Getting Buggy: Loudoun Celebrates Butterflies and Moths

It’s mid-summer, and that is lepidoptera season in Virginia.

Loudoun’s conservation groups have some cool programming coming up this summer to celebrate butterflies and moths.

The Izaak Walton League’s Moth Night returns for its second year July 20, while the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy holds its 23rd annual Butterfly Count Aug. 3.

Paul Kreingold, conservation director for the Izaak Walton League’s Loudoun County Chapter, has some thoughts on our collective fascination with winged insects.

“With butterflies, they’re beautiful and with moths, they’re mysterious. It’s just like with bats—they’re denizens of the night,” Kreingold said.

The chapter’s Moth Night returns Saturday, July 20 and features two entomological rock stars. David Adamski, a retired Smithsonian entomologist and one of the country’s leading authorities on micro-moths, is joined by Dana DeRoche, curator of the Smithsonian’s spider collection for a two-day celebration of mysterious moths and other insect life.

The event, geared toward both adults and children, features a talk from Adamski and De Roche about insect adaptations and tackles the question, “Why are insects so successful?” Then the scientists and their team will help set up insect traps around the 88-acre campus.

“You hang a light and then you wait,” Kreingold said. “I was amazed the first time—you get everything from these huge four-inch Dobsonflies to the tiniest little things and everything in between, a whole myriad of moths and all kinds of bugs.”

Spicebush Swallowtail spotted during the 2018 butterfly count at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship north of Hillsboro.
[Michael Myers]
            Last year’s Moth Night drew around 70 participants, including local moth enthusiasts and students from the Washington DC Young Entomologist Group, which Adamski leads.

On Friday, July 18, Adamski will lead a smaller event at the chapter’s headquarters for lepidoptera enthusiasts explaining how to kill, spread and display butterflies and moths like museum curators.

For Kreingold, a longtime nature enthusiast, the annual event, along with other chapter programming on insects, is a way to help non-professionals get a closer look at the natural world.

“There are so many things we see every day and we know nothing about,” he said.

Another up close and personal look at Loudoun’s insect world comes every year on the first Saturday in August at the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s annual butterfly count. Now in its 23rd year, the event teams up amateurs and experts to count butterflies at multiple locations within a 15-mile count circle centered in Waterford. For the past three years, retired Smithsonian butterfly curator and avid butterfly enthusiast Anne Ellis has run the count. Last year, 80 volunteers counted around 3,000 butterflies of nearly 50 species, Ellis said. This year, Ellis is looking for counters of all ages, along with experienced group leaders to help volunteers identify the butterflies they spot.

“It’s not only how many butterflies we see but how many species we see, as well,” Ellis said.

The count usually identifies around 50 species, but last year, one of Ellis’ favorite species, the Pipevine Swallowtail, was mysteriously absent on count day, even though Ellis and others had spotted them around the county in the weeks before the count.

“It’s a snapshot,” Ellis said, but, in general, the more counters who show up, the more butterflies the group is able to count. The annual snapshot does give a good idea of prevalent species in our area, and the group shares its data with the North American Butterfly Association.

Ellis, who ran live butterfly exhibits at Montgomery County’s Brookside Gardens and the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, retired to the Between The Hills neighborhood in northwest Loudoun a few years ago, and one of her favorite spots for butterfly watching is the beloved Butterfly Alley at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship near her home.

For Ellis, the count is a way to access valuable information and also expose families to the rich diversity of butterflies in Loudoun. While the craze for Monarch waystations is positive, she said there are plenty of other species who thrive in other habitats. Ellis is passionate about swallowtails and other butterflies who lay eggs on different plants.

“[The Monarch] is a poster child,” Ellis said. “We’re not paying attention to what other butterflies need. … We need to think about habitat generally”

The Izaak Walton League’s second annual Moth Night takes place Saturday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the league’s Chapter House, 19237 Mountain Spring Lane in Leesburg. For more information, go to loudouniwla.org. To pre-register, contact Paul Kreingold at conservation@lcciwla.org.

The Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s annual butterfly count takes place Saturday, Aug. 3 at 9 a.m. at locations in Leesburg and Western Loudoun. All ages are welcome, and there’s a participation fee of $3 per adult. For more information or to sign up, go to loudounwildlife.org

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