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Wildfire smoke may lead to moths staying longer

Wildfire smoke slows down miller moths, meaning they're probably staying in Colorado longer than they might otherwise.

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — Arguably the two biggest nuisances in eastern Colorado right now might be related to one another.

The persistent wildfire smoke that's enveloped eastern Colorado for the last few days could be keeping miller moths around longer than usual, according to Shiran Hershcovich, a lepidopterist (expert in moths and butterflies) at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster.

"Thicker wildfire smoke might mean slower-flying moths that hang around longer," Hershcovich said. "They can also get confused, so their [migration patterns] can get a little bit off balance."

Hershcovich said that the particles from wildfire smoke may be heavy enough to weigh down moths, slowing them down and causing them to stay in a given place longer than usual. 

And since miller moths are migratory, they may not be able to see the stars that they rely on to navigate due to the thicker smoke. That means they can get lost and confused.

"The wildfire smoke particles, when they're dense enough, they can essentially weigh those butterflies down and make their migratory path more difficult," Hershcovich said. "So they fly slower, they hang out longer when they shouldn't, and even cause huge fatigue in the population."

It's important to note that you shouldn't kill moths, as they're good for the environment. Miller moths pollinate budding flowers, and they're an important source of protein for bears during the summer months.

Miller moths migrate from the Plains to the mountains in the spring, and they usually only spend two to three weeks in a certain area as they migrate. So while they will probably leave in the next few days, they may be inadvertently overstaying their Front Range welcome in part because of the smoke.

"We do know that butterflies and moths are quite sensitive to these big catastrophic environmental issues," Hershcovich said.

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