Moth night at Shaw Nature Reserve

By James Trager, Ph.D., Restoration Biologist at Shaw Nature Reserve


Black Banded Brocade Moth
Click the image for more photos

Here’s an amazing testament to the value of native plantings. On Saturday, July 5, 2014, I hosted a National Moth Watch group near the Bascom House, from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Equipment included two black lights, a mercury vapor light, white sheets to reflect the lights, lots of clicking high-end cameras, and eight people with great interest and a variety of knowledge levels. It was great bug-nerdy fun.

The result was a tiny peek, perhaps 80 species, at the vast diversity of moth species (likely many hundreds) that occur on the Reserve. See some pictures. The diversity we found was impressive to all, with the majority of both moth and non-moth species not even pictured in the collage at the link. With rather good moth ID resources available, no specimens, other than photos, were taken. There were also a number of other insects, including winged forms of at least three ant species, and a token cricket frog who enjoyed snarfing up mayflies that fell to the base of the reflective sheet. All in attendance were wowed by the their first-ever sighting of a 10-cm (4-inch) long Dobson fly, one of Missouri’s largest insects (seen in the 4th row from the bottom of the linked images).

I would note that, since the lights were placed by the Bascom House with the reflective sheets facing the Whitmire Wildflower Garden and its rich plant diversity, that Garden is almost certainly the source of most of the insects we observed. The message of Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home, and a similar message promulgated by the St. Louis Zoo’s Curator of Invertebrates, Ed Spevac, were beautifully demonstrated by the success of this event. Several of the participants, familiar with Tallamy’s work, commented on this very point.

Let’s score some big points for the native landscaping in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden. Thanks, Scott Woodbury and all your helpers!


Editor’s note: Find out more about National Moth Week.

2 thoughts on “Moth night at Shaw Nature Reserve

  1. Does anyone know where one gets a blacklight for this purpose? Does one really need a mercury vapor light, too? I’d like to try setting up a similar system at a cabin by the Current River.

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