10th Anniversary of National Moth Week Hopes to Inspire Children and Teens to Explore the World of Moths
It’s a busy week for expectant mothers around the world. From July 17 to 25, celebrated as National Moth Week (SNM), they record and document moths in their backyards and neighborhoods. Results / photographs are uploaded to the NMW website or other biodiversity portals. As the NMW turns 10 years old in 2021, this year’s focus is on encouraging children and teens to explore the secret world of these nocturnal insects.
Anytime is a good time to study moths, but a week devoted to them sheds light on these often overlooked creatures, says V Shubhalaxmi, a Mumbai-based entomologist and environmental educator. Workshops and webinars are held throughout the week by various organizations to discuss moths. “The event is an opportunity to raise awareness and learn more about moths. Citizen scientists can provide scientific data and help map the distribution of butterflies in different regions, ”she adds.
Fly at night
While their flamboyant cousins, butterflies, have been widely studied, moths are still largely unknown. In India, moth studies are still in their infancy, says Shubhalaxmi, who has been studying them for more than 18 years. After her doctorate in moths, she continued her research by studying moths in the Western Ghats and northeastern Himalayas. The author of Indian moth field guide, which contains descriptions of 773 species from 38 families of micro and macro moths, Shubhalaxmi says there is a need to inspire people to watch moths. “You can study the moths on climate change; point of view ; they are excellent indicators.
Interest in moths appears to have increased. Thirty countries participated in the year of its launch (2012) while this year over 60 countries participated.
Citizen scientist Mahathi Narayanaswamy, a first year undergraduate student at Azim Premji University, Karnataka, has been researching moths in the field and around light sources and documenting them since 2019. Although she started observing moths on a whim, as it was a motivation to wake up at dawn, his interest in them grew. “Once you understand how important they are ecologically; that they are pollinators and play an important role in the food chain, you would be able to appreciate them a little more, ”she says.
Mahathi and Chennai-based naturalists Vikas Madhav, Rohith Srinivasan and Yuvan Aves are working on a small booklet on Chennai common moths, which they hope to publish soon. They have already documented around 300 species of moths in the city.
For those who are just starting out, it can be difficult to tell a moth from a butterfly, says Soumya Anil, an Ernakulam-based entomologist. “Aside from the obvious difference that moths are nocturnal and that they are not as colorful as butterflies, there are exceptions. There are butterflies that are brightly colored and fly during the day and there are dull colored butterflies that fly at night, ”she says. “Look for their antennae – while butterflies have clubbed antennae, moths have feathery or sharp antennae. While butterflies collapse their wings, moths flatten them, while stationery. Soumya worked as a project manager at the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Thrissur, for 10 years and now guides children to identify species of butterflies and butterflies.
Misunderstood and slandered
Balakrishnan Valappil, who has been observing and breeding moths since 2007, says moths would have existed over 300 million years ago. Despite their successful evolutionary history, they are treated as pests. “It’s because we look at them from our limited understanding,” he says. Balakrishnan has identified over 2,000 species of moths from various places in Kerala. A civil engineer by profession, he began to observe butterflies, but found himself gravitating towards the mysterious and inconspicuous butterflies.
“Although there are estimates of their population, the extent of their diversity is still not known,” he adds. “Each of these creatures plays a vital role in maintaining balance in nature. It’s us humans who don’t know this balance, ”he says.
Oriented to fly into the light of the distant moon, moths are irresistibly drawn to sources of ultraviolet light. So those who want to observe them this week or later, just set up a white sheet with the light source (UV lamp, mercury bulb or any high voltage white bulb). The butterflies would arrive at night and once there, photograph them and upload them to the NMW website (www.nationalmothweek.org) or indiabiodiversity.org.