Moths deserve the blog loving, too

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Last week, I blogged about creating and enjoying a butterfly garden. However, I realize I said nothing about moths. Since I don’t want to be accused of promoting a pro-butterfly agenda where big, flashy butterflies get all of the attention, here are some tips for turning your yard into the most happening moth nightclub around (and remember to check the Butterflies and Moths of North America [BMONA] website for information on the moths found in your area and what they eat).

Cecropia moth image courtesy of BMONA

Cecropia moth image courtesy of BMONA

Plant a Moon Garden

Moon gardens are designed to be full of flowers that open at night. These flowers have pale colors that stand out in the darkness (often white or light yellow) and strong scents, both of which attract night pollinators who often don’t have the best vision, including bats, nighttime bees, and moths. In fact, several plants rely on moths as their primary pollinators, such as yucca, which relies on, surprise, surprise, the yucca moth.

Moon garden courtesy of domino magazine

Moon garden courtesy of domino magazine

Plant a Daytime Moth Garden

While most moths fly at night, there are several daytime and crepuscular (dawn and dusk) species in the area. Hawkmoths, which look a lot like hummingbirds or bumblebees, are common daytime fliers and will be found on tubular flowers (perfect for their incredibly long proboscis, which is the straw-like tube they feed with). Honeysuckle is a great choice to attract this group.

Hawk moth image courtesy of Guillaume Dargaud

Hawk moth image courtesy of Guillaume Dargaud

Plant a Moth Caterpillar Garden

Surprisingly, there are many moth species that don’t have functioning mouthpieces as adults and never eat. That’s alright, though, because they ate enough as caterpillars to sustain them for their (short) adult lifespan. And ALL moth caterpillars eat, so another way to attract moths is to grow the plants the caterpillars eat. That way, you get the moths who arrive to lay eggs AND the caterpillars that hatch out of them. Here are some examples of common moth host plants along the Front Range:

Hackberry, Willow, Redbud, Currant, Blackberry, and Pear: Io Moths

Box Elder, Sugar Maple, Wild Cherry, Plum, Apple, Alder, and Birch: Cecropia Moths

Potato, Tobacco, Tomato (and other members of the Nightshade family): Hawkmoths

Evening Primrose: Sphinx Moths

Io moth caterpillar image courtesy of the University of Florida

Io moth caterpillar image courtesy of the University of Florida

Start Sugaring

Sugaring is a nighttime attracting technique where you “paint” tree trunks with artificial nectar made out of sugar. Moths (and other night insects) are attracted to the sweet mixture and will land on the tree trunk to feed. If you search the interweb for “sugaring” and “moths,” you’ll find plenty of different recipes, including combos of sugar, beer, rotten bananas, grape jelly, and molasses (yum!). However, this technique only works for the adult moths that feed. No giant silk moths here, but the techniques below will entice the big guys to show up.

Sugaring for moths image courtesy of Shawn Wainwright

Sugaring for moths image courtesy of Shawn Wainwright

Turn on Your Porch Light

Many moths are attracted to light (a condition known as being positively phototactic). However, not all moths are attracted to light, and scientists disagree on why some moths are and some moths aren’t. On top of that, scientists also disagree on why the moths that are attracted to light are attracted in the first place (for more information on the different theories, visit How Stuff Works). So it’s a big bag of confusion, but at the end of the day (pun intended) there are moths that will be more than happy to hang around your lights, so turn them on!

Pull out Your Black Light (you know you still have it)

If you thought moths liked your porch light, just wait until you set up a black light* (Jefferson Airplane music playing in the background optional). Many moths see ultraviolet light better than visible light and are highly attracted to it. You can replace your porch light with a black light, or hang a white sheet over a clothesline with the blacklight hanging near it. Not only will the moths arrive, but they’ll land on the sheet so you can take a closer look.

*Note: a “de-zappified” bug zapper will also work

Blacklighting for insects image courtesy of Doug Taron

Blacklighting for insects image courtesy of Doug Taron

Turn off the Bug Zapper

The goal is to attract them, not zap them. Enough said.

What Moths Might You See?

For some of the more common Front Range moths, visit the University of Colorado’s Museum of Natural History’s online exhibit “Moth Matters.”

Miller Moths

Miller moths hiding between the coils of a garden hose. Image courtesy of Colorado State University.

Miller moths hiding between the coils of a garden hose. Image courtesy of Colorado State University.

The moths that I know I’ve been seeing everywhere (and by everywhere I mean hiding in my shoe this morning) are Miller moths. “Miller moth” is a general term given to any type of moth that’s abundant around people. The name “Miller’ comes from the delicate scale that rub off, looking like the dusty flour that would cover millers. Here in Colorado, the common “Miller’ moth is actually the Army Cutworm. Besides my shoes, the other place Miller moths are common right now (although you may not see them) is in road intersections. What you will see, however, are the swallows swooping up and down within the intersection to catch the moths. For everything you ever wanted to know on Miller Moths, visit CSU’s “Questions and Answers about Miller Moths.”

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