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WV Botanic Garden Moth Night spotlights ‘winged wonders’

By Kaitlyn Eichelberger

In 2019, Biological Conservation reported that over 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction, and Lepidoptera — moths and butterflies — is one of the groups most affected. With rising concerns about insect populations, it’s important to encourage an appreciation for these animals, scientists say, and the West Virginia Botanic Garden’s (WVBG) Moth Night aims to do just that.

At 7 p.m. Friday, July 22, join local moth enthusiast and aspiring entomologist Tucker Cooley at the West Virginia Botanic Garden for a presentation on moths and butterflies. Moth Night requires pre-registration. Tickets cost $5 for WVBG members and $15 for non-members.

The presentation, titled “Overview of Adult Butterflies and Moths in West Virginia,” is an event for all ages and backgrounds.

Topics will include a general outline of local moth families, an introduction to the order Lepidoptera, general anatomy, where and how to find them and more.

Following the presentation, attendees can admire an assortment of moth species at the moth collection site. This setup involves a large white sheet and lights to attract moths, allowing participants to appreciate their beauty up close.

“We will see many different species of moths at our light setup,” said Cooley. “From inchworm moths and giant silk moths to snout moths and tiger moths, I expect a great diversity of moths to be among us.”

For anyone interested in other insects, moths won’t be the only ones to visit the collection site.

“Beetles, stoneflies, fishflies, lacewings, and many other types of bugs and creepy-crawlies can also be expected to visit our light,” said Cooley. 

The goal of the event is to introduce a typically undervalued group of animals to the public, Cooley said.

“The simple fact that so many people just pass right by butterflies and moths without even noticing their beauty alone gave me much motivation to host this presentation,” Cooley explained. “It is my sincere hope to instill an appreciation of these winged wonders in the mind of all who attend the event.”

Erin Smaldone, education director at the WVBG, has a similar goal. 

“People don’t often pay insects, or nature in general, much attention,” said Smaldone. “We hope they will be inspired to learn more and gain a better appreciation for the organisms we share our environment with.”

The day following the event begins National Moth Week — a project started in 2012 to celebrate the beauty of moths. The event encourages people of all backgrounds, scientists or not, to collect and share data about the moths they see during Moth Week.

To submit your moth findings, during National Moth Week or any time of year, use citizen scientist databases such as iNaturalist, Project Noah, BAMONA, and BugGuide. The information you provide will be available for use in scientific research.

“The large number of moth species, sadly, are in decline,” said Cooley. “Through the observations and photography of scientists and non-scientists alike, we can better track (and hence protect) these declining moth species.” 

More than 12,000 species of moths inhabit North America. According to the WVDNR, about 800 species have been documented in West Virginia, though researchers estimate the true number is closer to 2,000. 

Moths play a vital role in the ecosystem.

Multiple traits make them capable pollinators, such as their activity during the nighttime when other pollinators are dormant. They tend to travel long distances, allowing their fuzzy bodies to collect and spread pollen efficiently.

Moths act as bioindicators, providing scientists with information about the health of an ecosystem. They are also important to the food web, acting as a food source for other insects, frogs, birds, bats, and more.

With such a complex and diverse group of animals, the Moth Night presentation is bound to be packed with information.

“Our hope is that programs like this will help [people] to better understand the world around them so they will take notice, be interested in, and care for nature,” said Smaldone.

If you miss this year’s Moth Night, the WVBG has other insect-focused programs scheduled. On July 23, “Healthy Backyards: Enticing Pollinators and ‘Good Bugs'” with wildlife biologist Sue Olcott, will be presented, and on Aug. 13, “Summer Wildflowers, Bloomers, & Pollinators” will be presented with WVBG gardener David Davis. 

Visit the WV Botanic Garden event calendar, wvbg.org/programs/events, for more information on their programs and registration.

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