This week we are celebrating National Moth Weekwhich gives us a chance to participate in some wonderful citizen science projects and some great opportunities to be outside after dark hunting moths with flashlights in a fun exercise called “mothing.” Last month we celebrated National Pollinator Week, so I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate moths, not as voracious caterpillars, but as beautiful pollinators.
I remember the first time I saw a moth pollinating flowers. I was busy weeding purple thistle when I saw something darting and hovering around the purple flower heads. At first I thought it was a hummingbird because it could hover over the flowers like those tiny birds but I later learned I’d been watching sphinx moths. While most moths are out at night, these moths were diurnal, meaning active during the day.
The moths that are out at night are still busy pollinators due to the special plants they pollinate. These plants bloom at night, bearing white or pale colored flowers that reflect moonlight making it easier for the moths to find their flowers, like the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), or some yucca species. Some, like Nicotiana alata, also wait to release their fragrance until after dark to help attract the moth pollinators. For more information on identifying some of the most common pollinator moths, try this blog from the University of Minnesota.
If you’d like to see more pictures of moths, the National Moth Week also has a Facebook page. I was amazed and entranced by the many beautiful moth photos they posted almost daily. I had no idea that there were so many different kinds of moths. Somehow I had the mistaken impression that moths were dull gray and not very interesting but now I think they rival butterflies for color and beauty and they’re just as important as pollinators.
To learn more about moths and other insects or to learn more about other citizen science opportunities, try these organizations below: