WV Wildlife: Moths in West Virginia

This larger moth posed nicely on this bed sheet, which can attract several at a time. (WCHS/WVAH)

To see them, you usually have to wait until the sun goes down.

Hundreds of them--with different colors and patterns--come out.

At the Core Arboretum at West Virginia University, WV DNR biologists are trying to document our moth diversity. The way they do this is pretty interesting.

"What we are doing here tonight is looking for some moths. And so, what we do--we put up some sort of white fabric, this is just an ordinary bedsheet, and use a UV light in order to help draw moths in, and they are attracted to various wavelengths of light--and we're trying to see what's here", said Susan Olcott—a WV DNR Wildlife Biologist.

Olcott not only studies butterflies, but moths, too; they are both closely related.

"They all belong in the group called Lepidoptera, which means scaled wings. There are what are called micro moths--which tend to be more primitive and then the more advanced, or more recently evolved moths that fall below them, so we'll get both types here. Most moths are active at nighttime--there's a few day-flying moths, but most are active at night. Some will come out as soon as it gets dark--some won't come out until it gets pitch black", said Olcott.

Most of these little guys—not to be confused with their bigger Point Pleasant counterpart--were happy with the bright lights and the sheets, but one decided to land on my hand; that made it a little easier for biologists to examine!

“Some of the data, just like the butterfly data, is a little dated--so we're just trying to update things. See what's here, what isn't--sort of take a snapshot of what's going on in this moth community", said Olcott.

These insects are so popular that they even have their own week designated!

Olcott explains.

“During the week of July 22 is called national moth week. They'll be moth walks, surveying for moths. They're really interesting because of their life histories. I mean, they go from an egg to this caterpillar and then completely metamorphosize into this different life-form. They are beautiful to look at and interesting little creatures to learn about.”

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