During a visit to Monhegan Island, Maine, this summer, I had the chance to try some newly purchased equipment: my mothing setup. I used the recommendations at https://calnature.org/blog/2017/9/27/diy-moth-light for what to buy, if you’re interested in trying this yourself. [Note that the web site seems to be having issues as I post this, hopefully that will smooth out soon.] I knew nothing about the moths that lived on the island, but hoped I might see some interesting individuals.
I read that different types of bugs come out at different times of the night. Silk moths, the big charismatic moth group that includes lunas, are active right around midnight. Smaller moths and insects show up in the earlier hours. At Monhegan I even had a ladybug appear! I would have assumed that ladybugs would sleep through the night. Not this one, though.
I draped a white shower curtain liner over our cabin’s porch railing and aimed my black light at it from the side. Although I didn’t stay up long enough to see whether the island hosted any big silkmoths, I did get some pretty neat visitors. A burying beetle was one favorite. Also numerous small moths, beetles, etc. I didn’t have energy to set an alarm to get up and check at midnight, rather than take everything down after a couple hours. So I can’t say I came anywhere close to grasping the entirety of Monhegan’s nocturnal insect population. But as far as testing my equipment, it was still worthwhile. Perhaps next summer I’ll impose on a friend with a back yard to host an all-night mothing party.
An interesting thing happened while I wrote this post. First, I loosened up with a bit of freewriting on the day’s prompt. Then I switched to actual prose, but it seems my mind was still in sort of a moody horror mode. I drifted asleep while still writing, and when I came back to consciousness I discovered this surrealist gem in a paragraph about taking photographs at your black light:
Red sunglasses might be a good idea so your own vision won’t be blinded once the heron has turned off and sank back underground.
I don’t even know what I might have meant by that. I kind of like it anyway, though.
If you’re curious about what I freewrote on the midnight prompt, here you go:
The thing about midnight is, it’s far enough from both sunset and daybreak for none of the diurnal creatures to either still be up or have woken yet. Even early ones. In the countryside, where the bleed of city lights into the sky is minimized, this is the darkest, quietest, most tenuous time of night. You feel alone, isolated, disconnected from everything you know. Step outside of the house and it’s a strange place. The quality of the light is different: the bluish glow of starlight, and silvery moonlight if you are lucky enough to have a full moon. Bats and nightherons and goatsuckers wheel overhead, devouring insects on the wing. Moths flutter past your face silently, thronging your flashlight (if you were foolish enough to bring one) and calling all attention to your presence. You catch hints of movement at the edges of your vision, feel the ghostly wisp of a wing passing by. If someday you decide to further explore this world of blood and dark and quiet, I can recommend a few pieces of equipment. Remember to bring as many friends as you can when you go out on this excursion. You need somebody to watch your back, and they need somebody too.