Finding butterflies and moths

Butterflies are generally appreciated by everyone; beautiful to look at and helpful pollinators! If you are in the Rogue Valley you are lucky enough to live lose to some butterfly hot spots. So grab your family, a camera, a net if you have one, and go catch some butterflies! All vocabulary words are bolded in this post.

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, the Soda Mtn area in particular, is known for its butterfly diversity- around 133 species! An endangered species, the Mardon skipper (Polites mardon), is even present in CSNM.Mt. Ashland even has more than 95 different species of butterflies.

Mardon Skipper
Photo by: Donald Gudehus

When you are hunting for lepidopterans (the scientific name for butterflies and moths), check out the variety of colors you may see. Some are dull-colored, so that they can camouflage with their environment to avoid predation, while others are brightly colored. Most butterflies play in an important role in plant pollination as adults, and seek out brightly colored flowers.

Do you see more bigger butterflies or smaller butterflies? Why do you think that is? (Answer: the bigger butterflies fly slower, and are more likely to be eaten!) But some butterflies defend themselves using aposematism, or warning coloration, such as reds or oranges. Have you ever seen a Monarch butterfly?

Monarch butterfly and various other Lepidopterans in an insect collection
Photo by: K. Bradley

Larval butterflies and moths are caterpillars, which look completely different than their adult form! This is called complete metamorphosis. Since caterpillars can’t fly away if they face a threat, oftentimes they have hairs all along their body that will cause skin irritation in mammals. So always be careful handling caterpillars.

You can also hunt for moths by staying in one place! Most people have had the experience of sitting outside on a summer night and watching moths gather around a light source. Maybe you’ve even been standing close to a light and felt the light bombardment of moths flying into you, trying to reach the light. Moths are definitely positively phototactic (attracted to light), but why? Scientists aren’t really sure, but think it may have something to do with navigating using the moon (they think the light is the moon).

Some of the best ways to see and catch moths is to go outside at night! You should bring a light, and just wait to see what comes by. You can also string up a white sheet (a la shadow puppet-style), and shine a blacklight on the sheet.

Just remember, be gentle while handling these beautiful creatures! Breaking their veins in the wings (which gives wings a lot of their support and structure), can fatally injure butterflies and moths. Happy Lepidoptera hunting!


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