AUGUST 2, 2006

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USAO’s ‘Moth Man’ grabs statewide attention

USAO biology senior Rex Moore from Ardmore discovers and captures state moths like this large Polyphemus moth, which he gave to USAO President John Feaver. With a collection of nearly 3,000 moths, 36 new species discoveries and a State Capitol award behind him, Moore’s Lepidoptra research is catching the eye of the scientific community.

For Rex Moore, research subjects come in small packages … with wings.

An award-winning biology senior at the University of Science and Arts, Moore is grabbing the attention of the scientific community. So far, he has discovered 36 new species of moths in Oklahoma. He has collected nearly 3,000 moths in the past two years. And he is the first person in the state to focus on new moth species in 80 years.

“1926 was the last time any kind of dedicated survey was done for moths by the WPC for the state,” Moore says. “I am the only one now doing a dedicated survey for the moths of Oklahoma.”

Dressed in olive pants, a sleeveless fleece vest and a ball cap, Moore looks a little unkempt and completely unassuming. He likes to check moth species spellings. He tells funny stories. He is quick with ideas and answers questions with a genuine sparkle. This guy loves hunting moths.

“To me, the discovery is exciting,” Moore says. “It is a rush.”

In a recent statewide competition for research and presentation at the State Capitol, Moore placed in the top three. His moth exhibit was selected as a third-place cash prize winner from among 22 students representing 16 Oklahoma institutions. Scientific research topics for the day were as varied as tornado detection, milk production and cancer treatments.

Initially, Moore started researching mosquitoes, but he quickly realized that the field was full. One night, the moth idea hit him square in the face – literally.

“I was hunting for mosquitoes when WHAM!, I got hit in the face by this hawk moth,” he says. “It hit me full-blast at 40 miles an hour … it just about knocked me to my knees.”

And ever since his late-night collision with the hawk moth, Moore has been a moth guy. At USAO, Moore has been gaining popularity on campus for his research.

“All the kids in the college know that I collect moths, so I get tons of stuff brought in to me,” he says. To his disdain, it has earned him the moniker “Moth Man.”

The senior science major says that the state has several things to offer the winged creatures, especially those from nearby locales.

“Most are coming from border states,” he says. “One is a Black Witch, originating from the Bahamas, blown here by the hurricanes,” he says. “Because of our temperature and humidity, they are becoming permanent members.”

Researching moths is no simple task. Moore is working on a degree day calculation that could help farmers anticipate – and annihilate – crop destruction caused by moths.

But not all research is geared toward pest control. Every specimen he finds is updated with the Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory for species identification and preservation.

In the future, Moore hopes for support from the university to help with DNA mapping for state moths, insects and the “bugs” they carry with them.

“A lot of plants are affected by insects,” he says. “The beetle boring into the bark brings the virus that kills the tree. The sphinx moth brings the tomato mosaic virus. It’s our hope to find out what viruses they bring and what plants are affected.”

Contact: Michael Bendure, USAO News Bureau, 405-574-1362