Saturday 21 July 2018

National Moth Week 2018

It is National Moth Week! National Moth Week (NMW) is an international week designated (by enthusiasts, I believe no *official* designation yet) to the observation of moths!

Mothing (the art of looking at moths, much like "birding") is a surprisingly fun and addicting past time. Only recently did I discover this hobby, but I have quickly grown to love it. In a little of a month, I have already identified almost 200 species right in my own urban backyard here in London!

Mothing is a very easy thing to do, and requires almost no equipment. Much like birding, you can get as "high tech" as you want, or stick with the basics. The easiest thing you can do is just turn on an exterior light and see what shows up. If you wish to get a bit fancier, you can hang up a bed sheet outside (a white cotton one works best), and shine a light source on it. Different moths are attracted to different frequencies of light, so depending on what type of light you use with determine how many and what species of moths you attract.

The light source is the most important part of attracting moths. Black lights work well, and are fairly inexpensive, and can be easily found in nearby stores. The best option is a Mercury Vapour light bulb, however they seem to be hard to come across, so you'll most likely have to order one off the internet. MV bulbs tend to be more expensive, however they are the best option to attract the most number of moths. I find this one works well.

If you are not interested in buying a "specialty bulb", don't think you can't get in on the fun! Pretty much any light source will work (though I have found that a flashlight is ineffective).

If you don't feel like staying up late, then you can also look for moths during the day! While you won't often see the larger ones, you will most definitely find the smaller ones, and you should get lucky with a few geometer moths. Just walking through some grass will often flush them. Many cool moths also fly during the day, such as clearwing sphinxes and clearwing borers.

Squash Vine Borer

Moth identification is probably the most frustrating part of mothing. There are many good sources from which you can learn, and may even be able to help you ID the moth if you have a photo. One of my biggest aids in identification is iNaturalist. With a single photo, iNat is able to give you a pretty good guess as to what something is. I will warn you that iNat takes some getting used to, and can be a hard "transition" if you are a user of eBird. iNat is not very hard to use however, and after playing around with it for a bit, you should be able to figure out the basics.

There are many other sources for help, such as the Moth Photographers Group, BugGuide, and Backyard Nature (links below). These sites may be a bit confusing, as they use a lot of scientific names, however feature lots of high quality pictures to help with ID.

The best way to start with moths is to focus on the bigger ones first, and as you become more comfortable, start to look at the smaller ones.

Moth ID sources:

Moth Photographers Group (for a walkthrough of the site, see here)

BugGuide (moth ID section here)

Backyard Nature (Ontario Moths)

As I said before, the best place to put your moth records is in iNaturalist. iNaturalist is great because even if you are not sure of a species, someone is apt to come along and help you with your identification.

If you are using iNaturalist, and are unsure of an ID, just tag me in the description of your observation (@birds_bugs_botany) I am by no means an expert, but I will try my best to help you out!

Speaking of iNaturalist, the project for the 2018 National Moth Week observations in Canada can be found here. All your sightings will be automatically added!

If you have any questions regarding moths or iNaturalist, please feel free to ask!

I challenge everyone reading this to give mothing, either nocturnal or diurnal, a try at least once this week. I am sure you will enjoy it. Even if you cannot identify everything, you will appreciate the beauty of these fabulous creatures!

For a bit more info on mothing, see this link, or just do a bit of googling!


Virginia Creeper Sphinx

Orange-headed Epicallima Moth

Glorious Habrosyne

Western Bean Cutworm

Willow Leafcone Caterpillar Moth

Modest Sphinx

***Note: Any grammatical errors are due to lack of sleep because I was mothing all night


  1. You do a lot of mothing Quinten, but do you ever get bored of it after a little bit? But have fun Quinten and staying up late:)