A Passion for Moths--Equipment

Dark-banded Geometer, Ecliptopera atricolorata ©Merrill Lynch

Equipment: My equipment consisted of 2 sheets lighted by one 160 MV lamp located in the front yard near a small stream; one towel mounted on the sheltered wall of the house under the porch roof, lighted by a single 15W fluorescent black light; and a porch light lighted by a 15W compact fluorescent white light. I also experimented with a sugar bait concoction that I painted on a tree in the front yard. I did this periodically throughout the season and was rewarded with at least a dozen species that never came in to my lights. (image above right is of the Ironweed Borer, Papaipema cerussata ©Merrill Lynch)

My general routine was to turn the lights on around sunset and check the sheets for 1-4 hours each night, first in the early evening between dusk and midnight and again in the early morning between 3-7am (pre-dawn), leaving the lights on all night. I tried to take multiple photographs of each moth that I did not recognize and also photos of fresh specimens of all species.for photodocumentation. (Image to the right: Skiff Moth, Prolimacodes badia ©Merrill Lynch)

All of my photographs were taken with a Panasonic GH-1 using a 45mm (90mm slr equivalent) macro lens. The images were downloaded daily into my computer where I would begin the arduous task of sorting and identifying the photos to species. The identification process sometimes took days and even weeks. I relied primarily on the images on Moth Photographers Group and Bugguide websites and also consulted moth guidebooks such as Covell's Moths of Eastern North America. Occasionally, I would send photos off for identification help, sometimes to Bugguide but also to moth experts. I took over 9,000 images during the season and have photodocumentation for about 80% of the 632 species identified. (Image above left: the Hebrew, Polygrammate hebraeicum ©Merrill Lynch)

I entered the data on an excel spreadsheet that I stumbled upon on the Internet which contained a database of over 1,600 species of moths recorded in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Over 90% of the moths I've recorded in Watauga County are in this database.

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©J. Merrill Lynch
Echo Valley Farm
Watauga County, NC
Elevation: 3,400 feet