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Dazzling, cryptic, and vital: National Moth Week marked with events in Pittsfield, West Stockbridge

The Rosy Maple Moth.
The Rosy Maple Moth.

A Berkshire County environmental group is holding two events this month for National Moth Week.

The 12th annual celebration of all things moth runs from the 22nd to the 30th, and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team wants to make sure Western Massachusetts knows it.

“Many people probably know that moths are closely related to butterflies, they share the same taxonomic order," Chelsey Simmons told WAMC. "So, it's a big group, but there are over 160,000 known moth species worldwide. 11,000 are found here in the US. So, there are only like, 17,000, 18,000 butterfly species, even though there are like 180,000 species in that one order. So, that's pretty amazing.”

Simmons of BEAT says moths come in all varieties.

“There are some that are very colorful, and the patterns are quite dazzling," she said. "And then other times they can be so cryptic that they basically define camouflage. And their sizes vary as well. They can be small as the width of a grain of rice to as large as an adult's hand.”

There thousands of species of moths in Massachusetts alone, and Simmons says they play a vital role in the ecology.

“There are many songbirds, amphibians, mammals, even other insects that eat them," she explained. "Even some bears eat them. And then they're also really important pollinators. They're top contenders up there with bees.”

Simmons shared some of her favorite moths.

“I really liked the rosy maple moth," she told WAMC. "It's the smallest of the giant silk moths. They're like maybe two inches across. The males have these really long feathery antennae and they are a hot pink and also a yellow. And when their wings are closed over the top of their body, they kind of look like a maple fruit, the little helicopters. They're called samaras. So, that's where they get the rosy maple moth name. And then really all the giant silk moths are really cool. They can get quite large, like the luna moth, which has like a glowing green color with a tail kind of coming off the end. And then there are a plume moths, too, that don't really look like your typical moth. Their wings kind of make them look like a boomerang in a way.”

BEAT is holding two events around National Moth Week to bring a greater understanding and appreciation of the creatures to the Berkshire County.

“Carla Rhodes, a wildlife conservation photographer and moth enthusiasts is giving a presentation about mothing and how to do it and why they're important, and just like what moths you might see in your own backyard," said Simmons. "That's taking place on Thursday, July 20th. It's going to be a hybrid event, so, online and at BEAT’s environmental leadership and education center on 20 Chapel Street in Pittsfield.”

The other event is more hands-on and experiential, summoning participants to West Stockbridge after nightfall for a demonstration on how to responsibly observe moths at their preferred time of day.

“And that's happening on Saturday, July 29th at MassWildlife’s Flat Brook Wildlife Management Area," Simmons told WAMC. "And so, we'll have two different sheets set up, they're called sheet rigs, and then lights will just be lighting up the sheets and attracting moths and other cool insects.”

Simmons stresses that amateur or emergent moth fans should take a restrained approach.

“Don't try and catch them unless you truly know what you're doing," she advised. "But it's best to just look, observe, and admire. You can always take photos. There are many apps out there. You can take photos and try to ID them that way or use a book.”

BEAT’s goal is to make sure that National Moth Week corrects the record about an insect many consider a nuisance.

“Moths are often just overlooked, I would say. And so, National Moth Week is a way to hopefully garner more admiration and just awareness for moths in general," Simmons told WAMC. "But also, being able to educate people about moths. And then there's also a lot of, there's a big community scientist aspect of it as well, where people can go out and document the moths and then put that into a larger database and contribute it to science.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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