Finding Magical Moths
Moths are cool! They come in so many amazing shapes and sizes - some of the largest and most impressive in our area include the Luna Moth and the Polyphemus Moth.
Moths are very important to the ecosystem. They are an essential source of food for bats, birds, frogs, toads, fish, and other animals. Like birds and butterflies, moths also help tell us whether our the ecosystem is healthy or not. Moths are very sensitive to changes in the environment and monitoring their numbers and ranges can help provide early indications of the effects of pollution, pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change.
You can see really cool moths and start your own moth count to monitor the environment at home by going mothing and keeping track of what moths you see!
There are two ways to attract moths: using a sugar syrup to attract moths or projecting a light onto a white sheet at night. Moths can be observed year-round in above freezing temperatures. Both methods work best on a dry night that's not too windy (between 10:00pm and 1:00am is optimal).
Sugaring is the traditional way to attract moths. There are many recipes for moth syrup, but an easy one is to lightly combine molasses, beer or dark soda, brown sugar, and overripe mashed bananas. You will want a mix that is thick enough to keep from dripping but thin enough to spread with a paint brush. To make the sugar mix extra attractive to moths let it set and ferment on your counter for a few days (some people add yeast to help with fermentation). To attract moths, just paint your moth sugar solution on tree trunks and wait to see what comes!
Another way to attract moths is to hang a white sheet vertically outdoors (you can use clothes hangers and a rope between two trees to hang the sheet). Next, just shine a bright light on the sheet! Any bright light will work, but a UV light or black light will attract the widest variety of moths. We recommending finding a spot away from artificial light so moths aren't attracted to lights other than yours.
Once you set up your sugar and/or light trap, just be patient! Different moths are active at different times of night. You can use a camera and notebook to take pictures of different moths you see and the numbers of each type of moth. Moth ID guides or a smartphone app such as Seek can help you identify the moths you see.
If you keep track of moths throughout the summer you can see which moths are active at different times of the year. If you go mothing each year, you can see if the numbers of moths increase or decrease year-to-year, which can help tell you about the health of your local environment (why are moth populations are increasing or decreasing?).
For a wonderful children's story on moths and evolution, visit the Panama Rocks Bookshop and check out Moth - a story about how the Peppered Moth has evolved to survive in a landscape changed by human activity.
Additional nature books are available at https://bookshop.org/shop/PanamaRocks - all sales help benefit Panama Rocks!
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