WCWS 2019: It's moth mayhem amid softball in Oklahoma City

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The bright lights of USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium seem irresistible to the moths that have hatched in abundance in Oklahoma City this spring.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Aaliyah Jordan stood in right field and saw the ball launch off Emma Helm's bat. It landed in the outfield grass and rolled to the wall at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium during semifinal Sunday of the Women's College World Series. As Jordan retrieved it, she shrieked.

Moths, lots of them, swarmed around the UCLA right fielder.

"I freaked out Bubba [Nickles]," Jordan of her teammate. "She was like, 'What's wrong? What's wrong?' So I had to tell her it was just the moths."

Those moths -- mostly the cabbage looper -- have been impossible to miss this year on softball's brightest stage. They swoop around the lights at night, and they're omnipresent in the outfield, even during the day. When Jordan walks through the outfield grass, as she will do for tonight's Game 2 of the championship series between UCLA and Oklahoma, plumes of them leap from the blades and fly around her. They're along the fence, stacked in piles along the warning track, and even in the wall.

"If you hit the side padding, they'll all just fly out," UCLA left fielder Kelli Godin said.

As a California kid, Godin said she used to hunt for lizards in her grandmother's garden. She'd stalk her prey hoping to snag one and keep it for a day. Now the freshman is putting those lizard-catching skills to good use with the moths in Oklahoma City.

She gets low, moves slowly toward one, and snatches it between her cupped hands before it can fly away. Then she runs after Jordan or Kylee Perez, the former Bruins star and current volunteer assistant coach. They hate it.

"I think it's hilarious," Godin said.

The moths have brown bodies and wings. They crawl along ledges and settle, though they will take off when disturbed. The quickness of their wings make them appear almost white in the light. That makes the moths stand out, and there appears to be thousands of them. But are they really as bad as they look?

"They're twice as bad," Jordan said. "Because they're actually touching you."

Aside from freaking out Jordan, the moths do have a purpose. The insects are pollinators and are important in making sure that fruits and flowers can reproduce. They also serve as a food source for other animals. "There are specific birds that really favor moths," said Barry Downer, deputy director of the Oklahoma City Zoo.

Jordan insists that the moths were not a thing last year. "I don't remember seeing any," Jordan said. And she's right.

Oklahoma City winters typically have warm peaks and then hard freezes. The cold snaps would kill the moths after the warmth encouraged the eggs to hatch. This year brought a colder winter -- consistently cold with fewer spikes of warmth. With all the recent rain, the moths that survived the winter in eggs or cocoons -- and apparently there were plenty -- have had great conditions.

"Weather patterns have been perfect for moths to come out in abundance this spring," Downer said.

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UCLA freshman Kelli Godin has used the moths to keep her teammates on their toes.

Walking around Oklahoma City, though, isn't like walking through waves of moths. They're invisible in everyday life, even in the parking lot at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. Moths aren't lining the curbs or covering cars. But inside the arena, they're impossible to miss.

"We don't see them in those numbers at the zoo, either," Downer said. "My guess is that it has to do with the bright lights, especially around dusk time. Lights attract insects in droves."

Playing around the moths is a unique burden for the outfielders. You won't find the insects in the dirt of the infield, but outfielders are dodging them all the time.

"Any time I get taken out of the field I'm like, 'Oh yes, great. No more bugs,'" Jordan said.

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