Monday, September 05, 2005

The Moth Light at the Shakespeare Garden

Wavy-lined Emerald

The sap-oozing tree has begun to lose its powers. After attracting so many new species of Underwing moths during July and August this year, as well as the once-in-a-lifetime Black Witch on August 12th, moths have been few and far between for the last week or two.

Time to bring out the moth light. This special light bulb, powered by a portable power-pack [no electric outlets in the middle of Central Park] has special insect-attracting powers. For the last three or four years the CP Mothers have been setting up a black light in the Shakespeare Garden, a beautiful flower-filled garden on the hillside just below Belvedere Castle.

Digression: Why is it called the Shakespeare Garden? Because it's filled with plantings mentioned in Shakespeare's works [A rose by any other name, etc.]. The garden was established in 1915 in honor of some now- obscure politician who was a devotee of the Bard. But even before that, in 1880, a black mulberry from Stratford-on-Avon was planted there, which can still be seen at the western entrance to the garden. [This info comes from Sara Cedar Miller's terrific book "Central Park, An American Masterpiece."]

Back to the moth light: Here's how it works: We spread a white sheet over one of the garden's rustic benches, and hang the moth light [sometimes called a black fluorescent light] in the middle. It is a powerful insect-magnet. It usually takes less than ten seconds for insects to begin to appear on the sheet--small gnats, flies, tiny micro-moths we can't possibly identify [they're not in the Field Guide -- and some of them have never been identified] Eventually good sized interesting moths arrive.

Much of the time in the garden we use our powerful flashlights [Surefire - lithium battery type] to observe spiders --see yesterday's post. Also crickets. [More on our racy cricket discoveries soon].

But moths are still our major preoccupation.

Two days ago things were pretty uninspiring at the moth light. Mostly our visitors were the most common moths, and even they were few and far between. We decided to pack it in earlier than usual.

It was 10:10 and the moth light was already off and packed up in the wheeled shopping cart we use to transport it. Suddenly Jim calls out: What's this? We shine our flashlight on the wooden leg of the rustic bench , and jackpot: the green moth you see pictured above. It may have been there the whole evening -- we had never looked. Not only was it a stunningly beautiful creature, a member of the Geometrid family, but it was a new moth for our Central Park Moths list, upping our total of moth species to 104.