VOICES OF DAVIDSON
Magical Moth Night
Gordon Clark, longtime Davidson resident, contributed the following article about a magical, moth night on one of Davidson’s Greenways. Welcome, Gordon!
If you happened to be out on the West Branch Rocky River Greenway last Wednesday evening just before sunset you might have seen some unusual rituals. First there were several stands along the trail that held large white sheets 5ft across that had black lights attached to them. Then there was the strong smelling goo that someone had painted on about half a dozen trees along the trail. You may have even bumped into someone walking along the trail with a head lamp on staring into the woods. All this was part on an annual event taking place near the West Branch Nature Preserve called “Moth Night” put on by the Mecklenburg County Park & Rec. Dept. It’s part of several hundred such events that happen across the world during the middle of July during the peak season for moths.
The goal of the event it to tally more than 100 species of moths. The event was hosted by Lenny Lampel, a Natural Resource Coordinator for Mecklenburg County P&R, who said that so far they have counted up to about 900 species overall. Not only did the event attract a large variety of all kinds of flying insects but I kept bumping into people whose names sounded really familiar. First there was Rob Van Epps who’s led many a nature walk for Davidson Lands Conservancy. Then there was local author and historian, Pamela Grundy, out there watching one of the sheets carefully to see what flew in. Taylor Piephoff, the Charlotte Observer’s birdman who also happens to know a few things about moths. And local Master Naturalist, Alice Sudduth, was also part of the crowd. This all made for a very entertaining walkabout and even the weather gave us a little break from our sultry southern nights.
It turns out that moths take a back seat to their more popular cousin, the butterfly, even though they far outnumber them and are much more varied. Because moths have received less attention than butterflies, we know less about them and where they occur, thus the idea behind Moth Nights. Moths are also believed to be good indicators of how healthy our environment is, so the more moths we study the better able we can measure changes in their populations.
The best part about Moth Night was some of unexpected critters that turned up. While we were watching one of the goo painted trees (a concoction of stale beer, brown sugar, overripe bananas, & molasses) we spotted two eyes dart from behind the tree. After some nervous darting back and forth we finally got a close up look at a flying squirrel. Drawn to the smell of the goo the squirrel clung to the tree lapping at the sugary mess. I was told this was a southern flying squirrel that’s found throughout the eastern United States, but because they are mostly nocturnal you don’t see them around like the grey squirrels that we are so accustomed to.
Flying squirrels might more appropriately be called “gliding squirrels” because they aren’t capable of true powered flight that a bird or a bat can do. Flying squirrels glide. They have a special membrane between their front and back legs that allows them to glide through the air between trees. When a flying squirrel wants to travel to another tree without touching the ground, it launches itself from a high branch and spreads out its limbs so the gliding membrane is exposed. It uses slight movements of the legs to steer, and the tail acts as a brake upon reaching its destination. Flying squirrels can cover more than 150 feet in a single glide.
So the next time you step outside at night this summer keep your eyes out for a beautiful pink and yellow nickel size moth we saw at Moth Night called a Rosy Maple moth. Or, who knows, maybe there’s a flying squirrel living in your back yard. There’s more than just stars out during our July summer nights. Have a look.