TipsFinding the Underwing

Vibrant stripes on the hind wing give the underwing family – the largest family of moths in Michigan – its name. They flourish in August, but they generally don’t flock to lights. We asked Traverse City’s bug-meister Duke Elsner, of Michigan State University Extension, to share tips for the hunt.

1. Find a hardwood forest; the more oaks and fewer pines the better.2. Paint moth lure (see recipe below) on a number of good-sized trees around dusk.
3. Head back at night with a headlamp and shine the little guys (average 1- to 3-inch wingspan).4. To collect, catch in a jar and put in a cooler with ice packs, then freeze them at home.

So Gooey
Duke Elsner uses a gooey lure painted on trees to attract moths that don’t go to a light. His recipe is from The Moth Book, by W.J. Holland, originally published in 1903. With writerly flair, the excerpt below explains the simple mixture and technique:

Here we have a bucket and a clean whitewash brush. We have put into the bucket four pounds of cheap sugar. Now we will pour in a bottle of stale beer and a little rum. We will have stirred the mixture well. … We will pass from tree to tree and apply the brush charged with the sweet semi-intoxicating mixture to the trunks of the trees. The task is accomplished! … Let us wash our sticky fingers in the brook and dry them with our handkerchiefs. Let us sit down on the grass beneath this tree and puff a good Havana.

What’s up with these names? Who named the underwings, and did the namer(s) have relationship issues? You decide with this sampler of moth monikers: The tearful underwing, the gloomy underwing, the dejected underwing, the graceful underwing, the darling underwing, the betrothed, the sweetheart, the bride, the wife, the once-married underwing, the polygamist, the wayward nymph, and yes, the penitent. – Courtesy Duke Elsner

Afraid of butterflies and moths?Share your angst in a forum: From one entry: “There’s a big bush next to my house, and the other day I counted 10 tiger swallowtails there! Needless to say, I stayed inside.”

The DarlingCatocala cara

The Sweetheart Catocala amatrix

White UnderwingCatocala relicta

The WifeCatocala ilia

Jeff Smith is editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan’s