Happy National Moth Week! From July 18 to 26, scientists all around the globe encourage everyone to become a citizen scientist and geek out about moths.
In Illinois, there are about 2,000 species of moths and butterflies in insect Order Lepidoptera. Of those 2,000, 1,850 species are moths. They are one of the largest groups of pollinators, helping in native seed and crop production. Moths also signal a healthy ecosystem.
Many species of moths require a specific host plant for their caterpillars to eat and grow. If you see a diverse range of moth species, that means the habitat is also diverse in plant life. Plus, moths play a key role in the food chain. Birds, bats, frogs, spiders and so many more animals eat adult moths and caterpillars.
Even with all these benefits, moths still get less attention than butterflies. Therefore, collecting information about our local moths can really make an impact! Here's how you can be a moth scientist.
Turn on a light
To see moths, it can be as easy as turning on your porch light. Scientist are not sure why some moths are attracted to light and different waves of light. If you want to take your research center to the next level consider these steps:
Set up a sheet: This will be the landing pad for your new moth friends. Hang a white bedding sheet along a clothesline. Have part of the sheet laying on the ground, so you are careful not to step on any moths. Use binder clips or chip clips to secure the sheet on the line.
Use a light to shine bright: Any light will work, from a battery-powered lantern to ordering a specialized mercury vapor light. The broader spectrum of light will increase the number of moths attracted. We used a UV light.
Sit back and wait: Different species of moths are active at different parts of the night and in different seasons. Numbers tend to peak from just after dark to 1 a.m. Check during the twilight hour of dawn to see if anyone stuck around for a good picture!
There are tons of different shapes, sizes and colors of moths! Don’t be shy — get an up-close look by putting your moth in a container for closer viewing.
Borrow field guides from the library, such as the "Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America." You can also use your phone to help identify by downloading the Seek and iNaturalist apps. Seek is an app that uses your camera to scan the moth and try to find a close match of species. You can post to iNaturalist to add to the citizen scientist projects and have the community of users help you ID your moth.
Make sure to release your new friend when you are done observing.
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