For the past six years, the Idalia Society (the Kansas City area chapter of the Mid-American Society of Lepidopterists) has hosted a black lighting event on the third Saturday of July at my property, Long Lips Farm in Paola, Kansas. This 27 acre rural area has multiple habitats, including a lake, woodlot, wetlands, pastures and a 2 acre certified butterfly garden. Native plants, especially lepidopteran host plants, have been welcomed and/or planted to promote a diverse population of insects. No insecticides have been used for over 30 years and “clean-up” is minimal, so the property is wonderfully alive with insects, spiders, birds, amphibians and all the other residents of a natural habitat.
Insect-lovers are a friendly and inclusive group, so we always invite Kansas and Missouri Master Naturalists, the Kansas Native Plant Society and Master Gardeners from the two adjacent counties. We welcomed over 60 individuals with the usual Kansas summer evening temperature of 85 degrees with 85 per cent humidity and a slight breeze, pleasant for both insects and humans.
Participants began arriving at 7:00 PM with their lawn chairs and a dish to pass for the pot luck dinner. Since the moths don’t arrive until about 9:30 PM, we relaxed with a sumptuous Midwestern feast, adult beverages and enjoyed each other and the gardens. When the Datura inoxia opened at 9:00 PM to summon the Hummingbird Moths, we set up the light traps. Being 30 miles south of the city, there is minimal light pollution.
Lighting the Way
We always establish multiple locations with long extension cords to power different light sources including two mercury vapor lamps, a pure neon UV and black lights in order to maximize moth sightings. White sheets and my barn’s white door are the reflective surfaces. Incidentally, I turn on my lights most evenings, but since I am ‘early to bed, early to rise’ person, I leave them on all night. Most insect visitors remain on the sheet, so come dawn I can greet and study them at my leisure until they fly away the next evening.
This year’s local Facebook and personal conversations have lamented a regrettable paucity of insects, possibly because of our unusually cold wet June. Consequently, we were not surprised that our usual throngs of moths did not arrive. Of course the always reliable Carolina Hummingbird Moth and 5-Spotted Hawk Moth joined us, first on the Cleome and then on the sheet. Other visitors included a Blue Dasher Damsel Fly and many adorable Tree Frogs. Hope springs eternal in the entomologist’s heart, so we are looking forward to our annual mothing on the first Sunday in September. Will they come?