National Moth Week Finding moths

Finding moths

Observing moths is very easy; you don’t even have to actively look for them. By using two simple methods to attract moths, all you have to do is wait for them to come to you. Moths are attracted to light (no one really knows why although there are a number of theories), and also to the smell of fermented sugar and ripe fruit – both food sources.

Photo: David Small
Photo: David Small

Light set up for beginners

  1. Any type of light will attract moths. Just leave a porch light on and wait and see what is attracted to it. If you are in a field or forest, you can use battery-operated lights or even a flashlight. Entomologists use black lights and mercury vapor lights, which emit light in a color spectrum that moths find irresistible. These types of lights can be ordered online at relatively low cost.
  2. Moths need a surface to rest on. White sheets are often used. Hang a sheet over clothes line or between two trees, and shine the light on it. An outside wall also works well if your light is set up near a house or a building.
  3. Wait for the moths to come to your light so you can observe and photograph them.
——Specialty lights and light traps can be purchased from entomological equipment suppliers such as Mercury Vapor and black lights can also be purchased from hardware stores or ordered online. Blacklights can also be found in Party stores. ——
moth sugaring

Sugaring for moths

  1. Moths can smell food from a distance. When provided with fermented sugar and fruit, they will fly right to it. This method of attracting moth is simply called ‘sugaring’.  Read more about sugaring for moth and tips on how to from moth’ers.
  2. Make “moth food A mix of sugar, fruit (banana, peach or other overripe fruit) and beer will work. Try Dave’s not-so-secret recipe or experiment with your own recipe.
  3. Brush the mix on tree trunks an hour before dusk.
  4. Check every 30 minutes to see what’s coming to the bait.
Moth Night at the Fell House, NJ Photo: Jim Wright
Moth Night at the Fell House, NJ
Photo: Jim Wright

Have fun!

  • Invite your family and friends to join you for a mothing party. Enjoy moth-inspired food, watch the old flick Mothra, (but remember, moths aren’t really scary!)  and tell mothing stories.
  • If you are mothing with children, check out the kids page for more ideas.

Finding moths during the day

  • Moth that fly at night are settled down during the day in some hidden places. 
  • Keep an eye out for the amazing Sphinx moths, many species fly during the day.  

Collect data

  • Photograph the moths you see.  To learn how to photograph moths watch How to photograph butterflies and moths (from our partner LepiMap).  For more about photographic moths click here.
  • Submit moth photos to the any of our partners.
  • Upload your moth, setup, and people photos on the National Moth Week Flicker group. If you would like to make your images available to be uploaded to the National Moth Week website, please set permissions to “Creative Commons,” or leave a note in the comment section giving permission.
  • Tell us about your mothing events. Share your stories, recipes for moth-inspired foods, games, and whatever else. The best moth night stories will be featured on our blog.

Video: Carl Barrentine

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17 thoughts on “Finding moths”

  1. I don’t think it’s a very eco-friendly idea to be encouraging people to use bright lights to attract moths, or to trap moths, as shown in these photos and in the instructions above. The Xerces Society for invertebrate conservation specifically that “Artificial lights are believed to be a factor in the decline of nocturnal wildlife such as moths and fireflies.”

    1. Although you are correct in that outdoor lights should not be left on every night, the information here is presented so folks can use lights to attract moths and other insects for a short period of time in order to document species distributions. This is also a good way to get folks interested in critters they might not be aware of, to become fascinated by the diversity of life, perhaps to become scientists or advocates for what some consider “pesky bugs.”

    2. These lights are one for only a few hours on a night or two, which is very different from the artificial lighting that is on night after night in many areas. This is how moths are gathered so they can be studied scientifically. I would argue that involving citizens to enjoy moths a few nights a year does much more good than the harm that might occur on these evenings. I am not aware of any moths being harmed through the events I have attended.

    3. These lights are only on for a few hours to educate about the diversity of critters out at night. AND to teach them the dangers that “artificial” night lights used by cities and businesses are a tragedy!
      How do you otherwise teach children and adults about our wonderful beautiful moths, if you do not have educational programs at night?

    4. You may have a point, but I suspect they are more concerned about the tens of thousands of people who run lights willy-nilly at night, just as some kind of general principle, rather than the microscopic fraction of the population who run a light so that they can learn about moths.

    5. I agree with Bridget. All the instructions are geared toward capturing them. At the very least there could be a discussion about keeping the light time to a minimum and the best way to let them resume their activities. Lights cause moths to fly toward the light at the cost of finding food, which they really should be doing.

  2. Very interesting tips about how to attract moths. The light makes sense as moths like to fly inside when I let my dog out at night.

    I did not know about the fruit and sugar to attract moths. That’s interesting as hopefully it will cut down on the other bugs that are attracted to light.

  3. I have acouple pics of hummingbird moths. They are really neat creature looking moths! They are out in little groups during the day, bussing from wild flower to flower on the bicycle trails in Ohio, WV and PA this time of the year! If you spot them, they are sooo wonderful to watch!

  4. i found an all snow
    y white moth i have never seen one snowy white before what kind is it I am in liviingston texas

    1. Baiting is probably an appropriate way to do this. Otherwise, going into a forest and walking around grassy areas or looking on trees for resting places might be useful. Hope this helps.

  5. My cat loves to eat moths! We will be sure to turn on the porch light all that week to join in on the fun! Happy moth week every one! May you and your moths all be… really… weird…

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