Moths of Plainsboro, Fourth Edition

Home Is Where the Moth Is 2
We have just turned over to a new year, so that means it’s time to compile the past year’s updates and upload a new version of the Plainsboro moths checklist. This is the fourth (!) edition and it is still likely a very partial listing of what’s out there. One of the more exciting additions to the list was the Common Spragueia (Spragueia leo) that illustrates this post. It was waiting for me after I got home from a moth night at Batsto in August.

The grand total of species now stands at 344. There are also some additional month records for previously recorded species.

The list can be found here. Happy mothing in 2016!


One Corner: Derrick Van Veghten House

The heartland of the patterned brick style in New Jersey is Burlington County south and westward, but Somerset County’s Derrick Van Veghten House is an outlier. It lies well north of the group of Mercer County patterned brick houses, and was built for a Dutch farmer, rather than a Quaker. Its checker-pattern brick headers are black, not blue. There are no initials or fancy patterns such as the ones that many Salem County houses boast.

It is not exactly a patterned brick house today; instead, it might more accurately be described as a 19th century Greek Revival brick house with the remains of an 18th century patterned brick house as the southwest corner of the first story. If you glanced at the building while driving along the road that leads past it and deeper into an industrial area, you could miss the checkered bricks entirely. Documentation for the Historic American Buildings Survey speculates that there may have been a fire that gutted the house and that it was rebuilt afterward, but there is no firm evidence to support that theory.

The line between the house’s different incarnations is easiest to see on the south wall of the first story. On the west side of the door is checkered brick set in Flemish bond, while on the east side there is plain red brick set in common bond. The west windows have ornamental brick arches above them while the newer ones do not. The west end also retains iron beam anchors that are both functional and ornamental; this is a hallmark of colonial Dutch architecture.

Older Van Veghten Window from HABS

Older Van Veghten Window from HABS

Newer Van Veghten Window from HABS

Newer Van Veghten Window from HABS

Architecture is a language. If you know how to read a building’s structure and details, you can draw conclusions (or speculate) about the kind of people who built it, when it was built, and the ups and downs it has survived during its lifetime. In New Jersey, the patterned brick checker style is associated with Quakers of English origin, not Dutch settlers. I find myself wondering whether the original Van Veghten House was built by someone who had learned his trade in Salem County and then moved northward to Somerset County. These houses were a mark of wealth and Michael Van Veghten, who owned the original patterned brick structure, was a man of means who owned land in this part of Somerset County as early as 1694. Why did he choose this particular style for his house? Colonial New Jersey was an area where different cultural groups lived side by side and built in an assortment of styles. Perhaps Michael Van Veghten saw a checker-pattern house and decided he liked it.

Today the Van Veghten House is the headquarters of the Somerset County Historical Society and abuts the Finderne Wetlands natural area from its commanding perch above the north bank of the Raritan River.

For much more information about the Van Veghten House and its history, see the following links:

Historic American Buildings Survey
National Register of Historic Places documents
National Register of Historic Places photos

The Janus Moth

Christmas Morning Moth

When I stepped out the front door on Christmas morning, I found a moth perched on the doorframe. It was gray, with wavy lines across its wings, and some swaths of brown along the lines. It was definitely an Iridopsis moth and, given the month, most likely a Brown-shaded Gray (I. defectaria), a moth that flies earlier and later in the season than other Iridopsis moths. The winter has been unseasonably warm so far, so seeing one of the early/late season moths in December was not unexpected, though the fact that it showed up on Christmas morning was a pleasant surprise.

I returned home on New Year’s Day and the same moth was still sitting in more or less the same place. It stayed there for several more days. I thought about poking it to see if it was still alive, but I didn’t want to disturb it. One day, when I was going through the door, it twitched a little bit, so that was confirmation that it was still alive. Finally, when I went out on January 10th, the moth was absent. I didn’t find any trace of its body on the ground or in a spiderweb, and the previous night had been warm, so I like to believe it left on its own, having found a sheltered place to roost for 16 days. There’s no way to know for sure, and it will remain one of those little mysteries of natural history.

The episode reminded me of the Roman god Janus, the double-faced patron of beginnings and endings. The Janus moth crossed from the old year into the new roosting on a doorframe; doors also happen to be associated with Janus. The moth, of course, was just living its life with no knowledge of the associations it happened to evoke in the mind of a human observer. It was alive and active during a warm early winter and was attracted by lights to a location that proved to be a relatively good place to roost for a few days. Then it moved on.

So that was the first moth of the year, as well as the last moth of the previous year.