Over the past few months I had gone on a few blacklighting trips around northern California. As the season progressed and temperatures began to warm up different species of moths also began to appear, some of which I had not seen for some time. Some of the areas included Stebbins Cold Canyon (on multiple occasions), Auburn, Nevada City, and the UC Davis Arboretum. These places are very different from one another in regards to their flora and elevation, so the species I found differed greatly among each location. One of the many reasons I had visited these areas, besides Stebbins, was to find a specific moth species. This quest was successful at one location but unfortunately the other places had no such luck. However, the season is just beginning and there is potential for many new surprises as peak collecting season moves closer to its peak.
The Usual at Stebbins Cold Canyon
The trips to Stebbins Cold Canyon were planned by John DeBenedictis, who has been going to the canyon to survey for moths for the past twenty years or so. He does these trips all year-long and tries to keep them on a somewhat consistent basis but that is always dependent on weather and his own personal agenda. The most recent trips I had tagged along with John to Cold Canyon were in the early to mid-spring, where the winter moths were starting to slowly fade and the spring species were starting to come to the blacklight. Another mothing buddy of mine, Jason, had come along these trips and was quickly learning the species ids as John would identify them on the sheet before putting them in his collecting vials.
I tend to not go after any personal “target” species when I go to Cold Canyon because there are always so many interesting species that come to the sheet. I have some favorites like Feralia februalis and Catocala ilia but there is never one species that tops the rest in that location to me. There were a fair amount of species I had not seen in a while such as Apantesis ornata and Nadata oregonensis, as well as some species that I had never seen in the past few years I have gone with John to the canyon. This place tends to have many surprises and despite going multiple times every year, I always find something new.
New Discoveries and Familiar Faces
The blacklighting trips to the Sierra Nevada foothills were attempts to find a specific species of moth that I had reared the previous year. Auburn and Nevada City were two locations that had many sightings in late April of the Ceanothus silk moth, Hyalophora euryalus. During the trip to Auburn I had high hopes of finding this often-unseen moth, mainly because I had a blacklight and MV light at my disposal. The night in Auburn ended with two female H.euryalus and many other moth species that had come to the sheet.
The night I had spent in Nevada City was unfortunately not quite as productive. The colder temperatures, potential for rain, and full moon were an unlucky combination, compared to the previous weekend having clear skies and a light breeze. Despite turning in early, I still managed to find some interesting insects that night both on and off the blacklight sheet. I am definitely willing to give these areas another try to the consistently warm temperatures might help to bring out other moth species I haven’t seen yet this year.
The Unseen Nocturnal Inhabitants of the Arboretum
Blacklighting in the Arboretum was a spontaneous event that happened mostly due to my friend Jason’s discovery of a Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) near the gazebo in the west end of the Arboretum. He had mentioned he was walking near the white flower garden next to the gazebo one night, when he saw a something “bat-sized” fly near him. When he approached it, he was surprised to find that it was in fact a male Polyphemus moth. The moth’s presence in that part of the arboretum made sense to me because its caterpillars feed on oaks and right next to the gazebo is the oak grove. I decided to set up a sheet with a blacklight near the oak grove to try to find another Polyphemus moth.
Unfortunately, that night was a bit cold with a steady breeze blowing, so we ended up not finding another Polyphemus moth but found other surprise species instead. Apantesis ornata (formerly Grammia ornata) made an appearance on the sheet, as well as a completely new moth for me, the carpenterworm moth (Prionoxystus robiniae). I am very interested in blacklighting in the Arboretum at least a few more times this year. I am curious as to what I might find here, given that the Arboretum has such a diversity of flora that is both native and non-native. No one has ever really set up a blacklight sheet here consistently before so I am hoping for even more surprises. Thank you Jason Wirawan and John So for joining me on almost all the mothing adventures. Your help was very much appreciated.