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National Moth Week – Coming Soon!

July 16, 2015

The fourth annual National Moth Week takes place July 18-26, and we’re ready to help you celebrate! Our National Moth Week event, Moths at Night, will take place at Prairie Ridge Ecostation this Saturday, July 18 from 8pm-midnight. The Museum has participated in National Moth Week since the very beginning, and we’re excited to bring this fun and engaging citizen science-focused event back again this year.

For those of you who are thinking, “Why do moths deserve a whole week?” let’s cover some moth basics. Moths are an incredibly diverse group of organisms, with tens of thousands of described species. Some estimates suggest that there may be as many as half a million species total on our planet. Moth enthusiasts worldwide do comprehensive surveys of the moths visiting their backyards and it is not uncommon for a single yard to host hundreds of species. One moth researcher in western North Carolina, for example, has discovered over a thousand species of moths – just in his backyard! Moths have an amazing diversity that is well worth exploring.

The sheer number of species alone makes moths worthy of celebration, but those many, many moth species also fulfill essential roles in our environment. Some moths are pollinators of night-blooming flowers, while other moths pollinate flowers during the day. A lot of our day-flying moths are colorful and showy like butterflies, such as this Ailanthus Webworm Moth:

Ailanthus webworm moth

Ailanthus Webworm Moth. Photo by Chris Goforth.

Moths are also great indicators of ecosystem health, a sort of canary in a coal mine if you will. Many species are tightly linked to a specific ecosystem. If the moths disappear, it tells scientists that there’s something wrong in that habitat worthy of further study. If a problem is found, changes in land management may help alleviate the environmental problem.

Perhaps most importantly, moths are a very valuable food source for a wide variety of animals. Like birds? Then you should like moths! Many species of birds depend on moths as food, though many rodents, reptiles and amphibians, and even fish are known to feed on moths as well.

Moths can be found in an astonishing variety of habitat types. Some moths are highly specialized, such as the classic ecological example of the yucca moth and yucca. Certain species of yuccas depend entirely on a single species of moth for pollination such that the two are always found together and elimination of either the moth or the yucca from the environment results in the loss of both species. Some moths are known to live inside the upper regions of carnivorous pitcher plants (a risky place to live if you’re an insect!) and others are aquatic for most of their lives and live on land only as adults. Moths live almost everywhere on our planet but the ocean!

Moths are generally harmless to humans, but some moths contain toxins that make them unpalatable to a variety of would-be predators and there are some blood-sucking moth species known from southern Europe and Siberia. However, moths can harm us indirectly. Some moth caterpillars are pests and compete with us for food (such as corn) and fiber (such as cotton). Other moth species, such as the Fall Cankerworm, are known as forest pests that can damage timber yields and still other moths destroy our clothing. While many moths perform important services that we benefit from, some species are capable of inflicting massive damage on natural products we use

Apart from all of these reason why moths are important and worthy of study, they are also quite beautiful. During last year’s Moths and Night celebration, we documented several beautiful moths, including these:

Skiff moth

Skiff Moth. Photo by Chris Goforth.

Beautiful wood nymph moth

Beautiful Wood Nymph Moth. This moth is a bird dropping mimic! Photo by Chris Goforth.

Banded tiger moth

Banded tiger moth. Photo by Chris Goforth.

Black bordered lemon moth

Black bordered lemon moth. Photo by Chris Goforth.

This amazing moth is what Woolly Bears turn into!:

Isabella tiger moth

Isabella tiger moth. Photo by Chris Goforth.

The showiest visitor the last two years has been the Tuliptree Silkmoth:

Tulip tree silk moth

Tulip tree silk moth. Photo by Chris Goforth.

Other gorgeous moths include the Rosy Maple Moth (I like to call it the “rainbow sherbet moth”), the Tuliptree Beauty moth, and the tiny but spectacular Sparganothis Fruitworm Moth. Sure, not all moths are showy, but many of them will surprise you.

If you’d like to learn more about moths or National Moth Week, please consider attending our Moths at Night program on Saturday, July 18! We’ll have several moth-attracting light stations set up on the Prairie Ridge grounds where you will be able to see a wide variety of moths and other nocturnal insects. We’ll have experts on hand to help you identify some of our common moths and we’ll send you home with a guide to help you explore the moths living in your backyard. Bill Reynolds, head of the Museum’s Arthropod Zoo will introduce you to the wide world of moths at the beginning of the event.  We also want to document the moths that come to our lights so that scientists can use our data in their studies. If you have a camera and are willing to take some photos, we’ll have a few stations set up where you can upload photos to this year’s featured citizen science project, Natural North Carolina.

Even if you can’t make it to Prairie Ridge, we hope you’ll participate in National Moth Week anyway! Just flip on your porch light one or more evenings between July 18 and July 26, snap a few photos of the moths you see, and submit them to Natural North Carolina. You don’t even have to identify your moths to help. Simply uploading a few photos to Natural North Carolina is enough to help scientists worldwide learn more about these amazing nocturnal insects. We’ll share some of our favorite submissions by NC citizen scientists on our Google+ page throughout the week so everyone can see some of the amazing moths that call North Carolina home – we have some great ones.

Join us and celebrate moths during National Moth Week!

For more information about Moths at Night, please visit the listing on our Programs and Event page.

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