Mt. Washington prepares to celebrate the moth

Black Witch moth/What’s That Bug?

White-Lined Spinx Moth/What’s That Bug?

By Brenda Rees

More than 12,000 different types of moths flitter in North America, but it seems that most people only think of moths as those critters that destroy their fine wool clothes or hide in their pantry causing havoc in corn meal, flour and grain containers.

Setting the record straight about the butterfly’s lesser respected cousin, National Moth Week  (July 20-28) was created to raise awareness of the unique biodiversity of these winged wonders – flappers that do so much more good than harm. Not to mention that they are pretty darn cool to see up-close and personal.

Locally, the second annual Moth Night is slated for Saturday, July 27 on the southwestern slopes at Elyria Canyon Park in Mount Washington. The nighttime program (the park is usually closed in the evenings) is presented by Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance, in cooperation with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy  and the Mountains Recreation & Conservancy Authority.

Attendees will discover which moths will be drawn to the black and mercury vapor lights that will be illuminating stretched-out sheets for easy observation. Will the 6-inch bat-like black witch moth be seen? How about the striking Walnut Underwing? Maybe the tobacco sphinx, the furious flyer that is often confused for a bird, will be come in for a brief landing?

Kids are encouraged to join the fun and bring small bug catchers to capture, identify and then release moths — and other insects that probably will be drawn to the lights.

On hand to help with identification will be lepidopterist Julian Donahue and Daniel Marlos, aka the “Bugman,” of the popular “What’s That Bug?” website and author of The “Curious World of Bugs: The Bugman’s Guide to the Mysterious and Remarkable Lives of Things That Crawl.”

A resident of Mount Washington, Marlos is a full-time instructor of photography at Los Angeles Community College in their media arts department, which he chairs,  and occasional part time teacher at Art Center College of Design. But he has been leading a double life as the world-famous Bugman for more than a decade.

For Moth Week, Marlos is eager to raise the reputation of moths that range in size and scope the world over and, like other pollinators, have a unique and vital relationship with specific plants. “[In his travels] Darwin theorized that there must [be] a moth with a 10-inch long proboscis that pollinates a certain orchid in Madagascar,” he says. “He never proved it, but years later, that moth (Morgan’s sphinx) was discovered. It is an incredible moth.”

While there are not such monumental moths with 10-inch long proboscis here in Northeast Los Angeles, Marlos hopes that a local lepidopteric luminary – the black witch – will make an appearance. “It’s a real show-stopper and I have only seen one in L.A. – found it dead at the Southwest Museum train station two years ago,” he says.

In addition to the spectacular markings and size, the moth, which hails from Mexico and South America, is surrounded by superstition. It’s considered bad luck if one is found flying in a house and it often foretells death. In Jamaica, they are seen as the embodiment of a lost soul;  the Bahamians consider them Money Moths, which predict fortune. In some parts of Mexico, people joke that if a black witch flies over your head, you will lose your hair.

These stories just reaffirm the relationship man has had with moths through the ages, and Marlos hopes that attendees will gain a healthy appreciation for what moths are and do. Just like butterflies, moths need flowers, and gardeners can encourage these velvet-winged flappers into their backyards by adding any night-blooming plants like jasmine, honeysuckle and even tomatoes (all nightshade plants are good for moths).

“Moths are important links to the food chain and without them, there would be a horrible domino effect,” says Marlos, who would rather celebrate than squash any insect.

Moth Facts:

  • Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.
  • Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
  • Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult’s hand.
  • Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.
  • Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them.

(Source: National Moth Week, 2013)

White-Lined Sphinx Moth/What’s That Bug?

Underwing Moth/What’s That Bug?

Mt Washington Moth Night
Elyria Canyon Park
Saturday, July 27
Gates open at 7 p.m.
Event starts at 7:30 p.m.

Participants are asked to use the Bridgeport entrance (1550 Bridgeport Drive, Los Angeles). Exit off the 2 (Glendale) Freeway at San Fernando Road (just north of Interstate 5 and State 2 interchange). Travel southeast on San Fernando Road; turn left on Division Street, turn right on Wollam Street, go 2 blocks and turn right on Scarboro Street, then next left on Bridgeport Drive. Park where you can on Bridgeport or follow it to its end and park in the park (limited parking).

Brenda Rees is a writer and Eagle Rock resident


  1. Daniel Marlos is a wonder! His interest in and knowledge of bugs is prodigious! This is a night to remember….Sadly, I’m gonna be out of town!……

  2. That Daniel Marlos really bugs me–in a good way. I am fighting pesky moths in my home right now. There have been so many here lately that if they really do foreshadow death, I may not live long enough to finish this p—

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