Appalachian Dialect

Where’d All the Millers Go?

miller on a window

The other night we were headed over to Vogel State Park for a performance. We were talking about one thing and then an another. I said “Our weekend has been so busy I haven’t even written anything for tomorrow’s blog post. Got any ideas?”

I was looking for musical suggestions since the following day was Sunday, but Paul said “I got one for you. I want to know where all the millers have gone. When we were kids why if the porch light was on and you opened the screendoor at least a hundred millers would try to fight their way into the house. Now you never see but a couple around the light.”

I said “Well first I’d have to tell some folks what millers are, not many people call moths millers these days.”

The Deer Hunter chimed in with a story about one of his friends who had a miller fly into his ear and he couldn’t get it out. It was still alive and the flapping of wings about drove him crazy so he went to the emergency room to get it removed.

The doctor came in and said “What’s wrong today?” The friend said “I have a miller in my ear and I need you to get it out its about to drive me crazy.” The doctor said “What did you say?” The statement was repeated and the doctor again questioned what he was trying to say. That give and take went back and forth a couple of times until finally the friend said “I’ve got a miller you know a moth in my ear and it’s about to drive me crazy!”

Finally the doctor understood and in just a little while the miller was removed and the friend was relieved…and left with a good story to tell.


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  • Reply
    b. Rugh
    August 5, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    We saw large moths at the nighttime baseball games this late Spring. I happen to love them especially the Luna does look like when you see one suddenly fall from around those big lights at the ball park that it has just dropped down off the moon, bringing a piece of it with the colors…And, the big brown ones with the fuzzy antenna and big brown buckeye eyes on the lower wings are very impressive as well..
    Paul is right about not as many millers or moths flying around porch lights. We don’t use pesticides or insecticides here unless we get a large hill of fire ants or invasion of those little biting ants. We do have lots of birds and late evening birds and bats so may be they keep them under control…I am like your other commenter, I love to see the pastel colored or apricot moths…We also have a beautiful white moth and black and white moth..These are medium sized moths.
    My Grandmother used to say…”Don’t let that “dusty miller” in the house, that dust will go everywhere off his wings!” The real “millers” were down at my grandfathers mill close to the barn…These millers loved grain and would fly up from around the corn, etc..I don’t know how he kept them in check around the bin where the ground flour and cornmeal fed into the bin…Alas, I have found before a container of forgotten pasta, etc. that had a tiny hole in the end that I have forgotten…and a small miller flew out when I opened the box…ewwww!
    Thanks for this post..
    Cheers to all the Millers, two-legged and six-legged “millers and moths”!
    Funny thing we knew a young boy whose last name was “Miller”…his nickname was “Dusty”…That boy “Dusty Miller” shore could hit a baseball!
    Loved this post Tipper!

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      August 5, 2019 at 5:43 pm

      The name is supposed to be b. Ruth…what happened…a “miller” dusted my computer keys…for it couldn’t have been operator error! LOL

  • Reply
    Cheryl Christensen Bennett
    June 7, 2019 at 8:19 am

    How funny. I am attending the annual conference for the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills. I am on a busload of millers right now and thought I had the answer until I read the blog.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    Don’t know the last time I have seen one, that is strange.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 5, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    In the early 60s we had a crop of caterpillars to come off, turning into butterflies. They were everywhere, our chickens wouldn’t even eat their scratch food. It scared some people because when they went into the woods, they could hear the Worms chewing. They ate most of the leaves. They later turned into White Millers.

    My brother, Harold and some more friends were camping over at the Forks of the Nantahala, where the Tail Race joins to back up the Nantahala. (One time I showed Tipper, Matt, and the Girls where I was baptised when I was about 9.) The water was off then. Anyway, Harold was better and gentler about throwing flies. He climbed up on a big rock so he could get at them\easier, put on a white miller and caught one on the first try. That made the rest of us throw down our flypoles cause they wouldn’t bite none of our flies. We just baited for Harold. I think he
    fished until it was so dark you couldn’t see. If my memory serves me right, he caught 14 and we had supper fit for a King. …Ken

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    June 5, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    I do think there are fewer bugs around than there used to be. With one exception -BEAN BUGS!

