Just back from a long road trip to Ohio to attend this year’s Mothapalooza, a most interesting and fun event held every two years with moth aficionados from all over the country, and wanted to share some of the story and photos with this latest blog posting. Rebecca and I had a wonderful time at the 2017 Mothapalooza and were quick to sign up for the 2019 event, this time reserving a cabin at the Shawnee Lodge & Conference Center near Portsmouth OH and deciding months ago to drive rather than fly from Albuquerque. We’d take 4 1/2 days driving through Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky on our way there, and then 2 1/2 days driving home a somewhat different route through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Along the way, we’d stop to look for butterflies at a number of promising spots. Our route also took us through Carbondale, IL, where I’d gone to college nearly 50 years ago but hadn’t been back since, and we had an unexpectedly entertaining evening the night we stayed in Frankfort, KY.
Our main butterfly target was the Regal Fritillary that is only found in a few remaining patches of tallgrass prairie in the midwest, has pretty much disappeared from the eastern US, and is currently under review for threatened or endangered status. After spending our first night in Tulsa OK, we spent most of the next day exploring several protected areas of tallgrass prairie in southwest Missouri. Finally, just after we pulled into the fourth location toward the end of the day we got a look at a single individual nectaring on an aging bergamot flower. I only had time to get a single photo and for Rebecca to run over to get a quick look before it flew off and disappeared.We poked around for probably another hour hoping to get a better look or maybe to find another one, and might have had one do a quick fly-by, but that was going to be it for this trip. Cool, nonetheless, #471 on my US Butterfly LIfelist!
That day and on several others we’d get good looks at the more common (across the northern US) Great Spangled Fritillary.The trip was pretty good, too, for seeing a number of swallowtail species that we rarely or never see at home including Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, and Spicebush Swallowtail. Similar in appearance on the underside, but a brushfoot rather than a swallowtail, were a number of sightings of Red-spotted Purple. Several places had good numbers of Question Mark and Eastern Comma butterflies…we sometimes see Question Mark and a few other comma butterflies at home, but never Eastern Comma whose range doesn’t come this far west. One of the more wooded, shady areas we visited in Missouri early in the trip had lots of both of those species along with quite a few Tawny Emperor and Hackberry Emperor. We’ll occasionally see Hackberry Emperor, but rarely in such good condition as this one from that day. Too common here and a little discouraging to see at a rest stop in Kentucky (we’d hoped to see a few more unusual species of small gold skippers), but still posing for a nice photo was a Fiery Skipper. During our day outings in Ohio and then in Kansas on the way home (where we’d take another shot at that Regal Fritillary at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve), we’d see good numbers of Common Wood-Nymph, a species that is not quite as colorful in New Mexico and we hadn’t seen yet this year. Highlight of that stop in Kansas, however, was this Eastern Collared Lizard, posing on a rock wall.
Lots of good damselflies, dragonflies, and other insects on the trip, too. (If you’re wondering, I’m getting to those moths…keep reading), including the Ebony Jewelwing,a Halloween Pennant, and this wacky-looking critter, the first I’ve ever seen, an Owlfly.
The Mothapalooza kicked off on Friday night with registration, a number of presentations, and other activities basically keeping everybody busy until 10:00 pm, when it’s finally dark enough for the moths to start showing up at all the spots folks have set up their UV lamps (often bright mercury vapor lamps) and white sheets. There were maybe 8 such set-ups among the 25 cabins where we were staying and a few more in various habitats around the state park that one could visit by driving or taking shuttle vans. This goes on all night or at least until about 2:00 or 3:00 am. Somehow, especially wandering around in the dark between light displays reminds one of trick-or-treating on Halloween or sometimes of zombies from “Night of the Living Dead”. The next day, most folks catch up on their sleep, head off on a field trip looking for birds, butterflies, flowers, and various other critters before a conference dinner, more presentations, and basically killing time again before looking at moths from 10:00 pm until early the next morning. Always a tradeoff for me in trying to stay awake vs staying up longer, and of course, the moths just get better as the night goes by. On top of all these cool moths, plenty of other insects (such as that owlfly above) are attracted by the lights, and at one of the spots the people pointed out some cicadas on the side of a tree that were molting, a multi-hour process of leaving their nymph shell behind as they emerge as flying adults – fascinating to watch and something I’d never seen before.
So, what kinds of moths did we see those two nights? Well, there were some that looked a bit strange such as the “cigar butt” or Yellow-necked Caterpillar Moth,and some that closely resemble bird droppings. There are actually a few species whose common names are “Bird-Dropping Moth”; this isn’t one but seems to be shooting for the same idea, the delightfully-named Beautiful Wood-Nymph. This one seemed quite unusual, but turned out to be a Lesser Grapevine Looper, common over much the eastern US. Others looked much more like what I’ve always though of as moths, but quite interesting to see all the details under those bright lights and up close, including the Lesser Maple Spanworm, Banded Tussock Moth, Basswood Leafroller, Tulip-tree Beauty, and what I think is a Lunate Zale. And there was this one, the Glorious Habrosyne, with incredibly detailed markings. By the way, I need to acknowledge Rebecca’s amazing help in identifying most of these moths and the input of the local experts that pointed some of them out to us or told us what they were.
We’d also see some of those big, colorful, and iconic species, such as the Luna Moth,Polyphemus Moth, and Tulip-tree Silkmoth. Other incredibly cool big ones included the Imperial Moth, Regal Moth, and one we’ve seen in New Mexico, the Io Moth. The Io Moth is hiding some serious eyespots it sometimes lets you see when it opens those wings a bit. We had several different species of Sphinx Moth appear during those night visits, including the truly striking Pandorus Sphinx, the Blinded Sphinx, and the Walnut Sphinx. Several Virginia Creeper Sphinx and an Azalea Sphinx also showed up, but you get the idea. (Other pictures from the trip are on my webpage at http://sandianet.com/midwest/index.htm .)
A few more fun ones…the Rosy Maple, one I’d hoped to see at the 2017 event, turned out to be rather common then and at this year’s event.The Giant Leopard Moth, quite classy-looking, and usually with its wings closed. This one was flopping around in the light and most surprisingly, this shot froze that action and got a look at what’s under those wings. Surprisingly, since it seemed the default flash settings on my camera easily froze the action in several of my moth photos, while I’ve rarely been able to do that with birds, butterflies, or moths during the daytime despite working the camera settings to that end….hmmm, maybe I should try the flash during the day?
Almost as if it was pre-planned (and maybe it was?), on the way out of the Lodge after the closeout presentation on Sunday morning there on the wall was a Black Witch everybody had to stop and photograph.Fun roadtrip for sure, but time to get back out there to see what’s been showing up around here the last few weeks.