Encore - Thus Hath the Candle Singed the Moth

January 19, 2019

Bugs Buggy 3

Today and every Saturday Earth Science Picture of the Day invites you to rediscover favorites from the past. Saturday posts feature an EPOD that was chosen by viewers like you in our monthly Viewers' Choice polls. Join us as we look back at these intriguing and captivating images.

: Tommy Hornbeck
Summary Author: Tommy Hornbeck
June 2013 Viewer's Choice Zipper factory rejects? A Millipede Convention?  Confirmation of the Higgs boson? No, these two photos were created by moths and other flying insects circling a porch light. The zipper-like projections on either side of the curving lines are caused by the opening and closing of the insect's wings as they spiral in toward the light. Just why they spiral into the light is still in question, as they'll fly right into a flame and kill themselves; not a very good trait for long-term survival.
Moths are nocturnal, and when flying at night they'll keep the Moon centered in one eye. The Moon, being a long way off, allows moths to fly in a straight line. Centering the Moon in the other eye may allow them to return to their starting point. I'm not sure what they do on moonless nights -- perhaps stay home. When we turn on a porch light, the moth will try using the same trick. However, the porch light is so close that the moth, in attempting to keep the light centered, will keep turning, spiraling in closer, closer to the light, and finally flying into it. It's not so much that the moths aren't bright, but rather that our porch lights are a new element to which they haven't yet adapted. Photo taken on May 17, 2013.

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