Newsletter for July 2020

Backyard Butterflies

2nd Annual Moth Night (1)
Greetings Fellow Butterfliers & Moth-ers!

I hope this newsletter finds you in good health and spirits as we complete the 182nd day, or the first half, of 2022. There is still plenty of good butterflying and mothing to come for this season.

This year butterfly activity has been appreciably down. I've been able to get my Leps fix by engaging in more mothing activities and adventures. If you are interested in going to The Dark Side of Lepidoptera, I encourage you to come to our free annual Moth Night coming up on the 23rd.

An incentive about mothing is that there are so many more moth species compared to butterflies, meaning that there are opportunities to observe new species at both the county and state level.

There are many counties in North Carolina that are under-reported. David George and I have been working on a project to moth in those under-reported counties as citizen scientists. Last month on the Summer Solstice we conducted our first survey in Caswell County. Our efforts proved to be significant contributions!

Our two night surveys observed a total of 153 species. Prior to our surveys the county had a total of 13 species sighted; it now has a total of 166 species. One of our observations increased the total number of moth species observed within North Carolina. The Gray Sparganothis Moth, was a brand new species to the state. Other important observations were the Basswood Leafroller Moth with our sighting being the eastern-most record of the species; the Bisected Honey Locust Moth that has a single known population associated with the Deep River area near Goldston; the recently renamed Spongy Moth, an invasive species capable of defoliating numerous species of trees. A full report with photos from this survey and two more scheduled surveys will be featured in upcoming newsletters.

If mothing is not your thing there are six opportunities to count butterflies in August with the scheduled NABA Butterfly Counts. NABA Counts are a great way to learn butterfly identification and see new-to-you species. John and I hope you will join us for our Orange County and Guilford & Rockingham counts.

Peace, Love, & Moths,
Lior Carlson
Executive Director
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Why Both-er Being a Moth-er?

Love them or fear them (I hope mostly love them), moths are the "Dark Side" of the Order of Lepidoptera. About ninety percent or greater of all Leps are moths. This numerically translates into approximately 11,000 species of moths in the US compared to 750 butterflies. (If you can correctly identify all eleven thousand you can command Mothra to do your bidding.)

Both the caterpillar and adult are food sources for other critters. While some moths contribute to crop damage, others are essential pollinators. Moths serve as indicators regarding the health of the environment.

Some additional reasons to become a moth-er include:
  • You can observe moths in the comfort of your yard, porch, or other outdoor area. They come to you!
  • Moths stay still! This makes it really easy to photograph them for ID, or regale them with songs and stories.
  • Your observations contribute to scientific knowledge. Orange County has so far 771* species observed. This number keeps increasing as new species are recorded. Statewide the total number of species observed is 2830 (and counting).
  • It's a low cost hobby to get started. All you need is a light source, a white sheet, and a magnifying glass.
* This number is from 2020. The current number as of 6/30/2022 is 1024.
moth v butterfly
Click on image for full size

Moth vs. Butterfly: What's the Difference?

When learning about the differences between moths and butterflies it's best to be cautious about making absolute statements because both have species that are the exception to any rule.

Nocturnal vs. Diurnal

Generally moths are nocturnal and butterflies are diurnal. Both have exceptional species. Commonly seen diurnal moths are the Ailanthus Webworm moth, Snowberry Clearwing, and the Hummingbird Clearwing. Many moth-like butterflies in the Hedylidae family are nocturnal.

Drab vs. Colorful

Both moths and butterflies have representation ranging from drab to colorful.

Unclubbed vs. clubbed antennae

Generally moths have feathery, unclubbed antennae, such as the Luna. Some moths have filamentous, unclubbed antennae, like the Clearwing hummingbird moths. Castnioidea moths have clubbed antennae.
I've not been able to find any exceptional butterflies that have feathery or unclubbed antennae.

Linked vs. unlinked wings

Moths generally have a frenulum that links the fore and hindwings together. Butterflies typically lack this wing coupling structure.

Adult feeding

Many moth species only feed as caterpillars. During the adult stage of the life cycle the moth cannot feed because it lacks mouth parts. These moths have a lifespan of about 7-10 days and exist in the adult form for the sole purpose of mating.

I have not been able to find any examples of butterflies that do not feed in the adult stage or lack mouth parts.

Mothing Equipment

Drawing moths to a collecting sheet can be as simple or as extravagant as your budget allows. There are a few things to consider that will make moth-ing a little easier.

It's Time to Light the Lights!

Moths are drawn to short wavelengths of light. Think back to physics class for a moment. Shorter wavelengths can be found in the blue to UV light range. A good UV light or any light that produces a blueish color will work very well at drawing moths to a collecting sheet.

Moths do not respond to yellow light so do not use for moth-ing purposes. However, some moths do respond to infrared light.
Click for full image size

Now That's a Lightbulb!

The lighting set-up at Backyard Butterflies consists of a 24 inch 40-watt UV light, and I cycle using a 160-watt mercury vapor bulb and a 400-watt metal halide Plantmax Sky Blue bulb.

The 400-watt light requires a ballast for use which John assembled using this DIY for an MV light as a guide.
The MV bulb (left) can be purchased at Leroy is very friendly and helpful. The Plantmax bulb (right) was purchased on

The Collecting Sheet

The cheapest white flat bed sheet that you can purchase is the best collecting sheet to use. There are fancy collecting sheets that can be purchased but know that you'll want a sheet that can be easily washed and dried. Yes, the sheet somehow gets stained!

