10-year Moth Inventory Underway at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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Date: February 6, 2006
Contact: Bridget Litten, 505.785.3024

Moths are among the most important sources of food for bats, and bats are a main attraction for Carlsbad Caverns National Park—right after the caves themselves. Almost nothing has been published on the moth fauna of New Mexico, but that is about to change.

Eric Metzler, one of the nation’s premier butterfly and moth experts, has begun a planned 10-year moth inventory at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Metzler said he is very excited about doing this study.

“Management of the park’s resources will be enhanced when more is known about these animals,” said Metzler. “Moths account for nearly 13 percent of all described insects, and they are excellent indicators of sensitive habitats. The interaction between moths and plants is extremely important to the natural functioning of the park’s natural resources.”

Metzler said he expects to find about 7,000 species of moths in the park, with about 100 of those being new to science (figures easily defended scientifically, he said). “Because moths are one of the most important sources of food for bats, the park will naturally benefit from knowing the species of moths that live there.”

The nearly 47,000-acre park is best known for its underground resources, including the summer’s nightly bat flight, but the invertebrate resources of the park are relatively unknown.

Insects account for more than one half the combined plants and animals on earth, and lepidopterans, as one of the largest orders of insects, account for approximately 13 percent of all plants and animals. According to Metzler, the park should be home to several thousand species of moths and tens of thousands of species of other insects. A large percentage of the moth species remain undescribed.

Moths—and their larvae—are important in the functioning of the park’s and surrounding ecosystems. Studies indicate that moths make up a large portion of a Brazilian (or Mexican) free-tailed bat’s diet—the same bats that fly out of Carlsbad Cavern each night in the summer drawing thousands of visitors. Moths also act as pollinators of certain plants, and their larvae (caterpillars) are key foods for many bird, mice, and predatory insect species. Because the larvae eat vegetation, they also play a role in reducing or controlling plant growth.

Among Metzler’s accomplishments, he was editor of the acclaimed The Ohio Lepidopterist for 25 years. He was a guest lecturer in Lepidoptera at Ohio State University and guest instructor in Field Entomology at the University of Akron. He has been Museum Associate at the Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity, and a member of the Board of Directors of The Wedge Entomological Research Foundation, Eugene, Oregon. He is also Research Associate at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Florida State Collection of Arthropods, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Metzler, retired and living in Alamogordo, New Mexico, was inducted into the Ohio Natural Resources Hall of Fame in October 2005 (joining John Wesley Powell, Johnny Appleseed, and others). He is a co-founder of The Ohio Lepidopterist Society, the Midwest Biological Diversity Institute, and the Ohio long-term Butterfly Monitoring Program. He has authored 38 scientific publications on Lepidoptera, and has discovered multiple new species of moths.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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