The general attitude toward the humble moth can be discerned through a simple Google search that reveals that it’s the moth’s eradication that most people are interested in. Moths are in the same family as butterflies – the order Lepidoptera, from the Latin for “scaled-wings” – but nobody is planting “moth gardens” to welcome the butterfly’s drab cousins into their backyards. Butterflies are perceived as a symbol of beauty and transformation, but moths are usually seen as pesky nuisances whose only transformative associations are with ruined textiles.
But if Mark DeDea has anything to say about that, those perceptions may change. DeDea is president of the John Burroughs Natural History Society and the coordinator of its community field trips. He has come up with a novel field excursion centered around identifying moths, slated for Friday, August 14 at 8 p.m. at the Hasbrouck Park Overlook in Kingston: a place that DeDea calls “one of the underutilized parks in the region, with the best view in Kingston, along with a pretty dramatic view of the Rondout and the Hudson River.”
Participants on the field trip – which is free to attend and open to all – will seek out the moth in all its variations in order to shed some light on these often-ignored or reviled insects. There are many thousands of species of moths and some of them are quite beautiful, with detailed wing patterns and colorations rivaling those of their butterfly relations. The best news, when it comes to rehabilitating the moth’s reputation, is that not all moths eat fibers. (Clothing moths, if anyone is keeping track, belong to the Tinea pellionella and Tineola bisselliella species.)
No need to be that scientific on this field trip, however. DeDea says that it’ll be a casual thing, and nobody should feel like they have to have any proficiency on the topic to join in. “We want newbies to come with us and ask lots of questions. We’re a volunteer organization dedicated to all native, natural elements in the Hudson Valley, and we like to share that passion and interest with others.”
DeDea will facilitate the identification of the moths by setting up a white linen cloth with special lights projected onto it. “At the top of the Overlook at the Hasbrouck there are no streetlights,” he explains, “so they’ll be drawn to this light and land on the linen. It’ll be an opportunity to get a good look at them, and we’ll use binoculars and field guides to identify them. I make no claims of being an expert moth-man, but there are actually some pretty amazing ones when you look. They’re a part of our natural world that we take for granted; we just call them all ‘moths’ and that’s the end of it.”
This field trip will be a little different from most of the excursions sponsored by the John Burroughs Natural History Society. Unlike the early-morning birding trips on which hardcore birders don’t let anything get in the way of their observations, this expedition is on a Friday night, and participants are encouraged to bring along something to snack on or to drink. If the sky is clear enough, there’ll be the opportunity for some stargazing with spotting scopes. If the group is quiet enough, says DeDea, “We’ll probably hear several species of owls: barred owls and great horned and screech owls that breed right within earshot of the park. And we could have migrant nighthawks that fly over the Hudson Valley in that timeframe.
“There’s so much more that goes on in the dark of night that we don’t think about,” he says. “We’re just trying to open up our eyes and our minds a little bit.”