The creatures you don’t always see at night

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Ever wonder why moths and other flying insects go buggy when they encounter a bright light after dark?

Flying insects will gather in large numbers around a light and flit about until they’re exhausted and drop to the ground. Experts have long wondered why that is: Moths are nocturnal yet they seem highly enthusiastic about bright places.

Adam Timpf, a wildlife biologist and director of the Long Point Basin Land Trust, says it probably has something to do with nocturnal insects using the moon to get around.

“Artificial lights mess with their navigation system,” Timpf said.

“That’s the working theory that seems to make the most sense. That’s why light pollution is such an issue for moths and why you will find dead moths in the area of a night light come the daytime.”

Moth behaviour was on the agenda during a recent Creatures of the Night event in Walsingham. The gathering occurred after dark but the hosts had a number of tricks for coaxing the creatures into the spotlight.


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The most effective involved a white sheet hung vertically near a bright light. This drew hundreds of moths representing some of the 1,000 species that call Norfolk home.

Nearby, staff smeared a tree with a mash of molasses, ripe bananas and fermented fruit.

Due to its sap-like quality, this concoction also attracted moths, including the bent-winged owlet and sphinx moth among others. A hungry flying squirrel – another nocturnal animal – made a cameo appearance.

“Over 1,000 different moths have been identified in this area, as compared to fewer than 100 butterfly species,” Timpf said. “There is far greater abundance and diversity of moths than butterflies.”

Biologists, such as Timpf, are always thinking of adaptive theories to explain the behaviour of animals in the wild. As for being nocturnal, moths likely have evolved in this manner because there are far fewer birds around after dark to eat them, he said.

This hasn’t prevented predator species from evolving to prefer the night themselves. Many birds that roost at sunset don’t live to see the morning because owls — with their acute night vision – spot them and pick them off.

Bats are also well-adapted to the night. Five species are native to Norfolk. They devour enormous quantities of flying insects through a sophisticated process of echo location.

Not present at the creature event but set to take centre stage are insects both familiar and mysterious. The mating calls of crickets and katydids are a reliable indicator that summer is in the home stretch. Where conditions are right, their chorus is nearly deafening, especially on hot August nights.


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Creatures of the Night was held July 19 at the 50-acre Stead Family Scientific Reserve.

As twilight gave way to dark, participants were treated to the music of evening song birds. These include the ovenbird, the rose-breasted grosbeak and the whip-poor-will among others.

The Long Point Basin Land Trust was founded in 1996. Its mission is to restore functioning ecosystems in the central part of the Carolinian region of southern Ontario. The trust oversees 10 nature reserves with a combined area of 671 acres.

On Aug. 10, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., the trust will hold a free forest health workshop at the Arthur Langford Nature Reserve, near Frogmore.

Led by Dan Marina, Norfolk County’s forest conservation officer, the workshop will teach participants the basics of determining a tree’s health, among other things.

Entry to the reserve is gained from Barth Side Road, between Regional Rd. 23 and Regional Rd. 28.

Visit for information and registration.

Donations are welcome.

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