What’s in my Backyard?

Backyard Safari: Moths and porch lights

For the introduction to this series, see here.

Night. It is mysterious to us daytime creatures. It is home to a whole host of nocturnal creatures. Today we are going to find out how to study nocturnal insects. The main problem with looking for nocturnal insects is that we can not see them in the dark. Many insects are attracted to lights so a simple way of drawing them to you is to turn on a porch light and sit and wait for the fun to begin. Not all porch lights are created equal, however. Some bulbs are specially designed to keep insects away. Fluorescent light bulbs do not seem to attract many insects. You can experiment with which outside lights around your house attract insects. If none of them do then you could (with your parent’s help and permission) change some of the light bulbs to different types and find out what works. My back porch light is very attractive to insects. But I had a problem. The insects just flew in crazy circles around the light and never landed. A simple fix for this problem is to hang up an old bedsheet from a rope or against the wall. This gives a place for the insects to land so you can easily watch them and record which species visit your light.

One of the biggest surprises about this experiment in my backyard was the number of insects usually associated with the daytime that showed up on the sheet. Every evening dozens of lady beetles, checkered melon beetles, and cucumber beetles are crawling around on the sheet. There are often small harmless solitary wasps and last night there was even a confused yellowjacket! One warning. Keep your mouth closed while standing near the light or a confused insect might fly right in!

As well as moths, you will probably also see other nocturnal insects such as craneflies and caddisflies. You can take photos of the invertebrates that visit your sheet or sketch them in your journal. Many of these nocturnal insects are beautiful and have fascinating lives. Usually, we do not see many of them. Now is your chance to explore these amazing creatures.

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