The moth has received far less attention than its cousin the butterfly, but offers 10 times the environmental benefits. Surprised? Learn more about moths during the National Moth Week between July 20 and 28 and participate in the documentation of moths in your own locality. In other words, be a moth-er…
Have you ever noticed a flying insect in your backyard with feathery antennae and a distinct marking that resembles a pair of eyes? These dull-colored insects with big wings are moths, very close relatives of the butterfly. Did you know that moths can smell each other from a long distance and steal honey from a bee hive without being stung? However, this beautiful creature might be in trouble and needs help! To make people aware of the existence of moths and their service to our ecosystem, National Moth Week (NMW) is celebrated every year. This year, NMW is being observed between July 20 – July 28.
According to moth experts, while there is a certain amount of research on moths available elsewhere, Indian moths are not well documented. “I wrote my first book on Indian moths, a gap of over 100 years, after volumes of moths written by the British. Mankind has accepted only one insect, the butterfly. Apart from that, there is no interest and sparse documentation on insects and they have been neglected. Today, butterflies are in a good position due to the awareness created around them. We need to do the same for other insects including moths,” said Dr V Shubhalaxami, author of India’s first book on moths, Birdwing, Field Guide to Indian Moths, released recently.
Since moths outnumber butterflies by ten times, Moth-ers believe that moths, thus, extend ten times more service to the ecosystem. So although butterflies stay in the limelight due to their beauty and diurnal lifestyle, it is the moths that form a more solid food base for animals, higher in the food chain.
“Moths form a big chunk of food in nature. They do some amount of pollution, too, and are excellent habitat indicators. If you imagine a tree as a multi-storey building, the top most
predator is on the tree top and moths occupy the ground floor. If anything goes wrong at the lower level of the habitat, signals are picked up by the insects first. So by the time the effect reaches a bird or a tiger, much of the damage is already done and there is no time for repair. A good number of moths spells healthiness of the area and indicates a balanced microclimate,” says Shubhalaxami, who believes that conservation is not meant for an already declining species and documentation is of the utmost importance.
“Unless you document it, how will you know what we have to lose? Insects, including moths, fall under this category of neglected species. There is so much bias against insects that they are not even documented or studied. In the absence of study, creating awareness is important and this is precisely what NMW does. It does not only get people to look for moths and know that they exist, it also helps in identification and documentation,” says Shubhalaxami.
Moths Vs Butterflies
Visually, the only difference between the two is their antenna. Butterfly antennae are clubbed, whereas moths have a variety of antenna. While moths in other parts of the world can have clubbed antennas too, it is never so with Indian moths.
However, defense mechanism in moths, like spiked and feathery skin, is much more enhanced than butterflies.
When it comes to behaviour, generally, moths are nocturnal insects, while butterflies are diurnal. However, they both have the same role to play in an ecosystem.
Need to act fast
According to a recent study on insects in Europe, in England alone, as many as 222 moth species out of 337 showed declining populations at the rate of 12%. According to the study released by researchers at the Universities of Sydney and Queensland and the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences, 40 percent of insect species are now threatened with extinction, and the world’s insect biomass is declining at 2.5 percent a year. In 50 years, the current biomass of insects could be cut in half and such a sharp decline could trigger a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems.” While the catastrophe is on its way, we are oblivious to the number of species that exists on our subcontinent.
“The scientific community is not doing much for moths or insect group. My book was the first of its kind that got published in 2018. I have been working on it for almost 20 years. Not enough of work was done till then, and thus I had to do right from scratch. If we say that there are 1500 butterfly species in India, moth species should be at least 15,000. But 12,000 is what we expect, with no documentation at our aid. Although things have changed in the last 10 years, more has to be done in the research field,” says Shubalaxami.
National Moth Week
Every year, world over National Moth Week is celebrated during last week of July to create awareness to learn about, observe, and document moths in their backyards, parks and neighbourhoods about moths which are cousins of butterflies and have 10 times similar environmental benefits as those of butterflies. During this week, citizens are encouraged to set up light sheets in their backyards and document moths of their locality. This is a free event hosted by National Moth Week and coordinated locally by iNaturewatch Foundation. This year, the NMW is being celebrated between July 20 – July 28. To participate, register online on National Moth Week and register an event or join a public event. Mothing can be done anywhere – at parks, nature centres, backyards and even in towns and cities. Learn more at the Finding Moths page.
- Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.
- Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
- Their colours and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult’s hand.
- Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.
- Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them.