  • Reply
    June 5, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    I never heard of millers til I lived in Colorado. A little tree in front of the house would be covered in what seemed like hundreds of millers, and when you walked past they would fly up like a swirly cloud, then settle back down again.
    Here, I get lots of different kinds of moths if I leave a light on by the door at night. I think the prettiest are the ones I call “sherbet moths” because they are pink and yellow. The body is furry and yellow, and the wings are striped pink and yellow. Someone told me the correct name is “rosy maple moth,” but I’m sticking with sherbet 😉

  • Reply
    Allison Britt
    June 5, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Hum…not as many Millers as there used to be are there?? I love to see them…does remind me of childhood…all the millers flying around the front porch lightbulb. A few buzzing-June-bugs in the mix, too. Nowadays, I like seeing the ones that park on screens and stay for hours and hours, or even days in the same spot. So many variations in the insect world!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 5, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Those tent caterpillars that you see in apple, pear, cherry, etc. trees turn into millers. I haven’t see as many of them around lately. I think they go in cycles. I have a bug zapper on my carport that helps control them.

    The other day Dusty came in his Jeep with the top down. When he left I watched him until he was out of sight. As I turned to go back in the house I heard him come flying back down the road. “Dad, Something flew in my ear and I can’t get it out!”
    I told him to calm down and went in the house for a baby syringe aka “snot sucker”. I filled it with warm water and squirted it into his ear several times. “I think you got it!”
    I didn’t see anything come out so I looked on his clothes trying to find it. On his shoulder was one of those earwig bugs. The kind that is supposed to crawl in your ear and then burrow into your brain. “That must have been it!” “But it don’t have wings. How did it fly in your ear?”
    It might have been a case of mistaken identity. Could have been a miller! But the earwig got blamed for it. Now he is nothing but a smear on the ground. Alas poor bug!

  • Reply
    June 5, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    Tipper, i had the same thing happen to me when i was a child. We didnt have air conditioning so sometimes we would leave the window open because of it being so hot. I was laying in bed and one of those millers flew in my ear, flapping around , i tried to get it out but i couldn’t. It finally quit. I guess the wax in my ear stopped it . I never did get it out. We didnt go to the doctor, you had to live with. Mom would doctor you up as best as she could and you went on.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 5, 2019 at 11:03 am

    When I was little there was so many bugs and millers on our porch lite, you couldn’t see good. Daddy would spray DDT on them with one of those long spray guns that you use to get. He sprayed that stuff in the house too, it’s a thousand wonders why each of us didn’t get Cancer. But you are right, Millers ain’t as plentiful as they use to be.

    I guess hardware stores, and even Grocery Stores have contributed to their Demise. I still see those medium sized millers, brown with white spots in my yard and other places. There use to be large butterflies everywhere, some with spots on their wings that resembled eyes.

    Mama use to say they’re headed South for the Winter. It’s coming soon. There would be thousands coming out of our Mountains, headed south. Slow as they flew, it would take weeks for them to get to a place where it didn’t Snow. …Ken

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    June 5, 2019 at 10:52 am

    This reminds me of an incident when my mother had an injury to her arm & was in the hospital. The young doctor came in and unwrapped the arm to check it out. Mama said, “Is it dreening?” He looked at me blankley and asked what she was talking about! I told him she meant was it draining. Tried to make a joke out of it and asked him where he was from. “Somewhere they speak English” , he said.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2019 at 10:47 am

    Oh I meant to say also when Paul said “When you opened that “Screendoor.” Maybe you still have screendoors like the old wooden screendoors at my grandparents home and old country stores. In the summer when you went out that door it made a sound that was musical to my ear. Our doors have the aluminum frames and you just don’t hear that closing sound anymore. It was like I remember being way out in the country walking behind my grandfather who was carrying an old metal bucket. No sound around except the buzzing of insects and the melodious sound of the bucket swinging back and forth as we walked.

    • Reply
      Ron Stephens
      June 5, 2019 at 12:13 pm

      Dee, I think what you and your son saw was a different species of lightening bug. The flash is species-specific, just like a lighthouse, so as to attract a mate of the same species.

      Along that line, the synchronous fireflies of the Smokies had been known by the local folks for generations but were not ‘discovered’ by the outside world until the 1990’s. Now it has become a very popular event.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2019 at 10:36 am

    I too remember the Millers and have noticed there aren’t as many around. Our oldest son is visiting and the other evening he said “Mom come outside and look at these lightening bugs – something different about them – as they flash three times instead of once like they always did.” I looked and he was right, they flashed three quick times. Really this is early for them as I seem to remember they came in the heat of the summer. I’m sure pesticides has had an affect on all critters and bugs. I wish they could get rid of the ticks, mosquitoes, fire ants and flies but every time they bring in something to get rid of a pest or fix a problem, “it” ends up being as bad or worse.

