Nighttime Insect Study

DHEC stream team with Wingate University interns at Thompson Creek

Our youngest member the Carolina Wildlands team is Dillon Cooper. He us joined this summer after graduating from Chesterfield High School. He came to us in an unconventional way. After his mother read an article about our Field Biology Internship Program in the Sandhill ConNEXTion, the magazine of the Sandhill Telephone Cooperative. She knew he was passionate about wildlife and suggested he give us a call. Dillon visited our Southern 8ths field station and enthusiastically followed along with our Spring 2023 Wingate interns as they studied the change of seasons. We could see he was a naturalist-in-the-making and offered him the opportunity to help us out over the summer by documenting the terrestrial insect species present at the field Station.

With the assistance of the iNaturalist app and others, Dillon has added at least 60 species to our insect list in just over a month, from native bees and dragonflies to ground beetles and katydids. He will start in the fall as a freshman biology major at Francis Marion University, and we look forward to seeing more of Dillon in the fields and forests as he continues with his studies. The following is his first field journal and story for Carolina Wildlands.

Nighttime Insects

Until last week I had no idea how much different the nighttime insect life was compared to that of the daytime. Dr. Nathan Harness of Francis Marion University, and two of his students, came out to Southern 8ths one evening and did a walkthrough of some of the prairies. Dr. Harness was kind enough to let Sydney, Emily (two FMU Fellows working on the Eastern Box Turtle Study), and I tag along.

Dr. Nathan Harness of Francis Marion University with students.

Dr. Nathan Harness of Francis Marion University with students.

We began our walkthrough around dusk. The prairie was full of the noise of frogs, crickets, and katydids. Dr. Harness was able to identify many katydids by their sounds alone. During our walk along the prairie a small shower came up, and while we were waiting for the rain to stop Dr. Harness told us how bees communicate. Bees communicate through dance. Using dance, bees communicate how far away something is and what direction it is using the sun almost as a compass.

As night began to set in, Dr. Harness set up a blacklight trap to attract nocturnal insects. Moths and other nocturnal insects use the moon to know what direction they are flying, so when a bright light is placed in front of them, they are confused and fly towards the light, and a net keeps them there without harming them. Once the light was set up, we decided to look for fireflies while insects began to show up in the light trap. Dr. Harness set   up to take pictures in a nearby woodland prairie to capture images of fireflies. Once all the pictures are taken Dr. Harness will layer all the pictures together to form one large picture of all the fireflies in a single night!

Moth brought in by lights.

Moth brought in by lights.

On the walk out of the prairie we saw three full grown katydids without even trying! Once leaving the prairie we searched for more fireflies along the path. However, the prime season for fireflies is over, so we did not find any more large populations.

Finally, we returned to the blacklight trap to see what insects had shown up. There were hundreds of insects on the netting and flying around the light. Moths were swarming the sides of the net. While large June beetles had claimed the top of the net. There were flat black and gold millipedes crawling around the base of the light. Even an Eastern Dobsonfly flew in!

This was a very different experience for me. However, I enjoyed every minute of it, and plan to do many more nighttime insect surveys. I would highly encourage anyone with a sense of wonder for the natural world, a bright light, and a white bed sheet, to try and see what nighttime insects you have in your backyard! I learned so much about nocturnal insect life and cannot wait to work even more closely with Dr. Harness in the future!

Author: Dillon Cooper