Blacklighting is one of the many ways for entomologists like myself to survey the insect diversity of a certain area. There have been many times where I have used this method to collect moths and other nocturnal insects during the spring and summer months of the year. There are occasions however, when I go blacklighting during the winter months. I had done this only a few times during the past few years and was surprised by the amount moth diversity that shows up at the sheet despite the temperature being quite cold sometimes. I had gone blacklighting about a week ago to see what moths would show up in Stebbins Cold Canyon this early in the year and was surprised to see what showed up to the blacklight.
A Cold Night in the Canyon
I was debating on going out this night but decided to join a friend of mine anyway at the usual spot in the lower part of the canyon where he tends to set up his light. As I arrived to my friend’s sheet, I had high hopes that I would see at least one or two of the winter moths that I always enjoy this time of year. The two moths I’m referring to are Proserpinus lucidus, the Pacific Green Sphinx Moth, and Feralia februalis. There were a few moths at the sheet as I prepared my camera gear but more slowly started to trickle in as the night went on. Unfortunately for us, the night was going to end up being much cooler than the previous nights, which ended up keeping the activity at the sheet relatively low. Below are just some of the moths that made it to the sheet at the beginning of the night.
After about an hour, the ambient temperature dropped a bit more and more moths had slowly found their way to the sheet. As I was patiently waiting to see if any of the two moths I was hoping for would come to the sheet, a larger noctiud moth came to the sheet. To my surprise and excitement, it was Feralia februalis, a nicely colored and patterned specimen that took a few minutes to finally settle down on the sheet. This moth isn’t a particularly special moth to most but to me it has become one of my most favored species to see during the year. It has a very interesting lichen-type pattern on the forewings and a variable greenish color, allowing for quick recognition and identification whenever it appears at lights in the area during winter months. Only a few more species ended up coming to the sheet but it was well worth the wait in the cold.
We ended up deciding to pack it in early since the amount of new moths showing up to the sheet after about two hours dropped significantly. A few more noctuids also showed up towards the end, but it wasn’t enough to convince us to stay any longer. I am always surprised as to how diverse the moths are even when the temperatures are very low, almost to the point of not going to blacklight in the first place. But despite the cold weather, the moths that show up to the sheet always make the trips out worth it. I’m looking forward to see what late winter and early spring moths I will find in the next couple weeks, weather permitting of course.