PILOT MOUNTAIN — Butterflies and moths are all around, but few people notice how many different species live among them.
Park Ranger Jesse Anderson, who handles most education programs at Pilot Mountain State Park, said there are hundreds of species of moths and butterflies which inhabit the area surrounding the park.
Anderson hosted an educational program about moths and butterflies at the summit of the park Saturday morning. It was complete with an opportunity for visitors to catch and identify different species, and Anderson used his own collection of butterflies and moths to point out various characteristics of the winged creatures.
“There are about 16 times as many species of moths than butterflies,” noted Anderson as he explained the differences in the two types of insects, which are part of the same order of species.
According to Anderson, butterflies can be easily identified by the “clubs” on the end of their antennae. Additionally, while various species of moths are active in both day and night, butterflies are only ever active during the day.
“Butterflies get their heat from the sun,” explained Anderson.
A less easily identified difference between the two, according to Anderson, are “hooks” on the ends of the wings of moths. The hooks allow moths to keep their wings open while not flying, while butterflies usually close their wings when sitting still.
One needn’t go to Pilot Mountain State Park to witness moths and butterflies. However, Anderson said a person does need to foster an environment in which the two can thrive.
“If you are interested in promoting butterflies and moths in your own yard, you should keep the native plant species there,” explained Anderson. “We live in a society in which people want a perfect, green lawn, but many weeds and grasses are host plants for moths and butterflies.”
After adding those looking to foster a moth- and butterfly-friendly environment should reduce the amounts of herbicides and pesticides they use, Anderson noted each species has a certain plant which sustains it. Though a butterfly bush may be good for nectar, it can’t sustain the critters like their “host plant” is able to do.
Anderson’s collection, which he showed a gathering of people, included many different varieties, some which were indigenous to North Carolina and others which were not.
One moth, with a wing span of about six inches, is found in Puerto Rico. Anderson noted they sound a little like a helicopter when they fly near somebody.
However, that’s not the biggest species of moth in the world, said Anderson. One moth native to South America is about the size of a dinner plate.
With Anderson’s presentation complete, the park ranger helped visitors, young and old, identify varieties which they had seen in their own yards.
Anderson said Saturday was the second time he has hosted the butterflies and moths program. The first was two years ago.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.