a few students from my field entomology class, and they were able to catch a lot of great specimens for their collections. Overall the night was a lot of fun, and a big success. Next year I will try to plan an even bigger and more elaborate outing.
We had two lights set up, and went on a few excursions into the darkness with our headlamps as well.
Here is one of the mercury vapor light set-ups.
The infamous Bug Girl joined us as well! She brought a bucket-full of goodies, included a massive plastic caterpillar and the best bug goggles ever (picture by Ben G.). I haven’t worn the goggles to class yet, but I probably will. It’s a good look for me, right?
A cute little moth who joined us (and probably ended up in a killing jar).
We got some caterpillars too! This is one that I am studying, Acronicta increta.
And these pictures are just for fun – we saw a lot of predation! Especially by spiders. Here are a few spiders chowing down on insects:
(Second photo by Ben G.)
I am already excited for moth week next year!
Tools of the trade
Sometimes an insect is just out of your reach. What to do?
Screw together your handy-dandy extendable butterfly net, of course.
This photo is of a moth collecting colleague of mine, going after a polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus). He got it!
Sometimes we check out the security lights around gas stations and warehouses (with permission) to catch the moths attracted to the lights. On one hand it’s quite depressing that these lights affect the ecosystem so much and attract so many moths. But on the other hand, it makes it easy for us to encounter interesting and rare species without the effort of setting up our own light.
I experimented with a bit of “moon writing” last night. Basically using a long exposure (4 seconds) and moving my camera to create shapes with the light of the moon. I am sure there are plenty of people out there who have fancy cameras and are experts at this sort of thing.
But with a little point-and-shoot, I was able to create one letter at a time, through trial and error. Then I put the letters together with photoshop.
Watching a blacklighting sheet for moths is sort of like watching a pot of water boil. Sometimes it is best to wander off and stop fussing over it. So while I was waiting for moths last night, I played with my camera.
Made this for my boyfriend!
At the sheet
Here are some of my favorite shots from blacklighting last night.
Moths and other insects swarming around the light.
A pretty golden eyed lacewing (family Chrysopidae)- I haven’t seen one of these insects in a while.
A cute little mantisfly (family Mantispidae)! I love these guys. Who can resist those mischievous eyes and raptorial forelegs?
I called this moth the “fuzzy monster”. I’m having a hard time identifying this one, since I only got a shot of the legs and not the tops of the wings. Any guesses?
Insects are yummy
Especially to spiders!
This is the goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, with what appears to be a June beetle in the genus Maladera or Serica.
And a beautiful nursery web spider in the genus Pisaurina, with a beat-up moth I couldn’t ID.
I went blacklighting last night with a group of entomologists, looking for more Acronicta females. I got a few, as well as some males of Acronictinae species I had never caught before – so that was exciting. And of course, I wandered off to explore the insect life in the woods at night. These two spiders were caught in the midst of dinner – we tried to photograph them without disturbing them too much. The second one was close to the sheet, taking advantage of the fact that we had attracted so many moths.
Why are there cockroaches in the trees?
Last week I went black-lighting with a few lab-partners-in-crime. I didn’t get many Acronicta (seems to be a theme this summer) but we had fun exploring the woods at night.
One thing we pondered… what’s with all the cockroaches in the trees? Here is a youngster.
This adult was calmly grooming her legs and antennae.
There seemed to be a cockroach on every stump (a lot of beaver damage in the forest) and one or two per tree trunk. I think they are beautiful little animals (as long as they are not in my kitchen), so it was quite fun! Just… unexpected.
Here are some other things we saw…
A cool caterpillar nibbling on lichen.
A geometrid caterpillar trying really hard to be a twig.
There were many beautiful leopard slugs in the trees as well. I would love to catch some mating one day! That scene from Life in the Undergrowth is one of my favorites of all time. Check it out HERE. Your life will never be the same.
Many of the june beetles were mating. I think they look sort of like little turtles.
Overall, we had a fun night! Though, while drinking from lab vials, I realized I am allergic to gin. Afterwards I learned that it runs in my family. Oops! My throat got really sore and started to close up, but I recovered.