Citizen Science Tuesday: National Moth Week

A luna moth (Actias luna). Photo by Flickr user magnolia1000 via a Creative Commons license.

A luna moth (Actias luna). Photo by Flickr user magnolia1000 via a Creative Commons license.

What is National Moth Week?

Are you mad for moths? Crazy about caterpillars? Passionate about protecting pollinators?

You should try National Moth Week (NMW), coming up July 19-27, 2014.

It’s a celebration of the amazing variety of moths. That’s right: moths are far from dull!

There are between 150,000 and 500,000 species and they come in all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes. Stand back butterflies. There are even camouflaged moths that mimic things from bird poo to hummingbirds.

NMW is also a citizen science effort. Anyone can participate and contribute meaningful scientific data about moths.

Why is it important?

Moths are often thought of as pests, but it’s a very small minority of species (like the invasive gypsy moth) that cause damage and give moths a bad reputation.

The vast majority of moths are important as indicators of ecosystem health.

They’re also a protein packed source of food for a variety of other species, notably birds, bats, and even people and many of them pollinate plants (by day or by night).

It looks like a bumblebee, but it's a bee hawk-moth (Hemaris tityus). Photo by Flickr user Anne SORBES via a Creative Commons license.

It looks like a bumblebee, but it’s a bee hawk-moth (Hemaris tityus). Photo by Flickr user Anne SORBES via a Creative Commons license.

In spite of their key role in keeping ecosystems healthy, there are a lot of things that we don’t know about moths.

How many species are there? What is their range? What will this caterpillar turn into? Depending on the species, science may not yet have the answers.

You can fill in the gaps in the data, and your kids can help.

From pre-school to teenager and all the way up to adult – people enjoy watching moths, which makes NMW a great family event.

It gives small kids a good reason to break their usual routine and be outside at night. As long as kids are careful, they can get hands-on with the moths. Moths might even land on them, but there’s no need to fear; moths are not dangerous and do not bite.

If you’d rather do something during the day, there are daytime events too!

How do you get involved?

NMW encourages people all over the world (that’s right, national can stand for any nation) to participate in or create their own mothing events!

What’s a mothing event, you say?

Getting started at mothing is easier than pie. If you create the right conditions, the moths will come to you. All it takes is a light source and a place for the moths to rest.

If you want to get a little more complicated, you can make bait to attract the moths, NMW recommends a mix of beer, bananas, and sugar.

You can do it right in your own back yard. Or, if you live in a city and don’t have a back yard, find a public event to join, or look for a light near a resting surface like a wall or a tree somewhere in your neighborhood. You might be surprised at the variety of moths in the city.

If you want to start your own public event, you can register one in the USA or internationally.

Once you have attracted the moths, this is what you can do to gather data.

1. Photograph any moths you see. This will help scientists to identify them if you aren’t certain of the species.

2. Submit your photos and any additional data to any of NMW’s partners. They have national and international partners, including BAMONA. The partners have various protocols, some even accept specimens for museum collections and DNA analysis.

3. Submit photos of the moths and your mothing set-up to the National Moth Week Flickr group.

4. Share your mothing stories, the best ones will be featured on the NMW blog.

You can also spread the word about NMW by posting this flyer at your school or library.

Make a great memory, do something meaningful, and enjoy the beauty of the moths!


Is there a citizen science project that you think deserves more attention? Contact Lisa Feldkamp, lfeldkamp[at]tnc.org with information about the project or leave a comment below with a link.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nature Conservancy.

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