Friday, June 8, 2012

Check out Moth Night Life

Io moth found outside my door
There’s a lot of activity outside my window at night; moths wheel and flutter through the starlit sky, sometimes banging against the screen near my desk. I’d like to think they’re curious about what I’m writing, but I know they’re just attracted the light on my desk.

Like their butterfly cousins, moths begin their lives as leaf-munching caterpillars. They eat, grow, shed their skin and, when they’re ready, spin a silk cocoon and pupate.

check out the tongue & antennae on this guy!
Like their butterfly cousins, moths have long curling tongues. They travel from flower to flower drinking nectar and picking up pollen on their hairy bodies and carrying that pollen to the next plant. But most moths fly at night, so they’re on the look-out for pale-colored or white flowers like evening primrose and moonflower that glow in the moonlight …  and use sweet scents to attract their mothy pollinators.

Moths have been around for a long time – about 50 million years. During that time some of them have developed special pollinator relationships with flowers, like the yucca moth and yucca flowers.

moth fossil (provided by PRI)
If you want to study moths, make a light sheet. All you need is an old white sheet, a clothesline, some clothespins and rocks, and a bright flashlight. Pin the sheet to the clothesline so one end lies on the ground. Weight it down with rocks. Prop the flashlight on one side of the sheet so it casts a plate-sized circle of light on the cloth (use phone books to adjust the angle). When it’s dark, switch on the light, and then watch the moths that come to visit.

For more on moths, visit my “Archimedes Notebook” column in Ithaca Child this month. And check out “National Moth Week” – a first-ever event happening July 23-29. 

Remember to check out more science posts, book reviews and resources at STEM Friday.


  1. What a great idea! Wish I'd known this when my kids were little. Now I'll have to wait for grandchildren. :-)

    1. Oh, don't wait for kids.... do it for the kid inside you.

    2. I see an evening party activity Saturday night! Great idea and information Sue. Glad Elizabeth directed us to your site.

  2. What an interesting blog. I always thought moths were just an annoyance. Great experiment for kids, and for grandmothers, too! Got here from Elizabeth H. Cottrell's blog at Heartspoken.

  3. So very fascinating! I spotted your link over on Elizabeth Cottrell's blog at Heartspoken, and figured it was high time to gain some moth appreciation. Sad to think that I've been so lacking in my thinking of these amazing creatures beyond annoyance. Not only is it incredible to learn how long they've been flitting around on the earth, but your photos are gorgeous.

    I'm so excited to try a moth study. Really really cool idea.

    Thank you for such a wise and wonderful post!