2009-09-17 / Front Page
Moths given a night in the E.B. spotlight
Environmental group sugars up the trees for annual event
Moths may be drawn to flame, but on East Brunswick's recent Moth Night they were drawn to a concoction made of dark beer, brown sugar and bananas.
Organizers of Moth Night 2009, the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission, painted the special mix on trees around the Butterfly Park, Rues Lane, in hopes of attracting the insect, which they did, along with a large group of curious onlookers.
"Everyone has their own recipe for sugaring the trees," said David Moskowitz, one of the founding members of the environmental group, which holds several naturerelated events each year. "Some people say theirs is the best and keep it a closely guarded secret."
Moskowitz was willing to share the ingredients of his recipe with the group that gathered in a wooded area of the park just as the sun began to set on Sept. 2.
"It's rotten bananas, brown sugar and Guinness beer, left out in the sun to ferment," he said.
Sugaring is at least an age-old tradition for moth hunters. It was started in New England as a way of capturing different species that were then put in jars containing ether, and pinned to boards for study. Fortunately for moths in East Brunswick, the goal of Moth Night is observation, not capture.
In addition to sugaring, the environmental group brought a bright light and a generator to keep it on. They hung a broad white sheet between two trees, placed the light behind it and created the perfect backdrop for observing moths and any other flying insects.
As the darkness deepened, more people arrived and Moskowitz set off down the trail, leading everyone in a single file to inspect the sugared trees. There were retired couples, college students, and parents with children, who were frequently reminded to stay on the trail and watch out for the poison ivy.
At one point he addressed the children: "Listen, that's the katydid. It goes 'katydid, katydid.' ... That's a tree cricket. Can you tell the difference?" Moskowitz asked, giving names to the familiar summer night sounds as some of the kids began to catch on and imitate the noises.
Sari and Rianna Weiner enjoyed the night with their grandfather, Mark Schrage.
"When there's a moth in my house, I take a cup and cover it like that," said Rianna, a third-grader at Frost Elementary School, using her hands to demonstrate how she would carefully catch the moth. "And she helps me," she said, pointing to her 3-year-old sister Sari. "Then I let it go outside." She opened her hands and smiled. Neither of the girls showed any fear of bugs, and both seemed delighted when a "daddy longlegs" began crawling up the sheet.
The adults were also intrigued by Moth Night. One asked if it was true that moths eat clothes. "If it were, you'd be walking out of here without a shirt," Moskowitz teased in response. "No, it's the caterpillars [moth larvae]. And there are only certain kinds that eat clothes."
Some of the people who came out for Moth Night decided to forgo the trail and stay by the lighted area to see what would drop by. A few took photos.
Richard Wolfert, a member of the organizing group and a retired science teacher, stood by and answered their questions. "This is an underwing moth. See how the wings are," he said. "Those little ones are micro moths."
Roberta and Larry Fachler have lived in East Brunswick for over 40 years and have come other Moth Nights since the events were initiated three years ago.
"We came the last few times they had it," Larry said. "It's always interesting."
Roberta agreed. "You always learn something new," she said.
Moth Night is set up to introduce people to a part of nature that typically goes unnoticed,
"It is for fun and education, and to encourage others to become more aware of the nature around them," he said.
Wolfert maintains the Friends' website at www.NJNaturenotes.com. Residents who would like to find out what animals they may encounter in a local park or learn about vegetation growing in their yard or insects buzzing in their garden will find dozens of Wolfert's colorful photos of neighborhood wildlife, fauna and insects on the site.
The Friends sponsor dozens of local activities and lectures each year. Some, such as Moth Night, the annual salamander migration, and various bird counts have already become popular town traditions. On Monday, it organized a new event that could become an annual tradition — the East Brunswick Cricket Crawl. Participants visited township parks, caravan-style, to help in a wide-scale effort to gather information on the distribution and species of katydids in New Jersey and New York.