Living La Vida Yellow Sand Verbena

Living La Vida Yellow Sand Verbena

Hello everyone!

Last week, I got the chance to do some more late-night monitoring. Picture this: me, under the starry sky, next to the ocean, fully equipped for some intense fieldwork. And what was the focus? The remarkable Sand Verbena Moth (Copablepharon fuscum).

Now, I can anticipate your thoughts. Moths, really? But hold your skepticism, my friend, because these moths are incredibly fascinating. We’re talking about a critically threatened species here. The Sand Verbena Moth has only been spotted in eight locations worldwide. Three of these locations are in Canada, specifically in the Strait of Georgia region of southwestern British Columbia, and the remaining five are in the Puget Sound region of Washington. Currently, the population on San Juan Island is considered the most robust in the United States.

The Canadian government has expressed concern for the species, listing it as endangered. However, brace yourself, because the US government has taken a somewhat skeptical stance, stating that more data is needed before making a decision.

The Sand Verbena Moth varies in color from dark to golden brown and features distinct black and pale-yellow lines on its forewings. Surprisingly gentle, they barely leave a trace as they crawl across your hand. These moths rely entirely on the Yellow Sand Verbena (Abronia latifolia) for their survival. As adults, they feed, mate, and lay eggs on this plant, while as caterpillars, they consume its leaves and seek refuge beneath them to evade predators. You won’t find these moths anywhere else except in the comforting embrace of the Yellow Sand Verbena.

Our concern for the species arises from the fact that invasive species are disrupting the ecosystem of San Juan Island. Plants like Canadian thistle (Cirsium arvense) and Bromus grasses (Bromus L.) stabilize the soil, making it difficult for the Yellow Sand Verbena to thrive. Consequently, we conduct vegetation surveys to monitor the spread of these invasive species and their impact on the Yellow Sand Verbena in the landscape.

During our night of fieldwork, we set up four light traps, consisting primarily of a bucket, a light bulb, and a funnel. The moths are attracted to the light, fall through the funnel into the bucket, and become trapped. We leave the lights and buckets set up for two hours, after which we count the moths captured at the bottom. Occasionally, even after we remove the funnel and light, some moths choose to remain in the bucket. While respecting their decision and bodily autonomy, we do need to clean the buckets. If tilting and shaking doesn’t work, I carefully scoop them out of the bucket with my hand and place them on a nearby Sand Verbena flower to feed. It brings me great satisfaction to assist these threatened creatures in finding nourishment. It’s not every day that you hold a species in your hand and contribute to its survival.

Sand Verbena Moth sitting on someone's hand
Park ranger searching for Sand Verbena Moths with a net and headlamp
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