First Impressions: A (Moth) Night to Remember

Guest blog by Dhruv Rungta

I stepped out of Dad’s car and spritzed myself with bug spray. While I was fascinated by insects, I was definitely not a bug person. Not yet, at least. I was simply at the National Moth Week event in East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA, because I liked learning new things. The thought of thousands of winged creatures–moths and not–swarming around special UV lighting was awesome and terrifying at the same time. I was looking forward to seeing some cool things, but hopefully not have any of them land on me, so I continued to douse myself with bug spray. 

            After a few more minutes of this, I grabbed my flashlight and walked towards the meeting point and was delighted to see dozens of nature enthusiasts gathered. There were scout troops, scientists, students, general enthusiasts, and even Mayor Brad Cohen of East Brunswick and New Jersey Assemblyman Sterley Stanley engaged in lively conversations about moths.

Dhruv Rungta with Mayor Brad Cohen at East Brunswick’s Moth Night, July 23

I caught up with Liti Haramaty, the co-founder of moth night, who I had worked with for a research project on amphibians. She explained how moths can see wavelengths of light we cannot see, including UV, and for reasons not wholly known to scientists, they are attracted to it. I eagerly listened as she told me fascinating facts about moths. I asked if I could do anything to help, and she handed me a ziplock bag containing a special moth attracting concoction. It’s made with overripe bananas, rotting tomatoes and fermented wine, she said. Belch… I thought! It smelled just as bad as it sounded, the same pungent odor of finding an apple in the fridge you forgot about. My job was to hold this bag while younger scouts used paint brushes to apply it to the tree to attract the moths. 

            Soon, dozens of little children rushed to me with paint brushes in their hands to dip into my bag. In their excitement, and being little kids, they messily dipped their brushes, resulting in this sticky solution spilling all over my arms, legs and shoes. And then it hit me, quite literally. All sorts of insects were now landing on me! This fermenting liquid had overridden the gallons of bug spray I put on myself. Oh no, this can’t be happening, I thought. At first I was nervous, but then as one cool moth landed on me, I started enjoying it! I was turning into a bug person, quite literally!

            This continued for the next few hours, as we enthusiastically identified beetles, flies, moths and more over the light sheets, baited trees and me. Overall, it was a phenomenal experience for everyone involved. It was marvelous seeing people fall in love with these terrific insects and the community gathering together. I cannot say thank you enough to everyone involved for creating this movement and leading the night! 

Dhruv Rungta is a rising senior at JP Stevens High School. Edison, who aspires to be an environmental lawyer. He has previously volunteered with the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission’s Salamander Protection Program.

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