National Moth Week on the Colorado Front Range – guest post by Eric R. Eaton

I cannot speak for all the National Moth Week events in Colorado, but I did participate in three of them, all public gatherings which surprised us in terms of human attendees. The number of moths that visited varied greatly, but a good time was had by all.

Cheyenne Mountain State Park  Photo credit: Bell Mead

Cheyenne Mountain State Park
Photo credit: Bell Mead

The first event was held on June 18 at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, located just south of Colorado Springs in El Paso County. The habitat is mostly grassland with Gambel’s Oak thickets and a scattering of mixed conifers. Park staff arranged for us to set up by the camper services building to draw folks camping in the park, but there was enough publicity that we drew people from elsewhere, too (dare I say “like moths to a flame?”). One family even brought their own lights and sheet. It turns out one of their children raises moths, and dad had to secure interstate permits to legalize the rearing of species not found in Colorado. The Mile High Bug Club sponsored this event.

Once the public portion ended at around ten, Mile High Bug Club folks held an “after party,” visiting illuminated outposts such as restrooms, self-pay kiosks, and the visitor’s center. It is well known that moths are a “gateway drug” to more unfamiliar but no less spectacular insects such as beetles and true bugs. Only the most hardcore, incurable entomophiles get into nocturnal flies, never to be heard from again. Besides additional moth species, plus beetles and bugs, we encountered several scorpions, two “camel spiders” (Solifugae), and a large centipede.

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The Hudson Gardens  Photo credit: Amanda Accamando

The Hudson Gardens
Photo credit: Amanda Accamando

The second event was held on Wednesday, July 22 at Hudson Gardens & Event Center in Littleton, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. Mile High Bug Club sponsored this event as well, but Education and Volunteer Manager Amanda Accamando provided many supplies, fantastic publicity, and volunteer support. It paid off. We had thirty (30) attendees. We set up in the “Hobbit Hole” near a long pond, assuming it would be a natural flyway for moths. Unfortunately, we were instead overwhelmed by caddisflies, which were naturally and repeatedly misidentified as moths. The few moths that did show were interesting species, though, and no one felt the least bit disappointed given the myriad other insects that flew in.

Our finale was a repeat of a private event the Mile High Bug Club held last year in Rock Creek Canyon , west of Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Our co-sponsor was the May Natural History Museum, which boats the world’s largest private collection of insects and other arthropods, open to the public. The museum is complemented by Eagle Campground, though few, if any, campers came to this event. We had the honor of having moth guru Sam Johnson set up his own light stations, and help us paint bait on trees. Glowsticks attached to the trees helped us locate these bait stations after dark. The habitat is a rather mature pine and oak forest, plus grassland up the hill from our site.

May Museum  Photo credit: Bell Mead

May Museum
Photo credit: Bell Mead

No sooner had the sun gone down than in came the moths, plus Ten-lined June Beetles, enormous root borers (Prionus californicus longhorned beetles), and many other insects. Moths that came to the bait did not also visit the lights, and at least one species of underwing moth that Sam collected (Catocala amestris) was new for southern Colorado. Last year, Sam collected Catocala delilah, another unusual species for the region, at this same location. This year, the area is experiencing an outbreak of the Douglas-fir Tussock Moth, Orgyia pseudotsugata, but most were in the cocoon stage when we had our event, so while we did have a fair share of males (females of this moth are wingless), we were not inundated.

I think most of us left these events feeling invigorated, excited, and addicted to doing this again next year, if not sooner. Special thanks should go to Bell Mead for coordinating with personnel at all event locations, securing lights and other equipment, and generally organizing everything. Additional thanks to Brian Kelly and Rick Baker for their assistance, and my wife Heidi for enjoying the same strange experiences that I do.

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