Nocturnal wonders: Looking closely at a couple of moths

Have you ever watched a moth breathe?

Or looked so long and carefully at one dangling from a tree branch that it actually seemed to disappear?

To be perfectly candid, I never had until quite recently.

Most of my past Lepidoptera indulgences were focused on the butterflies, with little to no attention paid to the moths, their so-called “plain clothes cousins.”  A few weeks ago, though, National Moth Week notices started catching my attention on social media and science communication news feeds.  So I paid a bit more attention during the last few weeks of our field season, and what a wonderland I found!

I was hooked by this Polyphemus moth in the middle of the afternoon, which I spotted in the grass beneath a security light.  It wasn’t too beat up, but really appeared to be struggling for breath.  Initially, I thought it might be overheated or dehydrated, but after a bit of research, it turned out I was observing this striking creature’s final gasps.  Evidently, these magnificent moths only live one week as adults – they lack functional mouth parts, and their focus is to procreate.  Whether or not this male succeeded in his genetic hand-off I don’t know.  But, he did lend me a few moments, which I spent utterly absorbed in his multi-colored wings and bafflingly hairy burnt orange body.

Even better, I wasn’t the only one who appreciated these mini-discoveries.  This sketch was recently featured on ‪‎The Week in Sketches‬, curated by Urban Sketcher s International founder, Gabi Campanario!

Moth sketch_Week in Sketches (08.2013)

In the same vein, a recent article of mine, published in the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, elaborates on NMW.  As you can tell from these sketches and the excerpt below, I have a thing for insects.

Excerpt from Nocturnal wonders: moths outshine butterflies at night, published 14 August 2013 in the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph

“In late July, our neighbours to the south celebrated National Moth Week ( July 20-28). The initiative was founded in 2012 by a non-profit organization based in New Jersey. Since then, “national” moth week has taken wing as an international event focused on raising awareness and appreciation for these nocturnal cousins of the butterfly.

Why moths?
Although there are a number of physical differences between moths and butterflies, the scientific consensus is that they are so closely related they cannot be distinctly defined.  Thus, all moths and butterflies belong to the Lepidoptera order, named after the Greek for ‘scaly wings.’

According to The Nature Conservancy, “While there are about 1,000 species of butterflies in North America, the continent has more than 11,000 moth species. Worldwide, science has described more than 110,000 moth species so far, and the list is growing.” The National Moth Week website notes that moth “shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult’s hand,” and that “their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage.”

Click here to keep reading… –>

If you’re interested in making notes on your natural history observations…

Check out the advance copy of my Guide to Sketching & Field Journal Basics, OR contact me about facilitating nature sketching and field journal activities for you and your project, your students, or your community.

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