If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I’ve recently taken up mothing as part of an(other) informal project: The Year of Insects. I’ve been dancing around the discipline for a while, kind’ve like I danced around painting: collecting equipment and instructional reading material and subscribing to blogs for years before I actually tried it for myself.
Out of all the esoteric entomological naturalist subjects—dragonflies, butterflies, beetles—I picked moths for some of the same reasons I enjoy birds. They’re relatively easy to find on any given outing, their paintjobs are stunning, and sometimes they hold still long enough for you to get a good look.
But mothing is not like birding.
For starters: to bird, you carry a pair of binoculars into bird habitat, look and listen for your quarry, and then watch to your heart’s content. To moth, you lure moths out of the darkness, with light or fermented (stinky) bait, and then you take photos or specimens before your visitors flit away.
To bird, you ordinarily go forth during the day. Mothing is a mostly nocturnal affair (to the chagrin of this morning glory).
With birds, what you see is what you get. There are about 900 species of birds in North America (daunting, but doable). Moths? Not so much. There are at least 12,000 moth species (and counting) on the continent. Even if you could remember the points of identification for all the local commoners (possibly thousands), there’s so much variation between individuals of the same species that I’m staring down years of moth-catching before I’ll get to moth-identifying.
On the plus side, this new hobby will hopefully exercise my ability to stay awake at late parties, even though my new idea of fun—swatting mosquitoes in the dark while I hang out with a cotton sheet and a headlamp in my front yard—may not yield thrilling party stories.
And yet, here is something that astonishes me: a bird in the hand feels like you’re holding nothing at all. Even a crow stands on your fist startlingly invisible to gravity. But a moth on your hand amplifies that same gravity—there’s no other explanation to how such a miniscule creature possesses such weight and warmth.
This moth clambered up almost on purpose, drawing my attention to its presence in the world, the fact that it’s taking up space and oxygen, that it has weight and exerts force and appetite and progeny.
For some of you, that thought is maybe a little terrifying, which was not exactly my intent. Though maybe I should consider whether this moth means to deliver a greeting or a warning…