Any time is a good time to study moths

The 10th anniversary of National Moth Week hopes to inspire children and teenagers to explore the world of moths

July 21, 2021 04:44 pm | Updated 04:48 pm IST

Lily moth

Lily moth

This is a busy week for aspiring moth-ers all over the world. From July 17 to 25, observed as National Moth Week (NMW), they record and document moths in their backyards and neighbourhoods. The findings/photographs are uploaded on the NMW website or on other biodiversity portals. As the NMW completes 10 years in 2021, the focus this year is on encouraging children and teenagers to explore the secret world of these nocturnal insects.

Any time is a good time to study moths, but a week dedicated to it trains the spotlight on these often overlooked creatures, says V Shubhalaxmi, entomologist and environmental educationist based in Mumbai. Workshops and webinars are conducted through the week by various organisations to discuss moths. “The event is an opportunity to create awareness and learn more about moths. Citizen scientists can contribute scientific data and help map moth distribution in different regions,” she adds.

Choreutis Orthogona

Choreutis Orthogona

Fly by night

While their flamboyant cousins, butterflies, have been studied extensively, moths are still largely unknown. In India, moth studies are still in their infancy, says Shubhalaxmi, who has been studying them for over 18 years. After her PhD on moths, she continued her research, studying the moths of the Western Ghats and northeast Himalayas. The author of Field Guide to Indian Moths , which contains descriptions of 773 species of 38 micro and macro moth families, Shubhalaxmi says there is a need to inspire people to look at moths. “You can study moths on climate change,’s perspective; they are excellent indicators of it.”

Interest in moths, seems to have grown. Thirty countries participated in NMW the year it was launched (2012) while this year, over 60 countries took part.

Citizen scientist Mahathi Narayanaswamy, a first year undergraduate student at Azim Premji University, Karnataka, has been looking for moths in the field and around light sources and documenting them since 2019. Though she started watching moths on a whim, as it was motivation to wake up at dawn, her 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.

Moths of Chennai

Mahathi and Chennai-based naturalists Vikas Madhav, Rohith Srinivasan and Yuvan Aves, are working on a small booklet on the common moths of Chennai, which they hope to bring out soon. They have already documented around 300 species of moths in the city.

Forest Emerald moth

Forest Emerald moth

For those starting out, it could be hard to tell a moth from a butterfly, says Soumya Anil, an entomologist based in Ernakulam. “Apart from the obvious difference that moths are nocturnal and that they are not as brightly coloured as butterflies, there are exceptions. There are moths that have vivid colours and fly during the day and there are dull-coloured butterflies that fly during the night,” she says. “Look for their antennae — while butterflies have clubbed antennae, moths have feathery or saw-edged antennae. While butterflies collapse their wings, moths flatten them, while stationery.” Soumya has worked as a project fellow at the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Thrissur, for 10 years and she now guides children to identify moth and butterfly species.

Misunderstood and maligned

Balakrishnan Valappil, who has been observing and rearing moths since 2007, says moths are believed to have existed over 300 million years ago. Despite their successful evolutionary history, they are treated as pests. “It is because we look at them from our limited understanding,” he says. Balakrishnan has identified over 2,000 species of moths from various locations in Kerala. A civil engineer by profession, he started observing butterflies, but found himself gravitating towards the low-profile, mysterious moths.

“Though there are estimations of their population, the full extent of their diversity is still not known,” he adds. “Each of these creatures play their vital part in maintaining the balance in nature. It is we, humans, who do not know that balance,” he says.

Crotalaria Pod Borer

Crotalaria Pod Borer

Oriented to fly towards the light of the distant moon, moths are irresistibly drawn to ultraviolet light sources. So those who want to observe them this week or later, all you need to do is, set up a white sheet with the light source (UV light, mercury bulb or any high voltage white light bulb). Moths would arrive at night and once they do, photograph them and upload them on the NMW website ( or

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