For most of us here in the snowbound north, moths are just wishful thinking at the moment. We look out the window, observe that we can no longer see our car under the snowdrift, stifle a few tears and sigh, thinking of those warm summer nights with hundreds of moths clamouring for our attention at our blacklit sheet. Those nights seem so far away right now, with at least a couple months of cold and ice still to go.
Many folks have the good fortune to live in warmer climates, where the moths never stop flying. The forecasted temperatures for Phoenix, Arizona, over the next week are all in the mid-20 degrees Celsius (high-70s F), as is Miami, Florida; Los Angeles, California, is expecting low-20s (mid-70s); New Orleans, Louisiana, is in the high-teens (mid-60s); Houston, Texas, has a couple of low-20s days before dropping; heck, even Seattle, Washington, has temperatures in the low-teens (low-50s). All perfect mothing weather!
But in case, like me, 20-degree weather is still a few months down the road for you, and you don’t have the time or money to visit one of our warmer destinations, then here are some resources for you to pour over from the comfort of your computer while you wait for the moths to fly.
Moth Photographers Group – This is a fabulous website hosted by the Mississippi Entomological Museum at Mississippi State University. Nearly 3,000 species of North American moths are represented on its pages as images of live individuals shown in their natural resting position, and 7,000 species are included as spread, pinned specimens. The easiest place online for identifying a moth, the pages are ordered taxonomically, and offer you the choice of small, medium or large page sizes according to your internet connection and patience. In addition to the main North American plate series, there is also a number of contributors’ pages that are applicable on a more regional scale.
BugGuide.net – Second to MPG, this is the next best identification resource out there for moths. BugGuide, as the name suggests, is for all manner of creepy-crawlies, not just moths, but their moth section is well done. There is so much information contained within these pages – not just in terms of facts about each species, but also a browsing tool that will help you narrow down your species taxonomically, image review sections that allow you to browse submitted images for a species, and data charts that tell you where on the continent submitted images have come from. If you’re looking to identify a moth you’ve found, start by browsing the taxonomic pages to gradually narrow down your options. If you’re still stumped, or just want to cut to the chase, there is an ID Request section where you can sign up and submit your own images for identification.
The Moths of Canada – The Government of Canada has put together a series of pages in either web or PDF format that offer excellent identification images, including rulers for size, of spread specimens of the moth species that occur throughout Canada. The web version also allows you to generate lists of the species in each taxonomic group according to province of interest.
Lynn Scott’s Moth Images – This is a well-organized website for the moths of the Ottawa region of eastern Ontario. Not only does she provide a taxonomically-organized photo gallery of the moths she’s encountered, but she also includes information on attracting moths and how to photograph them.
Butterflies and Moths of North America – Although this site is better on butterflies than it is on moths, it’s still a great resource for many species. Not all species have accompanying photos, but those that do are good. Plenty of information is provided about their life histories, and each account is accompanied by a map showing submitted records (considerably spottier for moths than for butterflies, even the common moths).
UK Moths – Although an online guide to the moths of Great Britain and Ireland, many of the species that occur there also occur here in North America. For instance, when I loaded up the page, the image they had on the front, a spiffing Chrysoclista linneella, was a species that I had in my collection of photographs and yet to identify. I recognized it immediately. Talk about coincidence! The pages for the species are organized taxonomically, and are accompanied by excellent images of live moths. Mothing is much more popular in Britain than it currently is here in North America, with many bird observatories running moth equipment at night and their bird programs during the day. Sure, no one gets much sleep, but they’re not complaining, either. The UK even has a company dedicated to selling moth traps and other lepidoptera equipment, a National Moth Recording Scheme and even a National Moth Night! We’ve got a ways to go to catch up.
The Moths of Southeastern Arizona – A great resource for moth’ers in the southern US, this page provides photographs of spread specimens beside rulers for scale.
Moths of North Dakota – Another regional resource, this one for North Dakota, showing spread specimens along with good natural history information.
Moths of Maryland – A well-organized site with many photos of spread specimens collected from around the state of Maryland.
Georgia Lepidoptera – A checklist of the moths and butterflies of Georgia, including spread-specimen photographs.
California Moth Specimens – A checklist of the moths of California. No photos.
South Carolina Moth Checklist – A checklist to the moths of South Carolina, with links to the photos at MPG for relevant species.
Lepidoptera of Eastern Tennessee – A checklist of moths primarily in Knox County, Tennessee. Includes photos of live individuals.
Moths of Fermilab – A list of the moths documented at a research site in northeastern Illinois. Includes photos of live individuals.