  • Reply
    Daba Wall
    June 5, 2019 at 9:34 am

    My Iowa parents and grandparents always called them “millers,” too. When I was a kid, we had a cocker spaniel who chased any miller that made it into the house. She could jump high enough to grab one occasionally. A comical sight.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2019 at 9:29 am

    First I really enjoyed Miss Cindy’s post. Back in the day people had to figure things out, and could save a trip to the ER or a costly repair depending on the problem. Tipper, your posts bring out the best in people, and sometimes I get on later to read their posts. No, I am not bored, as my life is almost too busy. Your blog is just near and dear to my heart.
    I have two home locations now until I can figure things out. There is one country and one city. I actually have done nicely in the city with a community garden, and turning flower beds into vegetable beds.

    Now to the subject of Millers. I don’t miss them although they have a purpose. They were one of the biggest pests when I was growing up, and would flutter around into your eyes and drinks. We always called them Millers, and we need to keep calling them Millers. I run across instances where folks have no clue what I am talking about, but I have learned to stand proud for my heritage. When you show great pride, I have found they are not nearly as apt to make fun of your Appalachian words and sayings. My grandson said it best when he told a clerk referring to me, “She is not afraid to be herself.”
    What I really miss is all the beautiful butterflies that fluttered around…they seemed to be everywhere. But, so did flies!

  • Reply
    June 5, 2019 at 9:04 am

    When I was growing up, I didn’t know millers had another name. If the ER story had happened to me, I’m not sure how I would have described it other than a bug. Of course, the doctors in my hometown were mostly local boys who would have known exactly what I was talking about. Like Paul, I want to know where all the millers have gone. And what about the June bugs, lightning bugs, snake doctors, praying mantis and jar flies?

  • Reply
    Lula Mae VanWinkle
    June 5, 2019 at 8:43 am

    Paul is right, there are no millers anymore. We called them millers, I am not sure we even thought of them as a moth. They were like a plague if you had any light, even a lantern or flashlight. They were trying to get in every orifice on you head. I sure I swallowed many of them.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    June 5, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Sorry that I did not get to be at Vogel. Circumstances prevented it.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2019 at 8:15 am

    My brother had the same thing happen many years ago. it drove him crazy until they got it out. I hadn’t thought about it but your right I can’t remember the last miller I have seen. We don’t seem to have any shortage of lighting bugs ( fireflies) this year.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    June 5, 2019 at 7:50 am

    We too have noticed far fewer millers this year than last year. It has to be President Trump”s fault.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 5, 2019 at 7:46 am

    Now that you and Paul bring it up, it is a good question. I don’t see millers like I did as a boy. One hint might be in the name “miller”, that is associated with grains like corn and wheat. Fifty years ago there were a lot more farmsteads with people having gardens with corn for corn meal and corn patches for fodder for stock. And mixed along in there was some wheat growing.

    That isn’t the whole store of course. Among the various ‘miller’ larva are those that feed on acorns and formerly chestnut. Those millers should still be around. However, acorn crops vary quite a bit so there are still lean years.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 5, 2019 at 7:37 am

    Tipper–A lot of moths, such as the destructive gypsy moth, have highly cyclical populations. That may well be part of the explanation for the dearth of millers. There was one year when I was a teenager when there were millers everywhere. For a couple of weeks trout enjoyed a non-stop feast, and any fly which was mostly or all white was wonderfully productive. I’ve never since seen miller numbers even approaching those of that summer.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    June 5, 2019 at 7:33 am

    I still have a good bunch here at my house. Not quite as many but still enough that I could share some with you If you want them. I wish the mosquitoes would go away. Every time I go outside, be it day or night, I come in with a bite.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 5, 2019 at 6:40 am

    My guess would be the wholesale use of pesticides is the cause of the absence of millers, but that may be too simple an answer. Once when the Deer Hunter was little we were in a campground up above Lake Logan. A little boy got a bug in his ear, I don’t remember if it was a miller or some other bug. The child was screaming , the bug was buzzing in his ear. We used a straw to capture some vegetable oil and dropped about a teaspoon down his ear, rolled him to his other side and the bug flowed out with the oil and no harm was done.

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