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Anita’s Blog – Moths and Moons

It was awfully quiet, checking the moth sheet in the eerie early morning darkness. No siren song of cicada, no wind rustling the mesquite branches, no gentle coo of a waterbird disturbed by an unseen event – all signs of a lurking predator to those of us who are paranoid, alone in the dark outdoors.


Even the moth sheet was quiet, no flapping wings tattooing against the canvas. Dogs faintly barking in the distance always give me pause, but my fear evaporates once I begin taking photos behind the protection of a camera – the psychology of which I’ve never pursued.


But this particular morning, the moth station was empty except for a handful of odd-named moth visitors smaller than a grain of rice: banded scythris, cotton tipworm, maple webworm, ethmia hodgesella and spotted spragueia were identified via my iNaturalist phone app.


One of my favorite moths, the tiny (.433-inch wingspan) whip-marked snout moth, was sitting on the tripod that holds the black lights.


Tiny Whip-marked Snout Moth. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)


As trepidatious as it was reaching the moth sheet, the trek back to the house was one to behold – a huge, orange moon was glowing over the resaca, slowly sinking behind distant mesquites.


The Super Buck Moon of July. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

I’d recently seen a headline about names of monthly moons, so I looked up the moon with the date as soon as I was back indoors. It was the Super Buck Moon and was the largest supermoon of the year, an article said. July’s moon is named buck moon because of something that happens in nature: “The antlers of male deer (bucks) are in full-growth mode at this time,” according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Bucks shed and regrow their antlers each year, producing a larger and more impressive set as the years go by. This moon wasn’t just a full moon, but a supermoon, which is when a full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to earth in its elliptical orbit, a point known as perigee,” according to NASA. Supermoons appear 17 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than when the moon is at its farthest point away from earth. “They are bigger and brighter than full moons, too."


The Sturgeon Moon, on the night of August 11, will be the final supermoon in 2022’s set of four – tag your calendar with the date, if you don’t want to miss it.


According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, there are alternative July moon names, some featuring plants, like Berry Moon, Moon When the Chokecherries are Ripe, Month of the Ripe Corn Moon and Raspberry Moon. Google: Monthly Moon Names for the other months.


Berries, corn and moons aside, midsummer-fullness-of-things is happening right here on our Deep South Texas soils, most noticeably the rise of giant pigweeds, reaching upwards of six feet. Pigweed was briefly mentioned in my Special Edition Blog about Miniature Gardens in the Cracks of the Sidewalk:

https://www.stbctmn.org/post/anita-s-blog-miniature-gardens-in-the-cracks-of-the-sidewalk


Palmer’s pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri) is the cousin that would uproot a sidewalk were it likely to pop up between the cracks. As a roadside attraction, it’s quite a sight to see, if not a little scary, after reading about the species. It likes to take over areas between cultivated fields and the road.


A row of Palmer's Pigweed adjacent to a cultivated field. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Palmer's Pigweed. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)


Palmer’s pigweed has been called many things, including the king of weed, problematic, troublesome and even economically damaging. It’s widespread in Texas in the High Plains, Rio Grande Valley, Coastal Bend and Central Texas; most notably, it is problematic in row crop production fields. Research had found that a single Palmer’s pigweed plant can produce in excess of 1.5 million seeds, grow two- and one-half inches a day, only needs about two weeks from flowering to mature seed production and has developed resistance to multiple classes of herbicides. Although it attracts bees, butterflies and seed-eating birds, it’s probably wise to get rid of this species if you find it on your property. It isn’t a host plant for butterflies or moths.


Back to moths – National Moth Week is July 23 – 31 https://www.nationalmothweek.org

All iNaturalist enthusiasts, residents and newcomers, too, be sure to log into your account and join the project at https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/national-moth-week-2022


What’s the moon got to do with moths? Well, maybe nothing, maybe everything. Some say a moth sheet and black light set up will produce limited results during a full moon. Mine did, but I’d also moved my set up to a different area that week.


Entomologists have found that moths are less attracted to artificial lights during the week of the full moon than they are during the new moon, according to information at www.livescience.com.


Another forum relayed that moths don’t come out in search of light, they come out in search of food and mates, but then they are guided by moonlight and starlight in their flight, according to a posting on www.Quora.com.


Moth week this year will not be under a full moon.


Even with the bright moonlit skies this week, I had some excitement at the moth sheet. I thought I was photographing a worn belted grass-veneer moth, although it popped up as a straight-lined seed moth in my phone app. When I logged into my iNaturalist account, the entry had been identified as a Micrathetis tecnion. The identifier included a note that said, “the distinctive forewing markings, south Texas only.” On closer examination, of course, I saw the FW distinction. It’s always exciting to find something unique, something whose most northern range is south Texas.


Belted Grass-veneer Moth. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Micrathetis tecnion moth. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

This week’s Texas Master Naturalist story in the McAllen Monitor is about moth week. Check it out at this link: https://www.stbctmn.org/post/honey-mesquite-what-do-moths-have-to-do-with-it


Texas Master Naturalist Joseph Connors, our South Texas Border Chapter Webmaster Extraordinaire, has a blog describing setting up a mothing and black light station. It shows my first makeshift -- but successful -- attempt at attracting moths; I now have a sturdy, framed unit my husband designed that I can easily move to different areas in the yard. Here’s Joseph’s tutorial: https://www.stbctmn.org/post/mothing


Free, user-friendly organizations:

National Moth Week encourages residents to get involved with citizen science by observing, photographing and sharing data with as many organizations as they like. Organizations like iNaturalist, Project Noah, BugGuide, Moth Photographers Group and Butterflies and Moths of North America are online data banks that collect moth observations from citizens. For more organizations, visit https://nationalmothweek.org/how-to-submit-data-2/.


Contact local city and state parks and nature centers to find nearby mothing events.


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