Research Highlight: Much Ado About Mothing

Written by Anne Reis
    Wednesday, 23 July 2014
2013 Moth Party 2013 Moth Party

Did you know that there are roughly 10,000 species of moths in North America? Moths are under-studied yet important pollinators of certain plants, and their populations may be impacted by human activity such as urbanization and pollution. Studying moths allows us to gain a better understanding of how this group of pollinators may change over time, especially in an urbanized setting, and even allow us to monitor or infer the impacts of other organisms.

We have been conducting moth surveys at Riverside park for the last two years. This is the first year for the Menomonee Valley branch, giving us a unique opportunity to look at how the populations may change after the establishment of Three Bridges Park. We've also started surveys at Washington Park this year near the lagoon.

moth fest survey
Setting up for a moth survey as the sun sets.

Many moth common names are quite ironic. For example, the Beautiful Wood Nymph, in fact, looks like bird poop. At the most recent Menomonee Valley survey, we found Tarache aprica (the Exposed Bird-dropping moth), Mythimna unipuncta (The White-speck), and Coleophora trifolii (the Large Clover Casebarer). We are still in the process of identifying the species we photographed this season.

moth fest poop moth 2
The Beautiful Wood Nymph (Eudryas grata) which has developed the unappetizing appearance of bird droppings to avoid being eaten by predators.

In celebration of these important Lepidopterans, we are hosting our second annual Moth Night and Party on Friday, July 25th from 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm as a part of National Moth Week. Join us for snacks and crafts for the kids from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the Riverside Park branch. We'll hear a brief presentation about the importance of moths and provide a little information about our mothing efforts at the Center. We'll head out into the park a little after 8:15 pm to set up our monitoring equipment. Moths will start to arrive 15-20 minutes after sunset. Come to the inside portion only, the outside portion only or stay for the entire event. Bring a lawnchair, flashlight, camera (if you wish) and mosquito repellant. We'll wrap up by 10:00 pm.

National Moth Week Celebration at Riverside Park

Friday, July 25th | 6:30 - 10 p.m.

Click here for to register!

Fun Moth Facts

  • Many of us think of moths as only nocturnal, but there are many day flying moths including the humming bird moths (Hesparis sp.).
  • While butterflies fold their wings together above their back at rest, moths hold them, rooflike, over their back.
  • Many moths are excellent impersonators of other organisms, known as mimicry. Some look like wasps or bird poop.
  • Some adult moths do not have mouth parts, which means they don't eat during their adulthood. Usually, they don't live longer than a week.
  • A great way to attract moths besides turning on your porch light is to leave a pan of beer and bananas out. Many moths are attracted to the fermenting liquid.

If you are interested in getting more involved in moth surveys at the Urban Ecology Center, please contact Jennifer Callaghan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

*This post was written with the help of our volunteer Moth-er, Allysa Hallett. Allysa is a graduate student in Biolgocial Sciences at UW-Milwaukee. Other sources include the Eyewitness Handbook of Butterflies and Moths by David Carter and the Nature Conservancy's ConservancyTalk.


Anne Reis

Anne Reis

Anne has conducted research on a variety of topics including cranberries, potatoes, wetlands, lichens, tamaracks, and most recently bats. She has a B.S. and M.S. in Horticulture from UW-Madison and a M.S. in Biological Sciences and a GIS Certificate from UW-Milwaukee. Anne is the GIS Specialist at the Center and enjoys reading, mapping, gardening, and spending time outside with her husband and daughter in the Riverwest neighborhood.


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