For family campers, sunset is a mixed blessing.
It's a time to wind down in front of the campfire, but truth be told, the kids can get a little antsy. It's too early to hit the sack, but there's nothing to do after the first couple of s'mores are down the hatch. The answer: Rig up a light trap for moths, and have some fun.
Night-flying moths occur in amazing abundance across the continent. While there are 825 butterfly species in North America, there are 12,000 species of moths. Just about all of them are attracted to light and will flock to a light source at night.
Shine a light on a white sheet, and you'll be amazed at the gorgeous insects that will drop by for a visit. Moths don't sting or bite. They'll stay pretty still while you watch them up close. And trapping them on a brightly lit sheet is perfectly safe for the moths, as well. They fly away soon after you turn off the light and hit the sack.
All you need is a white bedsheet, paracord or light rope, clothespins and a good light source.
Lepidopterists (scientists who study butterflies and moths) use mercury vapor lights, but any bright camp lantern will work. If you get super-excited about light-trapping, try to score a blacklight from a party discount shop. You'll attract even more moths.
Choose a site away from thick woods. A cleared field or meadow next to woods or water works best.
Simply string the rope between two trees at head height, drape the sheet over the span, and clothespin it in place. You'll want the sheet to drape along the ground for a couple of feet because some moth species prefer to land on horizontal surfaces. Weigh the corners down with a couple of logs to keep the sheet from flapping in the wind. Hang the light from an overhead branch so that it illuminates the upper third of the sheet.
Different moth species tend to come out at different times in the evening, so it's fun to set up the light trap just as the sun sets one night, and then a few hours later the next.
You'll likely be surprised at the diversity of moths that stay hidden during the daylight hours, but come out for a little night flying.
It's an inspiring way to connect kids with a hidden corner of nature. And keep them awake a while longer, ensuring an even better night's sleep.