Finding August's Moths at Night
A beautiful reason to wander the woods at night.
Mar 4, 2008 Jeff Smith
The Darling, Catocala cara
Dembinsky Photo Associates
Finding the Underwing
Vibrant stripes on the hind wing give the underwing family - the largest family of moths in Michigan - its name. They flourish in August, but they generally don't flock to lights. We asked Traverse City's bug-meister Duke Elsner, of Michigan State University Extension, to share tips for the hunt.
1. Find a hardwood forest; the more oaks and fewer pines the better.
2. Paint moth lure (see recipe below) on a number of good-sized trees around dusk.
3. Head back at night with a headlamp and shine the little guys (average 1- to 3-inch wingspan).
4. To collect, catch in a jar and put in a cooler with ice packs, then freeze them at home.Lure
Duke Elsner uses a gooey lure painted on trees to attract moths that don't go to a light. His recipe is from The Moth Book,
by W.J. Holland, originally published in 1903. With writerly flair, the excerpt below explains the simple mixture and technique:Here we have a bucket and a clean whitewash brush. We have put into the bucket four pounds of cheap sugar. Now we will pour in a bottle of stale beer and a little rum. We will have stirred the mixture well. … We will pass from tree to tree and apply the brush charged with the sweet semi-intoxicating mixture to the trunks of the trees. The task is accomplished! … Let us wash our sticky fingers in the brook and dry them with our handkerchiefs. Let us sit down on the grass beneath this tree and puff a good Havana.What's up with these names?
Who named the underwings, and did the namer(s) have relationship issues? You decide with this sampler of moth monikers: The tearful underwing, the gloomy underwing, the dejected underwing, the graceful underwing, the darling underwing, the betrothed, the sweetheart, the bride, the wife, the once-married underwing, the polygamist, the wayward nymph, and yes, the penitent. - Courtesy Duke ElsnerAfraid of butterflies and moths?
Share your angst in a forum: ihatebutterflies.com. From one entry: "There's a big bush next to my house, and the other day I counted 10 tiger swallowtails there! Needless to say, I stayed inside."
Jeff Smith is editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.