Thursday, June 21, 2012

Moth Season

It's like living in a horror movie.  Moths have invaded Prairie Cairn Cottage.  Mind you, I thought I knew what it was like to have a severe infestation of Miller Moths before we moved here but now I realize I had no earthly clue.  Last year was our first summer experiencing a true infestation of these otherwise benign creatures.  When we purchased Prairie Cairn Cottage we spent a good week doing nothing but vacuuming and cleaning moth poop from the floors and walls.  The house had sat vacant for 2 years and we assumed there were so many moth bodies because no one was home to keep them away and to clean up after them.  This was a correct assumption but our being in the house hasn't deterred these dusty insects one iota.  Last year, beginning about Memorial Day and lasting well into October, we did battle with the moths.  We had moths in the evening when the lights came on, we had moths in the morning when we awoke for the day.  We had moths 24/7 for the entire summer. 

This year is not quite as bad but we are still waging war with the moths daily.  We have learned to keep the lights off at night.  The fewer lights on, the fewer moths that are attracted to those lights.  I also vacuum them up daily.  Not only the dead bodies, but the live flying ones as well.  We were gone for a few days earlier this week and I thought that would be good, no lights on at all for 3 days should equate to fewer moths to deal with when we returned.  Wrong!  The day we got home, I went around and vacuumed up the living and the dead and thought that would be it.  That evening they were literally coming out of nowhere!  I got the vacuum back out and started sucking them up...more appeared.  I'd finish up an area then move on to another and by the time I got those taken care of the first was covered in moths again.  I probably had that vacuum out a good hour before I felt confident we'd taken care of the majority of them.

These pictures only give you a glimpse of living on the prairie during moth season.  The first is a close up of them in case you are unfamiliar with these moths (also known as Dusty Millers or Miller Moths).  The second is a picture taken the night we came home and there were so many in the house.  I had gone out to put the chickens to bed late and as I came back in the door I looked up to this sight.  And the rest of the house was covered as well! 

The prevailing theory as to why we experience these invasions it that we are in the flight zone of the annual migration of the adult Cutworm.  The eggs are layed in the soil on the Great Plains where they hatch into Cutworm caterpillars and do extensive damage to crops.  The caterpillars then pupate into the Cutworm Moth and when they emerge they migrate to the mountains in search of flower nectar, water and cooler temperatures.  In the fall they migrate back to the plains, lay their eggs and the cycle starts anew.  We are in the Great Plains and while the theory above explains a normal infestation of the moths, I am starting to wonder if they are not hatching in the prairie surrounding our cottage.  To me, this explains why we have so many and have them all summer long.  However, the caterpillars feed on alfalfa and grain crops and we don't really have any large fields of alfalfa or grain near us.   

By the time they finish their migration I am a little crazed.  I spend my days wondering how to rid my house of them.  I hatch plots.  What if we put a big flood light yards away from the house and turn it on, would they all fly to the flood light?    I wonder if they are like salmon and have to lay their eggs in the same soil they were hatched in?  And if I vacuumed up all that are in and ON the house every evening during the summer would I then have fewer the following year?  Does the color of Prairie Cairn Cottage attract the moths, should I paint a lighter color?  Would one of those electronic pest repellers help?

I now understand why the Japanese made one of their monster movies with the character of Mothra.  Yes, this time of year it is very nearly like living in a horror movie.  

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