BE THE FLAME AND THE MOTH
The 2021 National Moth Week Runs July 17-25
- Being Human
- Being Outside
- Earth and Sky
- Photography and Optics
- What's This?
For virtually all of us, the diversity of life on earth is like the universe itself: vast beyond our comprehension: 2 million species? 10 million? 100 million? That the estimate varies so wildly reveals, perhaps more than anything, the human capacity for ignorance and wonder. But one thing is certain: insects constitute a monumental majority of all animals. And nothing brings that diversity to your doorstep like moths.
Here in Vermont, for example, we know of 113 butterfly species, and yet we have found nearly 2,000 moth species in this state, including nearly 800 species alone in the city of Montpelier. On a single night here in the capital city, in the glow of my UV light, I can discover 50 or 100 or more moth species in my own backyard.
And so can you — even if you have no clue what you’re seeing.
Midnight on Friday marks the beginning of National Moth Week — a global community-science project about the discovery and enjoyment of moths. It includes public events — in person or online — for novices and experts alike. Or even leave your porch light on at home, take decent pictures of what flies in, and upload them to the amazing iNaturalist website or various others crowd-sourced data sites. And if you’re finding moths here in Vermont, we have our own iNaturalist portal for National Moth Week: the Vermont Moth Blitz 2021, run by my colleagues at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.
So join the nightlife at any time during National Moth Week, which runs from July 17-25. Discover life in the dark. As Giacomo Casanova reportedly said, “Be the flame, not the moth.” Or maybe be both. Once we invite them into view, once we join a fraction of their world, moths help place us in the grand diversity of life on earth. We might also learn what’s at stake. And once you’ve seen and photographed some moths, turn off the light before dawn so that they can leave and go about their business.
Beyond your night lights, what else might you do? First, learn: John Himmelman’s Discovering Moths: Nightime Jewels in Your Own Backyard is a magnificent introduction to these insects, and the Peterson’s field guides to moths by David Beadle and Seabrook Leckie (northeast or southeast editions) are the go-to resources for most of us. Also consider reading The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy. As profound as anything I’ve read about the loss of biodiversity and the human capacity for joy and wonder in nature, the book is about much more than moths. Next, support groups like the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, or your own favorite eco-group working toward awareness and conservation. And, unfortunately, recognize that a fix for the biodiversity crisis will require nothing less than the same moral and political leadership we need — and yet lack — in order to solve the climate crisis. The industrialized way we grow our food, for example, is a proximate cause, among many, for insect decline.
And finally, for a more visceral view of what’s at stake — including beauty — that banner image above includes but a tiny fraction of the moth diversity appearing in my own yard here in the city of Montpelier.
So in the next week, join us moth-watchers around the world. Let’s see and enjoy the shrinking abundance together. And let awareness be a path toward conservation.