We are living in a great time! Citizen science is becoming a more recognizable and interesting term. Everyone can participate in efforts to conserve biodiversity from their own backyard. Apps such as Inaturalist make learning easy and engaging.
Below we will walk you through the steps to take in order to do your own Moth Observation and data collection. It is truly fun for the whole family. Unless you are a botanist (Just kidding, I am a Botanist, and I love it!)
A Note on timing - I do Moth Surveys seasonally. In the spring, summer, and the fall. If you are doing this for the pure love of mothing and moth related enjoyment - I suggest during the summer. That way you can enjoy the night time weather and friendly disposition of your fellow MOTH-ers (I just realized that MOTH-ERS is mothers if you don't include the hyphen. I am not referring to maternal figures.
STEP ONE: GATHER MATERIALS AND RESOURCES
This really depends on how far down the rabbit hole (Moth hole?) you want to go. You can start researching and gathering books for identification if that is your desire. Or - you can upload photos to Inaturalist and hope the community can provide that assistance. So you might need some ID books or just your smart phone (If you still use a pager - go to the nearest landline and call someone who has access to a camera or smart phone).
You will need a way to secure a backdrop (Such as a sheet) vertically. You can string it between trees, or build a standalone frame such as we did. Then you are going to need a light. Professional and active MOTH-ers (That's the term right?) prefer blacklights or mercury vapor lights. Moths are attracted to most any kind of light however, just think about that porchlight. You will also need a power source, so an extension cord or generator.
Here's a recap -
Smart Phone (Optional)
Camera (Optional if you have a smart phone)
A large white sheet (or other backdrop)
A Frame (or rope or bucket or something like that)
A light fixture and bulb (Preferably a black light bulb)
Power Source (Extension cord or generator)
Identification book (Optional)
S'mores (Not Optional - I think they have vegan s'mores these days)
STEP TWO: IF YOU BUILD IT
They will arrive. Under the blanket of night. That comes later. Please make sure to do any construction in a well lit area. Use safety precautions. Plan it out well.
So you now need to secure a frame or backdrop of some sort where the moths can land to be observed. Place a sheet over the frame for your backdrop (I recommend a white sheet by the way). Place the light fixture behind the backdrop.
I've seen set ups where they have a light fixture at the bottom of a bucket and extend a side of the bucket up with cardboard - this might also work, but I can not speak to the efficacy of such a contraption. I will report back once I do.
STEP THREE: REAP THE BENEFITS
So you have built and positioned your setup. Now wait until it is dark (Moths are by and large nocturnal). Sit back and wait until your lepidopteran friends come to pay you a visit. When they land on the backdrop, take a picture and upload it to Inaturalist. Or alternatively you can look up identification information and become an expert yourself (This takes longer than one evening). Hopefully the entomologists in your area are active and technologically savvy, they will provide useful notes and recommendations for your identification. You can also just skip the upload and have fun watching what kind of nocturnal insects come to your survey point and enjoy their company.
You can read more on how to use Inaturalist HERE.
ENJOY THE MOTH-ing
We also offer paper copies of this home-made protocol. Find us at an event or send us a quick message if you would like a hard copy for your Moth-ing adventures.
Another Option: Moth Sugaring (Redirects to another website)
I grew up afraid of moths. I have no idea why. It is strange - I think I held on to that fear intentionally because it was strange. You can ask people who know me. Its a true story. This is why I love moths. I find that learning about your fears helps overcome the irrational decisions that are built into our minds. This is also why I am trying to make a concerted effort to learn spiders. Insects and Arachnids are fascinating and they are an integral part of the world we live in. Learn to love and love to learn.
If you have a project that would benefit from a professional level moth survey, let us know. We are happy to help.
Moth surveys help with assessing biological integrity and the health of an ecosystem. They can also be done in order to complete biological inventories.