Mothapalooza

Photo by Alice Kahn

In Ohio, there are an estimated 2,500 species of moths, compared to fewer than 140 butterfly species. An enthusiastic group of Ohio “moth-ers” (people who enjoy moths, rather than a maternal parent) is looking forward to celebrating these nighttime flyers during Mothapalooza, a bi-annual event taking place July 12 to 14 at Shawnee Lodge and Conference Center near West Portsmouth.

Participants can expect to see a “blizzard of moths,” says Jim McCormac, one of the event’s founders and organizers. The most popular events are the field trips. “We leave around 10 p.m. and often don’t get back until 3 a.m.,” he says. “Shawnee State Forest is one of the most biodiverse areas in the eastern United States because it’s got so many native plants. Native plants drive moth diversity, so we know it’s going to be good.”

The organizers establish eight stations, with mercury vapor and ultraviolet lights shining on a sheet and a mothing expert to help with identification. The stations are set in different habitats, so they draw different species of moths.

Alice Kahn, a member of Butler Rural Electric Cooperative, found an appreciation for moths one night at her grandmother’s house when she was a child. “She had a screened porch; I looked up and saw the biggest moth,” Kahn says. “It was beautiful, it was green, and it had long tails. It was a luna moth. That just impressed me.”

As an adult, Kahn still appreciates the appeal of moths. Every night in the summer, she sets up her own lamps and sheet to draw moths. The next morning, or even during the night, she photographs them. Sometimes she posts online, looking for help in identifying her subjects.

“I’ve never been to Mothapalooza, and I’m looking forward to meeting some of the people I have been interacting with over the years,” she says.

McCormac emphasizes the importance of moths to other native species. “When you add up those 2,500 species of moths and all the caterpillars, that’s bird food. If they suddenly went extinct overnight, we’d lose virtually all of our songbirds.” He adds, “We’re trying to educate people about the diversity of moths. Everyone comes away with a richer appreciation of moths, ecology, and the value of native plants.”