This exquisite Luna Moth was one of thousands of insects drawn to Dr. Allen's lit sheets.

This exquisite Luna Moth was one of thousands of insects drawn to Dr. Allen’s lit sheets. The ornate tail filaments at the bottom of the wings are thought to be defensive structures that help confound bats’ sonar!

I’m standing eye to eye with a Luna Moth (Actius luna) in the grounds of Allen Acres B and B, a nature -oriented farm-stay near Pitkin Louisiana, transfixed by its Art Deco grace and impressive dimensions. By any standards this is a large moth and in comparison with the small moth beside it, it looks like a Jumbo jet next to a Cessna. This was one of several Lunas that we encountered that night, and one of the many hundreds of insects that we saw which included fireflies (lightning bugs), a chunky great brown beetle, a constellation of moths ranging in size from the miniature to the massive Polyphemus silk moth.

This, first in my series of Louisiana Ecotourism articles focuses on ‘Mothing’, or perhaps I should I say ‘Sheeting’ with Dr. Charles Allen, ULM botanist and Louisiana Master Naturalist, the propietor of Allen Acres and Lousiana Native Plant Society President. Those novel verbs are terms he coined for the activity. Sheeting is a fairer description of this sort of adventure perhaps because you never know quite what you might find in the way of moths, beetles, katydids, flies and wasps on his dozen or so illuminated sheets.

Dr. Charles Allen, in the Allen Acres Moon Garden. These trumpet-like flowers open at dusk and draw the attentions of the incredible Hummingbird Hawkmoths! Insects whose hovering feeding behaviours are convergent with the avian pollinators'.

Dr. Charles Allen in the Allen Acres Moon Garden. These trumpet-like flowers open at dusk and draw the attentions of the incredible Hummingbird Hawkmoths! Insects whose hovering feeding behaviours are convergent with the diurnal avian pollinators’, but these flowers are closed while the hummers feed by day. This plant favours the moths.

You can stand eye-to-eye with a handsome Io moth, Automeris io at Allen Acres! Image C. Paxton

Owl face on the underwings! A handsome Io moth, Automeris io can startle predators with a flash of scary eyes at Allen Acres! Image C. Paxton

If you are wondering what botany might have to do with the study of moths and butterflies, the answer is pretty well everything really. This is because the insects and plants co-evolved in a state of mutual dependency. The insects need certain plants as food and to acquire defensive chemistry, leaves for the larvae (caterpillars) and floral nectar for the adults. The plants in turn need certain insects to pollinate their flowers to produce seeds for their own reproduction, so their relationship is fundamentally important, their destinies are entwined.

If you’re interested in exploring this relationship and looking for a lovely country farm-stay retreat with plenty of delightful poultry along with the ecological interest then I heartily recommend Allen Acres Bed and Breakfast.

Dr. Allen’s botanical expertise and years of scientific observation inform both his scientific authorship of identification guides and the prodigious plantings around the farm that aim to optimise the benefit for the 55 species of butterflies and 675 species of moths that can be found here.  The rest of the 26 acres is comprised of mixed deciduous bottom-land forest and native pine forest in the Ouachita ecotone, including long-leaf pines and some specimen

trees. The full biodiversity of the area is yet to be established, but can be fairly described as very rich.

The Professor runs a range of residential botanical courses on Plant Identification, Edible Plants, Graminoid (Grasses and sedges), Wetland plants, Legumes and Composites. Sign up for any of these and you’ll learn plenty for sure! The Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast group organised an Introduction to Plants Workshop with him at nearby Kisatchie National Forest and were more than satisfied with both the preparatory lecture and the exploration in the field. The flow of information was likened to a ‘firehose’, but his combination of witty humour and astutely relevant anecdotes help make the information digestable and enjoyable!

If you just want to kick back and relax in the rocking chairs enjoying a good book and the antics of the many hummingbirds and the passing poultry, this makes a good choice of accommodation. The detached guest-house reminds me of the better private safari lodges that we encountered in Namibia. Very comfy and well equipped with relevant reading matter.

If you accompany him around the sheets at night and in the early pre-dawn morning you will encounter an extraordinary taste of the regional insect biodiversity and a fascinating stream of conciousness analysis of the sheets’ diverse occupants.

There’s nothing like sheeting to stimulate your appetite and nothing like Susan Allen’s bacon, eggs and fresh biscuits (scones) to satisfy it.  The outstanding quality of the coffee stems from the use of fresh well water! The buttered eggs and biscuits are exemplars of their kind. The slideshow during breakfast

My wife and I loved our stay, it’s delightful enough to watch hens and guineafowl about their business, but the ecological exploration adds greatly to the interest and we will return.  At $80 a night (at time of writing) I feel that Allen Acres represents extraordinarily good value for money and positioned as it is, roughly equidistant between the Twin Cities and Houston, it’s the perfect spot to break the journey!

Kimmie enjoying some restful time with friends, Tannin and the laying hens.

Kimmie enjoying some restful time with friends, Tannin the farm dog and the laying hens.

All images taken by Charles Paxton on Pentax K-1 with 28-90mm lens, copyright 2018.

The author Charles Paxton attests that he was not paid to write this article, but that he and his wife did benefit culturallly, educationally, spiritually and nutritionally from the extraordinary good value that this stay and some take-away eggs represents!