So Many Moths Around

By-Erica Cabán Morales

Prefessor Aaron Cavoise at the Moths of P.R. Lecture in the Biology Auditorium.

Thursday, October 20th, 2011 in the Biology Auditorium of the University of Puerto Rico of Mayaguez (U.P.R.M.) there was a lecture on Moths of Puerto Rico. Some people often confuse a moth with a butterfly; they are in the same family but they are different. Professor Aaron Cavoise took care of explaining this during the lecture.

In the auditorium, the interest among the people was very noticeable; there were many students, professors and faculty members like instructors and people from outside the U.P.R.M. It all started with an introduction and a small biography of Professor Aaron Cavoise. He studied Geology at the University of New Mexico, has a PhD and was the Director of the Department of Geology in U.P.R.M. from 2007 to 2009. Now he has a job as a professor and his interests are the origin of the continents and the oceans.

So, why would a geologist be interested in Moths without any Biology studies? Simple, “The interest in moths started out of curiosity in 2008 while taking a picture of a moth, then it became a hobby, after that an obsession on trying to identify the moth and finally science.” This was said by Professor Aaron Cavoise.

The Professor explained how he was eager to know the identity of all the moths he had previously photographed. He searched the web and only found one page that truly helped. He stumbled upon a site called Moth Photographers Group also known as M.P.G. (http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu). It was perfect, just what he was looking for.

The Professor became very interested in this website. Besides the fact that it helped him identify the moths, it is a group that does exactly what he likes, take pictures of moths and tries to identify them. He couldn’t help but join and collaborate in this site with Robert Patterson, creator of M.P.G. in 2004. He says he has learned a lot of things about moths from Patterson.

Originally, the organization is dedicated to digital Moth Identification, which means a picture of the moth, with a description and also the name of the moths and it also focuses on the Moths of North America (MONA).  The images of the moths could be both living or pinned moths with different resolutions. They are classified by details, wing and genitalia.

The process of his hobby is attracting the moths with bright lights in his front porch; as soon as he sees a moth, he picks it up and puts it in the refrigerator. They are not harmed but it makes them still for a while. He only has about a minute to take a picture before they fly away. He puts them on a white paper that is used as a white background and he snaps the picture. He either has the choice of letting them free or pinning them for scientific evaluation.

Professor Cavoise’s purpose on the website was to bring in identified and unidentified Moths of Puerto Rico. There are around 936 species only here in P.R.; around the world, there are about 150,000 species, which is a lot of Moths.  He also says there is a large population of moths in Mayaguez specially the very big black ones known as “Black Witch”.

“I have no idea what I am talking about, I don’t have much experience because I do not have the studies, but I have the eagerness to learn” said Cavoise. He said this explaining the reason why it is hard for him to identify the moths specially their sex, because they are so alike. Professor Cavoise started his own collection in the Fall for the Canadians because he can help them ID different specimens of moths and they have asked for his help.

Professor Aaron Cavoise finished the presentation with these last details; his goals are to continue in M.P.G., identify moth species in Puerto Rico and collaborate for genitalia and DNA studies. Cavoise also said, “I want to be able to identify each moth individually, not just have them in a general group.” Before leaving, he thanked everyone there, including his wife, daughter and Rob Patterson. “Everyone stands on the shoulder of giants” said Cavoise, referring to the scientists long before him that helped identify the species.

Prefessor Aaron Cavoise at the Moths of P.R. Lecture in the Biology Auditorium.

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