New Jersey Moths: Building a Moth Library Part II - Historical and Other Resources

Images courtesy of David Moskowitz

by David Moskowitz

The unusually mild weather we’ve been having has provided opportunities to find moths this winter in greater abundance then in a normal year. But, at this season, species diversity is still quite low. With March just around the corner, more and more moths will soon be on the horizon (and at our lights and sheets). Reports from states just south of us are showing new species every day and that can’t be far off for us either. While we wait for that to happen, it is the perfect time to continue to get a Moth Library in order.

My last article focused mostly on new references and websites that should be part of every New Jersey moth’ers library. But there are a number of older and out of print references that are also well-worth tracking down. We are very fortunate in New Jersey to have a rich entomological history spanning well over one hundred years and dating back to the mid-19th century. With this long history came a number of important entomological references that should be a part of any New Jersey entomological or moth-oriented library. There are also a number of other books that are well-worth obtaining. And, don’t forget about the Rutgers Insect Museum (Collection), one of the largest repositories of New Jersey insects in the world, and right in our backyard. First the historical resources:

Catalouge of Insects Found in New Jersey 1890, Insects of New Jersey 1899 and Annual Report of the New Jersey State Museum for 1909 Including a Report of the Insects of New Jersey
These three catalogues were written by John B. Smith, the State Entomologist and one of the entomological giants of New Jersey, Rutgers University and the world at the time
These three catalogues were written by , the State Entomologist and one of the entomological giants of New Jersey, Rutgers University and the world at the time

. Among his many huge achievements, Smith pioneered techniques to control mosquitoes and as a result the diseases they spread. These books have long sections on the Lepidoptera of New Jersey with many moth species covered. While much of the scientific nomenclature has been revised since they were published, the entries are fascinating with respect to the historical locales where many species were found. Many of these areas are now developed and these books serve in many ways as a library of the historical biodiversity of New Jersey from that time. The 1899 and 1909 books are often available for around twenty dollars at used book stores, but the 1890 Catalouge is difficult to find. But with the wonders of the Internet, all three have free online versions available at:
1890 -
1899 -
1909 -

Rutgers Insect Museum (Collection)
It is little known, but Rutgers University has one of the best collections of New Jersey insects in the world right on Cook Campus. It has more than 250,000 specimens, many dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries and from places that no longer are natural. The collection is like an irreplaceable library of New Jersey's biodiversity and is well worth a visit. There are extensive cabinets filled with carefully pinned and preserved moths collected throughout New Jersey. Click here for information about the collection and contacts for scheduling an appointment to visit
. Other nearby institutions with extensive collections of New Jersey insects and moths are the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Staten Island Museum. All of these collections have curators that are always willing to help with inquiries and are an incredible resource.  

Specimen from the online collection: Allagrapha aerea Probably Monmouth Co., NJ June 11/1880

The Historic Titian Peale Butterfly and Moth Collection
This incredible online resource was prepared by the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and is a true entomological gem. Titian Peale collected moths and butterflies in the Philadelphia area in the 1800’s and carefully preserved them in homemade insect boxes. Many of the moths in the collection are from New Jersey. ANS has made the entire collection searchable by species and as high quality photographs. It is well worth exploring. Here is some information about the collection and its importance from ANS and a link to the Peale Collection website:

“The Titian R. Peale Butterfly and Moth Collection, housed at The Academy of Natural Sciences, is one of the oldest entomological collections in North America. Titian Ramsay Peale was an early North American naturalist, and the youngest son of the large family of artists and naturalists headed by Charles Willson Peale of Philadelphia. His life was filled with many accomplishments, including as an early explorer, talented artist and illustrator, renowned taxidermist and exhibitor, field-based natural historian, patent examiner and photographic inventor. Throughout his life, his love of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) remained strong and true, and this insect collection remains a lasting legacy and mirror of his life's accomplishments. The earliest specimens date from when he was a young man in Philadelphia, when he first developed the 'Peale Box' which allowed one to view the specimens from above and below, yet protected them from other insect pests, light and moisture. The last specimens date from 1885, his last year of life, and illustrate a man still enthusiastic about his work even in his ninth decade of life!. The entire collection remains together in nearly 100 boxes, with additional specimens placed in the main collections of The Academy of Natural Sciences and The Carnegie Museum of Natural History. This wonderful collection was donated to The Academy of Natural Sciences after Peale's death, and remained relatively unstudied for nearly a century. With careful attention to the development of conservation protocols in the 1990s, The Academy of Natural Sciences, with generous support from several foundations, undertook a major project to restore the boxes, identify and digitally image all the specimens, and make this information available to the world through the internet. We think that Titian Peale himself would appreciate how materials conservation science has been used to maintain his wonderful collection in its original form, while photography has made his collection accessible to everyone.” 

Legion of Night: The Underwing Moths
This amazing book about the Underwing moths is out of print but belongs in every moth-oriented library. It was written by the noted entomologist Ted Sargeant and is filled with a vast amount of ecological information about these cool moths and detailed life-histories about each species. It also has extensive color plates to help sort out the Underwings. It is a bit pricey from online used book sellers but well worth the price. It is complimented well by Bill Oehkle’s awesome online photographic guide to the New Jersey species of Underwings.  

Les Guide des Papillons du Quebec
This book by Louis Handfield is unfortunately out of print and written entirely in French with the exception of a short English-users Guide. But don't let the French title or text put you off from tracking down a copy. The plates are absolutely fantastic. For anyone in New Jersey this book is required for the Moth-oriented library. I guarantee it will become one of those “go to” books over and over again. Plus there is information on each species and their larval food sources and habitats and with a little understanding of botanical scientific names and the English-users Guide, most of the entries can be understood by non-French speaking moth’ers.

Basic Techniques for Observing and Studying Moths and Butterflies
This book written by William D. Winters and published by the Lepidopterist’s Society is an incredible resource on every aspect of studying moths from the most basic to advanced techniques such as photography, organizing a collection, data and labeling, rearing, genitalia dissection, pinning microlepidoptera and much more. It definitely will be pulled off the shelf frequently. 

Dave Moskowitz is Senior Vice President with EcolSciences, Inc., President of the Non-Profit Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission and Co-founder of National Moth Week. Consider participating in National Moth Week next summer. 

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