With the first day of summer approaching in the northern hemisphere, now is a good time to take a look at moths. We still have a few warm months to marvel at the beauty of these ghostly insects.
Moths make up the vast majority of the Lepidoptera family, with 160,000 worldwide species. In contrast, there are about 15,000 species of butterflies.
Just like butterflies, moths go through metamorphosis, and feed on plant nectar. They’re marvelous pollinators.
Unlike butterflies, moths are primarily nocturnal.
I first started appreciating moths while traveling in the tropics. Frequently prowling at night, looking for owls and other creatures, we have found some extraordinary moths. In Africa some moths are as big as your hand.
Here is a moth who landed on our bungalow steps in Belize. This elegant individual cooperatively transferred onto a white envelope for better photographing.
But you don’t need to travel to exotic places to see moths.
All you need are warm temperatures and night scenes.
Light attracts moths. So there are many ways to observe them, from the simplest way of leaving your porch light on, to more scientific methods with UV lights and trapping techniques.
If you’re really into it, there are recipes for making a sugar mixture. You cool the syrup and paint it onto a tree with a paint brush.
There are also safe ways to build a trap, to gently funnel the moths into a vessel. Then you release the moths when you’re done observing.
There are many variations of DIY mothing methods, I have included several website links below.
But personally, I find the more complicated something like this gets, the less frequently I will do it. So we stick to simple mothing methods and keep it a spontaneous adventure that can be quickly assembled.
Here are two different mothing set-ups in our backyard.
The two main tools we use are: a UV light and a white surface.
We use an extension cord near an electrical outlet, grab the UV light and prop it on top of a box. It only takes a few minutes.
Our set-up costs about $20. I ordered a party “black” light from Amazon.
Turning on the light beforehand, at dusk, helps to increase the insect collection. Then we come out with flashlights in the dark and the show begins.
I use my close-focus binoculars, can see great details, while Athena photographs.
I was amazed at the beautiful flying insects that came into our light. We’d been living here nearly two decades before discovering our night insects.
Different moths cycle through in different seasons, just like birds.
This is a plume moth we first saw in the fall, but have not yet seen this summer.
I didn’t know what the “plumes” actually looked like, until I found this 17th Century drawing.
Most of our moths are small, the size of a coin, and dark colored. But there are always variations, like the Darwin’s Green Moth featured earlier.
And it’s not just moths who come to the light.
Other insects join the party too.
Afterwards, it’s important to turn out the light and put away the sheet, otherwise birds will eat the insects in the morning.
A unique way for people of all ages to enjoy the outdoors on a summer night. Have fun celebrating the summer.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.