Field Guide to Moths: RIP

Anne Kilmer viceroy at
Thu Jul 9 03:21:08 EDT 1998

Pierre A Plauzoles wrote:
> In a previous article, gochfeld at EOHSI.RUTGERS.EDU (Michael Gochfeld) says:
> >Is anyone forwarding these messages on the passing of the Moth book to the
> >publisher. It's not likely that they're tuned in to the list.
> True.  It is not likely that Houghton Mifflin be tuned in to the list.
> Were it the people over at Chanticleer Press, the publisher of "the
> other" series of Audubon series of field guides, they might, however.
> For some reason unknown to me, moths don't get the press some other
> groups do.
> Charlie, can you figure it out?  Is it because most are night-fliers?
> --
> Pierre Plauzoles   ae779 at
> Canoga Park, California

As a Master Gardener volunteer at our local extension agency/botanical 
garden, I have run into a lot of casual prejudice against moths. 
Butterfly gardeners ask what sort of a butterfly a particular 
caterpillar will grow into. When told it's a moth, they make it clear 
that their next step will be to kill it. 
	In extenuation of their position, may I add that the caterpillar 
is usually accompanied by a host of relatives and friends, and is 
mangling their plant beyond toleration level. People are willing to cut 
butterflies some slack because of their promised attractiveness; they 
won't give moths the same latitude. 
	Therefore I say "It's going to be a big, gorgeous moth," or 
"It's going to be a moth; God loves them too, you know." 
	Leps impacting food crops and specimen plantings are usually 
moths; we expect butterflies to be polite and eat weeds. (Yes, I know 
that brassicas and legumes have butterfly problems... we're talking 
about the ignorant public here and what they know, think and feel.)
	Now that said ignorant public has become excited by butterflies, 
their prejudices against moths and other non-butterfly types become more 
of a problem.
	I think some of the hatred happens becaue moths in the house are 
such bad news. They get into stored foodstuffs and stored fabrics, and 
even eat the carpet under the furniture if you aren't careful. People 
aren't entirely clear about which moths do this, and at what lifestage 
they indulge these inconvenient appetites. So any moth batting about the 
lamp is a potential troublemaker. 
	Skippers are honorary moths, in the minds of these amateurs, and 
all the little brown butterflies may be tarred with the same brush.
	Luna moths, on the other hand, and the other big showy moths are 
honorary butterflies. People like those, although they hate hornworms. 
You'd be amazed, though, how many people I've persuaded to keep 
hornworms as pets, feeding them a bit from this plant and that, thus 
saving the tomatoes or pentas and enjoying a handsome sight. Often as 
not, they've raised up a thriving family of wasps rather than a moth, 
and they can be led to be happy with that, too. 
   Taking on the study of moths, further, is a daunting proposition in 
this country. I can see why the Irish, for instance, with their 32 
species of butterflies, might be forced to fall back on moths. Here, 
there are too many and they are too similar, and the bug books available 
are of no particular help. You find a picture of your moth, and you are 
happy until you look at its range (southern California, and you're in 
Florida) and you stamp away disgusted.
	I looked at a fern fieldbook once; they too are all alike. You 
have to love them before you can begin to know them. 
	Once you love them, the books will sell. So that needs to be our 
aim. How do we persuade people to love these little brown nameless 
creatures who make such a mess?  
	We can't even persuade people to be hysterically unhappy about 
the loss of our frogs and toads, and to rush about trying to find a 
solution. They've announced that it's a soil-born fungus, which has 
always been there. Now it's killing amphibians, all over the world. And 
this loss will impact the races of insects in a million amazing ways. 
	I have a new huge tree frog here, brown and warty, quite 
different from the Cuban tree frog which replaced our variety of 
natives. Bufo marinus has replaced our native toads (I'm afraid even the 
oak toad and the little spadefoot may be gone) and I hope it's resistant 
to this alleged fungus. 
	I shudder to imagine what will plant itself, and be planted, 
where fires have swept North Florida black and bare. I hope insects will 
be considered, as well as other wildlife, and that native plants will be 
the focus ... I'll throw my energies behind that, and could use help 
from the rest of you.  
	Ah well. A happy full moon to all of you. 
Anne Kilmer
South Florida

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