By David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty
Spot any underwings lately? These popular moths, known for revealing their true, vibrant colors when their wings are fully spread, will be spotlighted this summer as National Moth Week marks its fifth consecutive year across the U.S and around the world. This year National Moth Week is being held July 23 through July 31.
Moth-ers (the noun to describe those that engage in the verb mothing) will be looking for underwings and other moth species at hundreds of private and public mothing events. Online registration is in full swing with events already registered around the world in backyards, parks, cities and some of the most remote places around the globe.
Moths have always had a loyal fan base among entomologists and hobbyists, but National Moth Week has helped to increase their popularity among the general population. By bringing them to light, so to speak, this global citizen science project is educating people about their beauty, diversity and value to the environment.
National Moth Week (NMW) shines a much-needed spotlight on moths and their ecological importance, as well as their incredible biodiversity. While moths often have taken a back seat to their Lepidoptera kin, the butterflies, there is growing interest in their role as pollinators and as a food source for other animals. Scientists also look for the impact of climate change on their numbers and distribution. With possibly as many as 500,000 species, moths can provide an endless opportunity for exploration. For most species, basic life history and distributional information is lacking or poorly understood, allowing citizen scientists a wonderful opportunity to contribute meaningful observations.
Anyone can register a public or private event or find one to attend in their area by checking nationalmothweek.org for public events. Any location is suitable, from a backyard to a park to a vast, remote area. Registration is free for individuals, groups, and organizations. Last year, more than 400 events were registered in all 50 U.S. states and more than 40 other countries, representing more than a thousand “moth nights.”
Studying moths can be as easy as turning on a porch light and waiting for them to come, or shining a light on a white sheet in a backyard or park. Special blacklights or mercury vapor lights are often used to attract the widest suite of species and ambitious moth-ers also coat tree trunks with a sticky, sweet mixture of fruit and stale beer that is very attractive to many species of moths. However, mothing isn’t only for those with poor sleeping habitats or the inclination to be outside at ridiculous hours of the night. Searching for caterpillars and day-flying moths is a good activity for daytime and a perfect opportunity to explore other aspects of moth ecology. The NMW website offers many tips on attracting moths. The techniques are the same, whether they are done by a professional entomologist or novice citizen scientist.
National Moth Week also promotes data collection about moths. Participants are encouraged and invited to contribute their photos and findings to NMW partner websites, as well as the NMW Flickr group, which now has nearly 15,000 moth photos from around the world.
This year’s spotlighted moths, commonly known as underwings, comprise the genus Catocala, which is part of the large Erebidae family. There are more than 250 known species of Catocala, with about half found in North America, while the rest are in Europe, Asia, and the tropics. Their dull-colored forewings, serve as camouflage while at rest. However, when they spread their wings, they reveal strikingly colorful or bold hindwings with orange, red, black, white, or blue markings. As the underwings show, moths, like butterflies, display some of the most vibrant colors and patterns found in nature.
National Moth Week originated from very humble beginnings at local community moth nights held each summer in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Following on the success of those events, we decided to try and expand the reach of these nocturnal explorations of moths and biodiversity. National Moth Week was the result, founded in 2012 by the Friends of the East Brunswick (N.J.) Environmental Commission that we co-founded. The Friends is a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental education and conservation. National Moth Week has become one of the most widespread citizen science projects in the world. It is coordinated by an all-volunteer team in New Jersey, New York, Ecuador, and Belize. For the past four years, public and private mothing events have been held annually in all 50 states and 66 different countries. The NMW website features an events map showing the locations of events around the world.
Dr. David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty are the co-founders of National Moth Week. David holds a PhD in entomology from Rutgers University for his research on the tiger spiketail dragonfly and is a senior vice president with EcolSciences, Inc. in Rockaway, New Jersey. Liti holds a master’s degree in ecology for her work on morphology and ecological adaption in corals. She has worked at SUNY Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Lab, and since 1999 has been employed at the Rutgers University Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences. Biographies of the rest of the amazing all-volunteer National Moth Week team can be found at http://nationalmothweek.org/the-team.