Me holding what I believe is a Ceratomia undulosa (waved sphinx).. or some sort of sphinx moth, at any rate.. July 2016, Hancock County.

In celebration of National Moth Week, which is celebrating its 5th anniversary this year, I decided to try to photograph and identify some of the moths around my house this week.

This isn’t a new activity for me. In fact, I did the same thing last week, just for fun. Then someone emailed me to tell me about National Moth Week (July 23-31), and I thought I ought to do something, given my recent fascination with moths.

polyphemus moth 0716-1
Polyphemus moth on my hand, Hancock County, July 2016 Credit: John Clarke Russ | BDN

Moth lovers — or “moth-ers” — are celebrating moths all across the country this week. You can check it out on nationalmothweek.org, where you’ll learn that scientists estimate there are 150,000-500,000 moth species worldwide. (Quite a range, if you ask me, but I suppose it’s difficult to document so many species all over the world.)

OK, so maybe sometimes I get a little too carried away. That's a blinded sphinx moth on my nose. It looks a lot like a crumpled old leaf.. until it displays its bottom wings, which are bright pink with a blue dot!
OK, so maybe sometimes I get a little too carried away. That’s a blinded sphinx moth on my nose. It looks a lot like a crumpled old leaf.. until it displays its bottom wings, which are bright pink with a blue dot!

When it comes to finding moths, I’ve noticed that I rarely just stumble upon one during the day, and that’s because most moths are nocturnal. Some fly during the day like butterflies, but those species are few and far between.

So, to find moths around my property, I simply leave my porch lights on. Serious moth enthusiasts use special lights and bait to attract a wider variety of moths, but I haven’t risen to that level yet. Maybe I’m just lazy.

A bunch of Schizura concinna (red caterpillar moths, which roll up to look like bark) and one Polia nimbosa (stormy arches moth), Hancock County, July 2016.
A bunch of Schizura concinna (red caterpillar moths, which roll up to look like bark) and one Polia nimbosa (stormy arches moth), Hancock County, July 2016.

I have two lights on my back porch, and one light on my front porch. Sometimes I go out at night to see what the lights are attracting, but it can be a little bit hectic out there at that time, with all the insects flying around — including mosquitoes and beetles. So usually I just wait until morning and see what’s still sticking around.

In my experience doing this, the moths are calm during the morning. The ones that have stuck around are simply resting on the wall of my house. I find that some moths are so docile that I can pick them up and they’ll just cling to my finger. I then bring them over to the sunlight to take photographs. Other moths — usually the smaller ones — are less “friendly.” If you touch them, they’ll just fly away.

Me holding what I believe is a Ceratomia undulosa (waved sphinx).. or some sort of sphinx moth, at any rate.. July 2016, Hancock County.
Me holding what I believe is a Ceratomia undulosa (waved sphinx).. or some sort of sphinx moth, at any rate.. July 2016, Hancock County.

Since not many people I know are into photographing insects, I recently joined a closed Facebook group called “Moths and Moth-watching.” It’s an international group with more than 6,000 members. People post moth photos from all over the world. It’s pretty cool, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Same moth as above.. Me holding what I believe is a Ceratomia undulosa (waved sphinx).. or some sort of sphinx moth, at any rate.. July 2016, Hancock County.
Same moth as above.. Me holding what I believe is a Ceratomia undulosa (waved sphinx).. or some sort of sphinx moth, at any rate.. July 2016, Hancock County.

Identifying moths can be pretty tricky, but if you’re lacking a field guide, there are a few good websites. So far, I’ve found two helpful. Project Noah has a large database of moth species and photos contributed by nature lovers throughout Maine. I enjoy this website because it’s Maine specific and includes a lot of photos. However, you really just have to run through it and look at photos until you find one that looks like the moth you’re trying to identify. On the other hand, the Maine moth checklist on butterfliesandmoths.org is a more organized format, but you have to click on the name of a moth species to see a photo.

Hypoprepia fucosa (painted lichen moth) really small and almost looks like a beetle.
Hypoprepia fucosa (painted lichen moth) really small and almost looks like a beetle.

This is my third blog about moths, I believe, and it probably won’t be my last. But I promise, after this, I’ll do my best to move onto some other aspect of nature to photograph and learn about! There’s so much out there.

"Friends" Luna moths.. a favorite from earlier this month.
“Friends” Luna moths.. a favorite from earlier this month.

Here are a few more recent moth photos, and a few old favorites, in honor of National Moth Week! Keep in mind that I am just starting to try to identify moths, and my IDs may be wrong. If you think you know the proper ID, please comment it! I won’t be offended.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.