Cornelius' Corner:

"Thank You Very Moth for a Great Summer!"

Cornelius’ Corner: “Thank You Very ~Moth~ for a Great Summer!”

Intern Michaela and Cornelius

Intern Michaela and Cornelius

Hi friends,

For today’s blog, I want to introduce you to my good friend Michaela Rolecki! Michaela grew up down the street and visited the park a lot when she was little. In 2022, she started working as a teacher for Summer Discovery camp. This year, in addition to summer camp, she also completed an environmental internship with park naturalist Jessica Shahan. As a part of her internship, Michaela studied the moth species that call the park home!

Cornelius: Where do you go to school? What are you studying?

Michaela: I am going into my junior year at Susquehanna University. I double major in Ecology and Biology.


Cornelius: What were your favorite parts of your internship this summer?

Michaela: Having the opportunity to learn new things has been my favorite part of the internship. One of my main learning goals was to practice identification of organisms such as insects, plants, and birds and I feel I’ve come a long way! I’ve been able to participate in bird counts that rely on knowing bird songs and practice tree identification up at the tree gallery. I also love staying up late to trap moths with Jessica. We never know what we’ll find, so every day is a new adventure!

Walnut Caterpillar Moth (photo by Michaela Rolecki)


Cornelius: What interests you about working with moths?

Michaela: Moths are such an under researched group of organisms. Not only are they difficult to study because they’re nocturnal, but there are thousands of species, many of which we know very little about. They play crucial roles in their ecosystems and often have fascinating means of defense and camouflage. They live right under our noses, and yet go largely unnoticed.


Moth sheet-trap setup at NGM

Cornelius: But if moths are nocturnal, how do you catch them?

Michaela: There are two main ways we go about catching moths. The first is through sheet trapping. This method is very simple, involving shining a very bright light on a sheet and waiting for moths (and other insects!) to be attracted to it. When moths appear, we capture them and put them in butterfly cages to be photographed the next day. The second method involves homemade bucket traps. These traps work on a similar principle. A bright light is hung above a bucket that has been fitted with a funnel. The moths are attracted to the light and look for a place to land, often moving downward and into the bucket. They rest on egg cartons inside and are later transferred to butterfly cages to be photographed the next morning. No moths are harmed during this process and are released the next day.


Cornelius: What is the hardest part of working with moths?

Michaela: Working with flying insects, especially when you need to photograph them, has proven to be especially challenging at times. Thankfully, when put into the refrigerator to cool down, moths become slow and lethargic. This doesn’t hurt them at all, and they quickly warm up and regain their temperament. This means I must work fast to get good photos, but occasionally a moth warms up too fast for me to respond and escapes into the office. I’m often able to recapture them, but sometimes they reappear on Jessica’s desk the next morning… oops!


Moth bucket-trap setup at NGM

Cornelius: Are there any surprising things you’ve learned about moths this summer?

Michaela: One of the most fascinating things I’ve learned is that we have aquatic moth species in PA. These species lay eggs on aquatic plants or in fast moving streams. There are even caterpillars that eat diatoms and algae! It’s been crazy trying to wrap my head around the fact that something with such fragile wings can lay eggs in or under the water.


Cornelius: Do you have a favorite moth of the ones you’ve seen this summer?

Michaela: It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I absolutely love the tussock moths because they look like they are wearing little leg warmers. Another notable species I photographed was the Walnut Caterpillar Moth Datana integerrima. This moth is striking, with a brown striped body and a red cap where you would expect the head to be. It may look like a headless horseman, but if you look from underneath, you’ll find a fuzzy little face that would be a definite candidate in a Mothman look-alike contest.


Mothman?! (Photo by Michaela Rolecki)

Cornelius: What skills have you learned this summer that you are looking forward to continuing to use in your career?

Michaela: I love insects and will likely use the sampling skills I’ve learned from researching moths again for future research opportunities. I have also learned a lot about species identification, using field guides, and sampling methods for various organisms, which are skills every ecologist needs for their career.


Cornelius: So what’s next now that your internship is over?

Michaela: I’m headed back to school to begin my junior year of college! Along with classes, I have a research opportunity lined up with one of my professors and the Susquehanna Riverkeeper investigating bird species diversity near wetlands using auditory data analysis (a fancy way of saying bird call recordings!). In the spring semester, I will be studying abroad in Australia at Griffith University. It’s going to be a busy year, but I can’t wait!


Cornelius: Is there anything else from this summer that you think our visitors should know?

Michaela presents a public moth night for National Moth Week

Michaela: This is not so much something that I’ve learned, but I have really come to appreciate the natural space that NGM supplies in such an urbanizing environment. I love taking time to enjoy the nature around me and sometimes take for granted how amazingly diverse our planet really is. Just this morning I stood on the front porch of the Visitor Center and watched a hummingbird feed at the native honeysuckle in the pollinator garden. It got me thinking about just how beautiful these natural spaces can be, and how important they are for harboring native species that are at risk due to habitat loss.

Part of Michaela’s internship was to help develop a public moth program. We ran a few trials of this program earlier in the summer, and we’re looking forward to hosting more mothing nights in the future. I hope you are able to join my coworkers for those programs. I definitely won’t be there because I’m not nocturnal, but you can tell me all about it the next morning!

Your friendly neighborhood corn snake,

– Cornelius

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