A Passion for Moths--My 2010 Moth Big Year

Clymene Moth, Haploa clymene ©Merrill Lynch

Snowflakes are falling as I type. Winter has arrived in the High Country and, I'm afraid, the end of the moth season for 2010. So now is the time to summarize my season long quest to see as many species of moths as possible at a single location. I hope the following account of my mothing big year will be interesting and inspiring to those of you out there who share a passion for the nocturnal leps. (Image to right: Painted Lichen Moth, Hypoprepia fucosa ©Merrill Lynch)

I have been interested in moths for the past ten years or so (noting new species in my tattered copy of Covell) but only started keeping detailed records in 2009, shortly after moving to Watauga County. In 2010 it became an obsession when sometime in June I added up the species I had recorded for the year and was stunned that I had close to 300 species and summer had barely begun! I then set my first goal, 500 species, which seemed at the time both realistic and reasonably ambitious. When I hit 500 species in early August, I decided to just keep at it full bore and vowed to keep the lights on and check the sheets until the last moth flew (or I was evicted from the premises by my long suffering partner!). I was also inspired by the efforts of the Tennessee moth'ers who had gotten together in the spring and decided to undertake an ambitious effort to document all of the moths in their state in 2010. (Image above right: Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva punctella ©Merrill Lynch)

Before I get into the details of the big year, let me just say that I find moths infinitely interesting. For one thing, they are beautiful insects that have an incredible diversity of shapes, patterns, and palettes--even the ones that at first glance appear brown and dull reveal intricate patterns and subtly beautiful colors at closer inspection. Sorry, diurnal lepsters, but butterflies don't have anything on moths! And another thing about moths. They are ubiquitous and abundant and exist in almost endless diversity filling every conceivable ecological niche. And they literally come to you--you don't have to go and chase them! Digital photography has really opened up the moth world to closer examination and has become an essential identification tool. (Image above right: Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda ©Merrill Lynch)

In 2010, I recorded 632 species of moths in my backyard, starting with a Grote's Pinion (Lithophane grotei) on March 8 and ending with Acrolepiopsis heppneri (a micromoth in the family Acrolepiidae) on November 3. (Image below right: Io Moth, Automeris io ©Merrill Lynch)

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