Moths and lights seem to go together. Leave a porch light on, and it is soon surrounded by moths. Light a fire, and they circle endlessly until engulfed by flames. Moths seem to be drawn by light like a kids to brownies, but they're not.
Moths use the light of the moon to fly in a straight line. They simply keep the moon in the same spot ahead of them as they fly. This keeps the moth going in the same direction.
Fires and lights outshine the moon and mess up the moth's navigation. The moths try to keep the light in the same spot, like they would with the moon, and end up flying in circles around it.
The Waved Sphinx Moth has wavy lines that help it blend in to tree bark in the daytime.
Photo by Jeff Tome
Moths often end up resting under porch lights, though no one is sure why. Some think they exhaust themselves flying around the lights. Others think that the lights are so bright that the moths think it is daytime and shut down for the day.
When I camp, we often check under the lights on restrooms and look for the moths that are there. It started out as a way to keep my daughter, an incorrigible early riser, from waking up everyone in the campsite with morning chatter. It's ended up being an adventure that takes us from place to place in the campground looking under every light. It's amazing the color and diversity of moths that show up. There are pink ones, green ones, yellow ones and more.
I don't know many of the moths, but we have fun just looking at all the different ones that are out there. The new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America has 1,500 of the most common moths in it and was sponsored by the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. That's right. The book has 1,500 different moths in it along with instructions on how to attract them.
They are easily attracted to lights, of course, but they also love sugar and booze. There is a recipe with bananas, sugar, molasses and beer that works well to attract moths. The mixture is blended together and painted on the sides of trees. At night, the moths come to dine and can be found hanging out drinking in the forest with their friends.
Moths are attracted to some of the same things as me: a cozy campfire at night and a cold beer. Bananas are pretty great too.
In fact, Audubon is hosting a moth program that even a moth would love. There will be a cozy campfire, locally brewed beer from the Southern Tier Brew Company (or wine or soda, if you prefer), and moths. We will mix up moth bait and set up black lights to attract them so you can see some of the 1,500 moths that share our world.
The moths may not care for it, but there will also be music with Jamie Haight, which you will love. Jamie is a musician and entomologist who plays solo acoustic guitar, everything from classic rock to modern hits. There will be music by the campfire before he leads the group on a moth expedition into the sanctuary.
The program is called "Music, Moths and Moonlight" and is taking place Thursday at 8:30 p.m. It costs $18; $14 for Friends of the Nature Center. Each admission includes two beverage tickets for either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages.
Pre-registration is required before Tuesday, and there is a minimum number so tell your friends to register too.
"Music, Moths and Moonlight" kicks off National Moth Week, which provides a much-needed spotlight on moths and their ecological importance as well as their incredible biodiversity. National Moth Week is July 20-28.
Jeff Tome is Senior Naturalist at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary.
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily and the trails are open from dawn to dusk. More information can be found on our website, jamestownaudubon.org, by calling 569-2345, or by stopping in.