Did you know this week is National Moth Week? July 17 – 25, 2021, marks the tenth anniversary of National moth week. This program started in New Jersey but now has a global reach. The goal this year is to encourage young people, in particular, to observe and document moths. To that end, they have many resources and tips on their webpage at https://nationalmothweek.org/. In 2019, the South Carolina Botanical Garden participated in this worldwide event by hosting a Magical Moth night in partnership with the Clemson Entomology Club. It was so much fun that we hope to do it again next year.
Who cares about moths, you might ask? Moths are often regarded as pests, as drab and uninteresting, and only around at night, but this is only a small fraction of the picture. With scientists estimating between 150 to 500,000 species worldwide, they outnumber butterflies fifteen to one. This means they are a hugely important part of the world’s biodiversity, and, beyond that, we are only just beginning to unlock the secrets of the moth world.
Moths are Food
Nocturnal moths feed many bat species, and their caterpillars sustain many, many songbirds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. The decline in birds that feed on the wing, for example, swallows and nighthawks, has been linked to a decline in moth species worldwide.
Moths are Excellent Pollinators
Most research into pollination focuses on daytime pollinators, with an emphasis on bees; little attention has been given to moths. Recent research, however, shows that moths are excellent pollinators since pollen grains readily stick to their furry bodies. Other research into the types of pollen carried by moths reveals moths visited many more plants than previously thought. As scientists further explore the relationship between plants and moths, more secrets will surely be revealed.
Moths are Beautiful
As masters of disguise, moths often blend into their surroundings, but when examined closely, their patterns are stunningly beautiful. You can discover the subtle beauty and huge diversity of moths at the Butterfly Identification site, where they have a visual guide to 391 moth species spotted in South Carolina. The HGIC website has fact sheets on some beautiful moths: the rosy maple moth and ever-popular, gigantic luna moth.
The combination of the huge diversity of moths and the lack of research about them means that the public (i.e., you!) can make some real contributions by participating in a project like National Moth Week. Citizens become field agents for scientists, making observations on their back deck or patio, in their garden, at a local park, or other green space. Once data is collected, it is sent to scientists who can then use it for research; perhaps you can make a discovery that rocks the moth world!