Celebrate National Moth Week!
Guest blog post from Merrill Peterson, of Western Washington University and Carol Kaesuk Yoon, science writer for the New York Times, extolling the virtues of moths and the fantastic web resource, Pacific Northwest Moths
We here in the Pacific Northwest are lucky for many reasons - towering Mount Rainier, schools of delicious salmon, summer harvests of raspberries - and, though not too many people know this, an abundance of beautiful and fascinating moth species. To help people study, better understand and enjoy these species, a group of lepidopterists (people who study butterflies and moths) worked for the last three years to create a new website called Pacific Northwest Moths. So far, there are just over 1,200 species on the site, with ultra high resolution photographs of each one (you can zoom in to see individual wing scales), range maps, detailed species accounts, and even an easy-to-use interactive identification key.
So what’s in the region and on our site?
There are moths that hardly seem to be moths at all! Like many other insect species, some species of moths have evolved to look like much tougher, more intimidating and potentially dangerous insects, like wasps or bees. This Hemaris thetisis a bumblebee-mimicking moth that can be found in our region. This chubby clear-winged moth can be found hovering over flowers in broad daylight, sipping nectar.
Others have evolved to look equally unattractive, but for different reasons - like the species that mimic bird poops, including Tarache knowltoni, which, when it is at rest with only the front wings showing, is easy to mistake for bird droppings.
Some moth species in the region are hard at work, attempting to do what human hands and tools have been unable to accomplish, for example, controlling invasive weeds. The weed known as Tansy Ragwort can be deadly to livestock, and can even harm humans when cattle eat the weed and produce contaminated milk. Tansy Ragwort even produces toxic pollen which can create tainted honey if it’s anywhere within two miles of a hive. But this noxious weed is now being challenged by Tyria jacobaeae, a moth species whose caterpillars enjoy munching down this invasive species.
In addition to having pictures of species of these species and more, the site has maps showing where and when they have been found. In this way, researchers can use the website to track and record any moth species that come within our region, including the odd stray tropical species that wanders up, like this Black Witch Moth. This impressively huge tropical species did exactly that this summer, turning up in July at Priest Lake, Idaho.
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