Moth Research—A Guest Post by Logan Crees

Logan Crees is an sophomore studying environmental science at Iowa State University. He also serves as Outreach Coordinator for the Iowa State Environmental Science Club. Currently, he researching moth species in the Grand River Grasslands in Ringgold County, Iowa. You can follow his research at the Grand River Grasslands Moth Research mission on Project Noah

Twin-spotted Sphinx (Smerinthus jamaicensis). Photo by Logan Crees.

People often find it strange that I enjoy studying moths. I mean sure, why care about the butterfly’s “ugly gray brother?” Why stay up until 2 am getting pelted by insects after a long day doing other field work? Because this one of the final frontiers for a naturalist. This is the closest thing I will ever be able to do that’s like what Darwin and Wallace did. The chance and thrill of discovery is what really pushes me. Nearly every time I go out, I see something I’ve never seen before, and it’s all incredibly complexly beautiful, even if it doesn’t appear so.

Little Virgin Tiger moth (Grammia virguncula). Photo by Logan Crees.

My undergraduate research project is extremely broad and not much different that what most people do in their backyards. I’m just lucky enough to have a laboratory at Iowa State supporting me. Originally the basis of my work was to complement a much larger butterfly project that is occurring in Ringgold County, Iowa.

LeConte’s Haploa (Haploa lecontei). Photo by Logan Crees.

Once I actually got out mothing, I started getting all sorts of moths and invertebrates (and one painted turtle and some concerned locals) and this started getting out of hand. You see, mothing on a prairie is so much different that mothing in a wooded area.

Spotted Peppergrass moth (Eustixia pupula). Photo by Logan Crees.

When you’re out on the prairie, the sheet will quickly become thickly covered in insects because the lights are visible from so far away. Processing a sheet full of bugs became a major task, especially when you’re including micro-moths.

Typical bug load from an Iowa Prairie. Photo by Logan Crees.

Given the amount of time that it takes to do, I was forced to just focus on photographing and documenting species I hadn’t seen before, essentially making this a species survey of the area.

Basswood Leafroller moth (Pantographa limata). Photo by Logan Crees.

While that took a lot of work off my hands, I still have many species come to my lights that I have no idea what they are. My saving grace for a large amount of my identification work has been done by citizen scientists.

Photo by Logan Crees.

My sheet and frame setup is a cheap and simple but a very effective design created by Jim Durbin. The frame is made of metal electrical conduit pipe held up by electric fence posts. It’s really nice because are several ways to hang a sheet.

Logan and his set-up.

For power, I use a single 35 AH 12 volt wheelchair battery, which will last me more than a full night. For lighting I run a 4 foot double fixture with blacklight tubes, and a photography bulb which is on a tripod. The freedom of a mobile setup was worth the cost of a battery and charger, especially when many of the sites I moth at are 20 miles from the nearest town.

Photo by Logan Crees.

As far as what I’ve found so far, I think I have uncovered about 200 species, most of which will be new for my county, and a few, first for the state.

Eyed Paectes (Paectes oculatrix). Photo by Logan Crees.

I’ve been mothing for three years now, and nearly every night, something comes in that I have never seen before, and it’s absolutely thrilling.

Horned Spanworm (Nematocampa resistaria). Photo by Logan Crees.

I’ve taken many people mothing with me before, and so many are shocked by the beauty of the moths that claim the night.

Crocus Geometer (Xanthotype sp.). Photo by Logan Crees.

I’d really like to thank everyone who’s helped me identify moths, given me advice, and taken the time to ask about my work. The mothing community is great and makes it all the more fun.

Honey Locust moth (Sphingicampa bicolor). Photo by Logan Crees.
Blackberry Looper moth (Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria). Photo by Logan Crees.
Sharp-lined Yellow moth (Sicya macularia). Photo by Logan Crees.

Logan is searching for an internship working with or studying Lepidoptera (in the United States or international) next summer and would greatly appreciate any information on potential opportunities.

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