Oh, What a (Moth) Night!

Oh, what a (Moth) Night!

It was a family night in more ways than one.

Families who attended the Bohart Museum of Entomology's annual Moth Night last Saturday, Aug. 3, not only saw  specimens from scores of insect families inside the UC Davis insect museum, but outside as well.

The blacklighting display drew at least 11 different species from five moth families: Tineidae, Tortricidae, Pyralidae, Geometridae, and Noctuidae, according to Bohart associate and "Moth Man"  John De Benedictis.

De Benedictis, along with senior museum scientist Steve Heydon and Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas, set up the blacklighting display, comprised of a hanging white sheet illuminated by a generator-powered ultraviolet (UV light).

Moths that visited the blacklighting display from around 9:15 to 11 p.m. included:

Family Tineidae:
Opogona omoscopa (Opogona crown borer)

Family Tortricidae:
Clepsis peritana
Platynota stultana (omnivorous leafroller)
Cydia latiferreana (filbertworm)

Family Pyralidae:
Achyra rantalis (garden webworm)
Ephestiodes gilvescentella (dusky raisin moth)
Cadra figuliella

Family Geometridae:
Digrammia muscariata

Family Noctuidae:
Spodoptera exigua (beet armyworm)
Spodoptera praefica (western yellow-striped armyworm)
Parabagrotis formais

In comparison, De Benedictis found 14 species in his backyard the following night, while Karofelas found nine in his yard. Both live in Davis.

"At this time of year, I get 15 to 20 species most nights," said De Benedictis, an entomologist who started blacklighting in his backyard in 1998 and at Cold Canyon in 1989. "On the best nights, I'll get about 30 species in my yard and more than 100 at Cold Canyon. In recent years (since 2012), I've run my backyard light as many as 260 nights a year and have been getting 140 to 170 species each year."

Since 1998, he has recorded more than 350 species at night from his yard (including an occasional butterfly or skipper), "but there are at least 25 more that I have not identified, so I estimate I've collected 400 plus species in my yard in 21 years when diurnal (day-flying) species are included in the count."

If you attended Moth Night and you cultivate citrus, strawberries, pomegranates or cucumbers, you may have recognized some of the moths on the blacklighting display or seen the larval pests. For example, the omnivorous leafroller is a pest of citrus. The filbertworm is a pest of pomegranate. The Opogona crown borer is commonly found in bird of paradise plants, but also attacks strawberries, according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM). The Spodoptera exigua (beet armyworm) and Spodoptera praefica (western yellow-striped armyworm) are pests of cucurbits (cucumber family).

Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) collection at the Bohart, spent the evening, 8 to 11, describing moths, showing specimens, and answering questions. "Moths can be distinguished from butterflies by their antennae, which always taper out to a fine point at the end, while butterflies' antennae end with an enlarged club," he said. "Very few butterflies can be labeled as pests, while a great many species of moths are pests, often extremely damaging kinds such as the gypsy moth, corn earworm, tent caterpillars, and California oak moth."

Smith estimates the Bohart's global moth collection at 300,000 to 350,000 specimens of moths.  "A recent donation from a local collector likely added another 25,000 specimens of moths alone."

"A great many of the colorful moths are diurnal, including hummingbird moths that mimic bumble bees, clearwing moths that mimic wasps, and Arctiid moths that mimic toxic and distasteful butterflies such as Heliconians and Glassywings from South America," Smith said.

In size, visitors saw the biggest (Atlas) to the smallest moth.  "Our smallest moth is one from Africa that was overlooked in the alcohol in which it was captured because of its tiny size," Smith pointed out. "Finally, a student separating the insects in the alcohol found it, and it is nearly microscopic."  Visitors also marveled at the hummingbird moth which has a proboscis (tongue) that 12 inches long.

Bohart associate Emma Cluff curated the silkworm moths and silks display. She gathered silkworm moths from the Bohart Museum collection, and textiles from a donation by Richard Peigler, a moth expert and biology professor at the University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas.

The family craft activity involved coloring and stringing white cocoons (donated by Peigler) to make necklaces or bracelets. Cluff and fellow entomologist enthusiast Keely Davies created a huge luna moth in the hallway. Some 200 visitors participated in the free and family friendly event.

The moth exhibit is currently on display at the Bohart Museum.

Founded in 1946 by Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), and directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, the Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect speicments. It is s also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America; the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity; a live "petting zoo" and a gift shop.

The Bohart Museum's regular hours have changed for the summer season. As of July 3, the insect museum is hosting 30-minute tours starting at 2:30 and 3:30 pm. No reservations are required and all ages are welcome. Admission is free, but donations are always welcomed. The Bohart is open to walk-in visitors Monday through Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. It is closed from 9 a.m. to noon to walk-in visits (the insect museum conducts many tours and outreach programs during those times). More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email bmuseum@ucdavis.edu