When it comes to forest health, moths don’t always have the greatest reputation. The gypsy moth, fall webworm, and forest tent caterpillar are just a few examples of moths that can be damaging to forests. Still, moths are incredibly diverse, and most species are beneficial. In fact, moths are among the most diverse organisms on Earth. Estimates for the number of distinct moth species range from 150,000 to over 500,000! The United States is home to 11,000 of these species. Butterflies, which are in the order Lepidoptera along with moths, often get more appreciation than their counterparts. However, moths have a wide array of beautiful patterns and exist in many different sizes. Moths are great pollinators, important food sources for animals like birds and lizards, and even good indicators of environmental quality! What’s not to love?
To shine a light on the beauty and importance of our moth species, this week (July 18-26th) is the ninth annual National Moth Week. Starting in 2012, National Moth Week, which is always celebrated in late July, serves as one of the largest citizen science projects. National Moth Week has led to thousands of moth-watching and educational events in 80 countries and all 50 U.S. states! In North Carolina, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences hosts an annual Moths at Night Program at Prairie Ridge, where people of all ages come to search for moths beneath blacklights. While COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines have prevented many of these events from taking place, it is still possible to participate from home. The majority of moths are nocturnal, so you can search for moths and snap some photos of them at night. Finding moths can be as simple as turning on your porch light and waiting for these gorgeous insects to appear. If you want to get fancy, you can even use special lights, such as blacklights, to attract them. By hanging up a white sheet and shining a black light onto it, you can attract all kinds of moths! While you’re marveling in their beauty and taking photos, you can even contribute to science by recording your observations. Upload your photos to one of the websites that partner with National Moth Week. One of National Moth Week’s partners is iNaturalist, an app that is fun and easy to use. Just snap a photo, upload it to the National Moth Week project within the app, and record your location to contribute valuable data to science.
Hopefully, National Moth Week inspires a love for moths in many North Carolinians. Even though they are often viewed as drab pests, many of the moth species in North Carolina are beautiful and helpful to the ecosystems in our state. By grabbing a flashlight and a camera, you can spread the word about the benefits that moths provide, all while contributing to science!