If you have trees to string up a clothing line or rope then hanging the collecting sheet will be easy. I opted to purchase a photographer's background stand because it's portable and can be adjusted in width and height. I also have a PVC frame that can be positioned in place with two rods of rebar to anchor the frame. My frames are shown in the photo below:
moth sheets
The mercury vapor (MV) bulb can be mounted on a standard photography tripod. I purchased a special lighting mount for the metal halide (MH) bulb to be mounted above the line of sight because even an accidental gaze into the bulb will cause a few minutes worth of retinal after-image or outright blindness. It is 400 watts of photon exquisiteness!

With all lights that I use it is a good idea to wear UV light protection and to use sunscreen.

Identifying Moths

I use a combination of resources: the standard Peterson's field guide, the iNaturalist phone app, the Leps Field Guide phone app, and the Moths of North Carolina website.

Camera: I'm Ready for My Close-up

Many of the moths that will come to the sheet are very tiny. As in measured in millimeters tiny. In order to see details you will want to have a camera capable of macro photography.

I use a Nikon D7500 camera with a Sigma 105 mm macro lens with a reasonably priced ring light flash. Using a tripod isn't practical because the moths are located all over the span of the sheet and they remain still enough to capture a clear, crisp image at 1/200 sec that is limited by the ring flash.

A fancy camera isn't exactly necessary to capture good quality images to submit to database websites. A cell phone camera with a macro lens attachment or zoom capabilities is adequate enough.

On an average moth-ing night I will take anywhere from 100 to 500 photos.
Suzuki's Promalactis
Suzuki's Promalactis is one of the smallest moths on the collecting sheet


I have had good moth-ing during the hours of 9:00 pm to around 2:00 am on those nights I can manage to stay awake with the aid of a Netflix show to binge-watch. I will periodically visit the sheet between episodes to see who is new to the sheet. I will spend about 30-45 minutes photographing all of the interesting visitors and I will check around the bushes, plants and shrubs to see who is lurking about in the shadows.

Often there are more than just moths who are drawn to the sheet. I have had wolf spiders, praying mantis, bald-faced hornets, dobson flies, cicadas, butterflies, and ailanthus webworm moths visit the sheets. I'm convinced that ailanthus webworm moths never sleep and suffer from chronic insomnia.
Moth Night Facebook Cover (1)

Click on the button below to learn more about this event.

NABA Butterfly Counts

NABA Count Slide (1)
All skill levels and ages are welcome to participate in NABA butterfly counts. Next month's newsletter will be dedicated to NABA counts and how you can be a citizen scientist!

Orange County Count

Sunday, August 7, 2022

9:00 to 3:00 PM
Contact: Backyard Butterflies

Guilford & Rockingham Counties Count

Sunday, August 9, 2022

9:00 to 3:00 PM
Contact: Backyard Butterflies

Durham County Count

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Contact: Jeff Pippen
$3 participant fee applies

Mayo River State Park Count

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Contact: Brian Bockhahn

Pilot Mountain State Park Count

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Contact: Brian Bockhahn

Hanging Rock State Park Count

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Contact: Brian Bockhahn

Highlights from the Open House & Plant Swap

open house and swap 2
open house and swap 1
open house and swap 3
Once again, our 6th Annual Open House & Plant Swap was a successful day of building community and fundraising.

A big extra-thankful thank you to our awesome group of Esteemed Volunteers who assisted attendees, and to our attendees for supporting us and our three part mission.

This year's highlights:

• The Plant Swap had the best turn-out ever. So many great plants were swapped. A great way to get plants without spending any money.

• We gave away 100 plants from the Free Plant table. (Retail value $500)

• Attendance was also the best ever based upon a count of 77 cars parked and 136 tickets given out.

• An estimated $1,200 was raised from a combination of donations and plant sales.

If it looks poorly attended in these photos it's because I was finally able to take a moment 2 hours after the initial opening rush at 8 AM. If you missed this year's event, catch us next year on Saturday, June 17, 2023 for the 7th Annual Open House & Plant Swap.

Mark Your Calendars!

We are in the final planning stages for our inaugural fall plant sale fundraiser.

This sale will feature some of our best sellers of the year and some new plants to our collection.

There will be two ways to shop:
  • In-person on the designated dates and times
  • Pre-paid orders for pick-ups only during the designated dates and times
Follow our Backyard Butterflies Facebook page for updates and further details.
Fall Plant Sale

Caterpillar Support

We offer Caterpillar Support to those who are in need of host plants, foster care, or adoption of caterpillars.

There are 18 species of caterpillar that we can provide the host plant for, and we can also provide host plants for some species of moths.

This program is free of charge. All you need to do is apply letting us know what host plants you need, or if you need us to foster care or adopt your caterpillars.

American Lady caterpillar

Plant Pots Return Request

Pots Return
We appreciate the return of pots for re-use if you happen to be passing by our way. No need to contact us, just drop them off on our porch.

Coming Up in August:

Mothing Project Reports & NABA Butterfly Counts

may 3-9029
Small-eyed Sphinx moth
Dark Moth Moon Square
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