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CT author celebrates the beautiful, and often underappreciated, world of moths

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John Himmelman

Thousands of citizen scientists will soon be collecting and contributing data about the humble moth.

The 12th annual National Moth Week begins with a kick off "mini-moth" bioblitz at White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield on Saturday, July 22.

Part of the mission is to raise awareness and appreciation for this group of insects.

“Getting together with a bunch of people and sharing that enjoyment always makes that thing a little bit better,” said John Himmelman, author of "Discovering Moths, Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard."

Moths are near and dear to Himmelman, who lives in Killingworth, Connecticut. He’s a naturalist and the author and illustrator of more than 80 books, mostly for children (of all ages). He recently spoke with Connecticut Public Radio's Lori Mack. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

On the differences between moths and butterflies

Moths were probably around on the evolutionary tree before butterflies, and butterflies sort of went off on another branch to fill the daytime niche,” Himmelman said.

“The best way to tell the difference is you look at their antennae. Butterflies have a little club at the very end of their antenna. Moths, they just taper — and they're often comblike or featherlike — because they use their antenna to find the females,” he said. “The moths are flying back and forth with these big satellite dishes on their heads trying to pick up the scent of the female and they kind of home in on her. And that's how they find each other.”

There are more than 2,400 species moths in Connecticut, Himmelman said, compared to just 121 butterflies.

Why moths are underappreciated 

“You've opened your cabinets in the kitchen, you have those little flower moths, or meal moths, flying out. Those are the ones that people associate with moths in general. But they make up less than 1% of all the moths in the world,” Himmelman said.

“That's the image that people have," he said of the gray pantry moth, "but they come in just this wide array of colors and shapes and forms.”

Moths commonly come out at night, but he said they are just as colorful as the daytime butterfly: “They are like jewels. They are like gems that you can find in your own yards.”

Himmelman’s favorite moth

“I like the luna moths because there's just something about them. These big green silk moths with long tails. They're just these ethereal, ephemeral creatures,” Himmelman said, despite living only about a week.

“They look like something out of the tropics, and we have them here!”

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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