Mad about mothing – the OTHER winged beauty

by Diane Lepage // FWG Butterfly Meadow Coordinator

Macaria promiscuata – Promiscuous Angle Moth. Photo by Diane Lepage.

Moths are very interesting creatures that are worth paying attention to. My interest for those beautiful and sometimes oddly shaped moths started in my early adulthood, and increased when I got my first digital camera. It was originally the Silkworm moth family, such as the Luna moth,   my attention and made me pursue this hobby. For me, it became a serious interest and some would say a passion! With over 1500 species in Canada, I was sure to be busy for a long time looking for all those beautiful moths.

Haploa lecontei – Leconte’s Haploa. Photo by Diane Lepage.

White Furcula. Photo by Diane Lepage.

Moths can be a most fascinating creature, coming in a wide variety of sizes and colours which could surprise you. Often people consider them as nothing more than a drab nuisance and even ugly. In fact, many moths are as beautiful as butterflies and some are even more impressive. The macro moths are the most observed mainly because they are more visible, but the world of micro moths must not be ignored. For the longest time, I was paying little attention to the micro moths, but with more books being published and more to come on micro moths, they have captured my interest. If you look closely with a magnifying class you will discover very interesting patterns and colours.

Eudryas grata – Beautiful Wood-Nymph. Photo by Diane Lepage.

Not all moths are nocturnal but for most part they are. You can see some flying during the daytime in the fields, meadows, along the side of the road and sometimes in the city. Moths are attracted to three types of stimuli: the pheromones (a chemical) released by other moths; light sources such as the moon, fires or street lights; and by food. They don’t just fly around attractants but land – I’ve seen some moths at night on the walls of towers in downtown Ottawa under the strong lights.

The Gem – Orthonama obstipata. Can you spot it?Photo by Diane Lepage.

Hypoprepia fucosa – Painted Lichen Moth. Not all moths are camouflage-coloured. Photo by Diane Lepage.

If someone wishes to have a better chance to observe moths I suggest you invest in a black light. You will also need a white sheet, rope and battery to power your light. You need to set up half an hour before it gets dark and you can stay for many hours in front of the sheet in amazement at the moths and insects that come throughout the night. Some will come at dusk and some will only come at four o’clock in the morning. You will normally see the big moths in the Saturnidae family come around midnight. One is able to do mothing from May until October, but the best months are from mid-May to second week of July. My preferred temperature is on a hot humid night when it is around 30°C with no wind and a cloudy sky. I avoid going out when it is raining and if it is anything colder than 20°C since generally there is little chance to see much flying.

White sheet with black light – see all the attracted moths? Photo by Diane Lepage.

In mid-July and through until October, I will also be doing sugaring, which is a technique I learned from an entomologist friend. It is done by painting bait in a line on a tree at night, leaving for a while and then returning to the scene to observe those moths preoccupied by the mixture of beer, molasses, brown sugar, yeast and sometimes soft banana. Each entomologist uses their own recipes to attract moths, but usually such concoctions are similar to the above-mentioned combination. Generally, entomologists hope to see the Catocala moths, also called Underwings because of the colours of the underwings and the fact that a large number of Catocala moths found in the region are attracted to sugaring.

Catocala ilia – Ilia underwing. You can see evidence of sugaring on the tree above the moth’s head (dark brown streaks). Photo by Diane Lepage.

In 2008, I started mothing at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden to find out how many species I would find and in what period of the year they came. This also helps the FWG committee learn what food sources we could add to the garden and share through any educational materials. Some of my best mothing results in general are thanks to sugaring when the Catacolas come out to feed. Every year I add more moth species to our FWG lists, and this year alone I was able to add over 40 species of moths during my two outings to the garden. With the new flowers and trees we are adding, I am sure I will continue discovering new species for years to come.

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