Thursday, June 3, 2010

Project Silkmoth Hopes to Census Elusive Insect

Seen any good silkmoths lately? Janet Mihuc, a Paul Smith’s College professor, wants to know. Mihuc, associate professor and director of the college’s biology and environmental science programs, is leading Project Silkmoth, an 11-week census of those insects this spring and summer.

People who see silkmoths anywhere north of a line running from Oswego through Utica and Saratoga Springs between May 15 and July 30 can report their findings on a form available at www.projectsilkmoth.org. Instructions for filling out the forms, as well as photos of silkmoths and other guides to finding them, are also online. Forms will be accepted through September 1.

Mihuc will compile the results and add them to the Adirondack All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, a project coordinated by Paul Smith’s College seeking to catalog every species in the park.

While some research indicates that silkmoth populations are declining in the Northeast, Mihuc hopes the project yields more data on the topic.

Despite their showy patterns and wingspans up to 6 inches, silkmoths can be an elusive target. Part of the reason is that most of the moths are nocturnal and live for just a week as adults, Mihuc said. “Many people have never seen one simply because they have such a short adult life span, they are only attracted to certain light sources and they have no chemical protection against predation so they are juicy targets for birds or small mammals,” she said. They’re also falling prey to a parasitic fly introduced to control gypsy moths. So the time to catalog them is now, she added.

“A decade ago, a survey like this would have been much more difficult, but easy access to photos, information and correspondence via the Internet make this survey a reality and a learning opportunity for participants,” she said.

For more information about the project, e-mail [email protected]

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