Nocturnal Insects

Nocturnal Insects


When you walk alone in the woods in the deep
of night, maybe you’re not so alone after all. It won’t take long for a buzzing, creeping,
crawling array of creatures to surround you – above, below and on all sides. Moths,
beetles and even parasitic wasps will join you in your journey through darkness. But
there is nothing to fear. Nocturnal insects are both mysterious and fascinating. A group
of insect-lovers recently found this out for themselves, joining Clemson University entomologist
Michael Caterino at the South Carolina Botanical Garden for a free event called “Light Up
the Night!” And what a night it was. I’m really excited to have such a good turnout
here tonight. We’re at the Botanical Garden, and of course people come here this time of
year because they want to see flowers in bloom and the trees greening up and stuff coming
back to life. But this is a really exciting time of year for entomologists too, and if
you have walked around here a little bit, you’ve probably seen carpenter bees buzzing
around everywhere, maybe caterpillars hanging off the trees and getting on your clothes.
And this is the time of year when everything is coming back to life. So the entomologists
are getting out of the lab and experiencing the sun again and one of the most exciting
parts of the insect fauna is the night life. So you see all these things out on plants
and flowers during the day, and those are fun to watch. But there’s this whole other
group of insect species that come out only at night. So that’s what we’re trying
to see tonight. Obviously, moths come to all of your porch lights, and you’re all familiar
with those. But there are a lot of great insects of all kinds that come to life at night. So
we’ve set up a couple, and you can just see one down the hill back here, which is
called a mercury vapor light. And then down just beyond where the road crosses the creek
over here, we’ve got two others that are called black lights. So they’re kind of
a darker, like a blue-light tube. Both of them have lots of UV light, and that seems
to be very attractive to bugs. One question that you’re probably all going to ask one
of us at one point is why do insects come to light. Does anybody know the answer to
that? (Silence.) Silence is the right answer. Nobody knows why this happens. All these insects
gravitate toward light for reasons that no entomologist can say for sure. There are a
lot of ideas. And one of them – I guess my favorite idea – is that insects that
are out flying at night are more or less navigating by moonlight. So they’re flying along and
the moon is there, and they’re trying to keep the moon at a constant angle to themselves.
And if they get close to a light, then they just have to fly around and around I circles.
But basically the program for the night is going to be walking back and forth between
the lights and seeing what’s coming to each one. Now one thing that we’re really hoping
to see is a Cecropia moth. Does anybody know what that is? This is one of the giant silk
moths. It’s about palm-sized. It’s a big and gorgeous moth that is flying down-state.
It may be just a little bit early here, and it is kind of a cool night. But there’s
a good chance we might see one here tonight. I know that some of the students are really
excited to see those. We may see some June beetles, the large, kind of brown, bumbling
scarad beetles. You’re all familiar with those. You probably don’t know that there
are at least 20 species that you can see right here around Clemson – those big, brown beetles.
So there’s a lot of diversity. And we’ll hope to see a lot of different things. We
may do a little bit of collecting, but we’re going to try to get things into jars that
we can pass around and let everybody take a look at. We’ll also be looking on the
ground and on the trees as we walk back and forth because there are a lot of nocturnal
species that aren’t attracted to light and are out walking around. And they come out
because there aren’t so many predators around. The birds aren’t there picking them off.
It’s a little bit of a safer time for a lot of species to be out. I’m just looking inside this rotten log
trying to find what insects and other arthropods are in here. So far, I’ve seen a little
millipede. There’s a whole lot of springtails, which are little, tiny relatives of insects
but aren’t actually insects. There was a wire worm, which is the larva form of a click
beetle. Other than that, not a whole lot in here. We’re just getting started with our “Light
Up the Night!” program at the South Carolina Botanical Garden. This is one of the many
public programs we offer throughout the year here. We have school programs and programs
for children. And programs geared toward adults. One of the great things about this is we’re
able to offer this as a free program to the public because of our great partnership with
Dr. Caterino and the entomology department students who come out here and set up the
lights and educate us all about the insect life of the night. I job-shadowed Dr. Caterino for Walhalla High
School and then I began doing volunteer hours with the Clemson entomology department with
Dr. Farrow. I’m considering being a wildlife biologist. The June beetles were kind of cold
and they couldn’t move very much because of the cold weather. And it was interesting
to see the moths shiver when they’re cold to get their bodies moving.

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