This post comes to us from Mark Read, an interpretive naturalist at Murphys Point Provincial Park.
Most people have a love/hate relationship with moths. But believe it or not, moths are the latest craze to hit Murphys Point Provincial Park!
With moths ranging in size from the size of a hand to smaller than a grain of rice, park staff have been documenting this understudied group for the past several years.
As a result, the park’s list has grown from 56 known species in 2015 to a whopping 673. That’s 617 more species identified in the park in just three years!
But there is more to the story.
A Virginia creeper sphinx, one of several species of sphinx regularly seen at Murphys Point
What it’s really about is finding the connection with nature that encourages us to ask questions and discover more about the plants and animals that inhabit the environment around us.
The diversity in shapes, sizes and colors of moths is amazing. Unlike butterflies, these beauties often spread their wings for everyone to see. Next time you see a moth, stop and take a look: a proper, close-up look with a magnifying glass.
The orange-headed Epicallima, a stunning beauty packaged in 6mm
Take the 6mm orange-headed Epicallima as an example. Like many moths, it has an unusual and unpronounceable name, but look at the detail packed into just 6mm!
The place of a moth in nature.
The Eastern Pine Seedworm, a new addition in 2018. Wow!
Beauty aside, moths (and their caterpillars) play an important role in an ecosystem as a favorite food for many birds and other animals. Fox cubs have even been seen coming to enjoy a little midnight caterpillar snack. The caterpillars, in turn, feed on large amounts of vegetation.
Moth Fun at Murphys
A Murphys Point Moth Night
Moth Nights take place throughout the summer season in Murphys Point. At these drop-in events, campers meet a park interpreter in the dark to watch the moths around them as they are attracted to the lights.
And, of course, it’s not just the moths that appear. Other creatures regularly seen include walking sticks, mantises, caddis flies, fish flies and peculiar little beetles – something everyone should see (and hear).
Capturing live moths
La Moth Luna, where it all started back in 2015
The park uses live capture methods to collect information on the park’s moths and understand when different species emerge.
For example, thanks to live trapping, we know that the best time to see some larger moths, such as the palm-sized lunar moth, is the two- to three-week period from late June to early July.
An implied arc. The best place in Ontario to see this tracked species is Murphys Point!
Try leaving a light on overnight and turning it off periodically to see what has appeared. Or maybe try building a homemade trap.
A field guide may be helpful, although some excellent resources are freely available online. Taking pictures of what you see is also a good idea. Most mobile phones have excellent cameras these days, although a camera with a macro function is certainly beneficial.
Boxwood Leaftier – one of the many strange forms moths take
The last step is to record what you see and share your information (and your passion) with others. iNaturalist is a great place to get help with species identification and share your sightings with the community.
What are your feelings about moths?
Common Gray – try finding it on the bark of a tree!
Do you love them, hate them or are you totally indifferent? Whatever it is, join the staff at Murphys Point for a Moth Night to find out more. Maybe you’ll be inspired to pursue motherhood yourself!
Or, as is the case for many people who visit Ontario parks, it could provide the spark that ignites a lifelong passion for nature.