National Moth Week: A global celebration of moths and biodiversity

Conservation // July 18, 2018

By Kris Soffa

While you’re sleeping each night, the Wissahickon Valley Park is brimming with activity, as nocturnal creatures large and small perform their nightly rituals. Deer and other mammals set out to complete their appointed rounds crossing from parkland to neighboring yards and back. Birds and bats take flight. And the woods become alive with moths.

The number of known moths outnumbers butterflies by nearly 10 to one. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, and some are important pollinators. For these reasons and more, it’s no wonder that Friends of the Wissahickon’s Moth Nights are so popular among birders, scientists, and nature lovers of all kind.

During these hikes, we attract moths with three kinds of lures: two kinds of light lures and one sexy pheromone lure made with my top secret “3B moth bait” recipe. I’ll let you in on my special ingredient: beer. Moths love microbrews. The sweet mixture attracts moths that are not attracted to light, and we paint it on tree trunks.

At dusk, we gather at the Wissahickon Education Center’s Tree House for a short orientation. I share samples from my mounted specimen collection (a portion of which I’ve donated to The Academy of Natural Sciences, which curates the world’s largest research collection of its kind.) Once darkness falls we go outside and approach the lures quietly to check if we have any visitors. By covering our flashlight lens with red cellophane, we can get closer without startling the moths. Moonless, calm humid nights seem to be the best weather for mothing.

We’ve discovered that Sphinx moths are willing to perch on fingers and shirts as they are identified and photographed. It’s exciting to see them begin to shiver and pump up their wings, signaling that they’re preparing to fly. Their thorax is so big and heavy they need a pre-flight warm up!

In the Wissahickon, bears can turn into tigers! The iconic Wooly Bear caterpillar, that is. And in spring, it emerges from its cocoon as a lovely Isabella Tiger moth.

We celebrate the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths during National Moth Week, in the last full week of July. You can register here to become a citizen scientist “moth-er” with us as we learn about, observe, and document moths once again this year at the Wissahickon Environmental Center’s fifth annual Moth Night. This is an opportunity to participate in a unique nighttime activity and discover more about these fascinating insects.