D I S C O V E R    L I F E   
Bee Hunt! Odonata Lepidoptera 
  HomeAll Living ThingsIDnature guidesGlobal mapperAlbumsLabelsSearchHelp
  AboutNewsEventsResearchEducationProjectsStudy sitesPolistes Foundation

Our goals are to study moth communities and
teach how to collect, analyze and present data.

Tori, Angela, Margo, and Freddy mothing at 5AM
Photo by Jim Geiser


Mothing collects and shares high-quality data about changes in the distribution, seasonality, and abundance of moths via the web. Here we explain how you may contribute by taking photographs of moths and uploading them and their associated data into albums on Discover Life. You may also contribute by helping to identify moths, as explained in the Identification section.

Photographers can contribute through the following three research protocols:

  1. Moth Monitoring -- this protocol requires the most commitment of time. It is designed to study seasonal and across year changes in moth communities at a particular study site. It is appropriate for courses involving service learning, volunteer clubs, or really dedicated individuals with a thing for moths. It requires photographing moths at one or more study sites at regular intervals, at least monthly (but more frequently if possible), especially in the spring. If you are just joining us, please use our Simple protocol for monitoring moths.

  2. Moth Party -- this is designed for people who want to participate occasionally and have fun showing moths off to their family and friends. It primarily contibutes to our understanding the distribution of moth species. It is a night of mothing that can be done as little as once at any given site.

  3. One More Moth -- this captures the essence that a single observation can be valuable. If you haven't the time to monitor or party, please upload and tag any images of moths that you find. Collectively, such single contributons help us to our understanding moth communities by supplementing data collected by the other protocols.

To submit and tag photographs follow the following six steps:

  • Step-1: Get an album -- contact us to request an album and password. We can set up albums either for an individual or a group. If you are a student in a course or a member in a club that is participating, you should skip this step and use your group's album. For each album, we require the full name and email of the person responsible for the album. For group albums, we also need the names of individuals or teams that will get sub-albums within the group's album. Teachers with multiple classes may get an album for each class if they wish.

  • Step-2: Download software -- After you have an album (sub-album) and password, you should download and install software for uploading images from either a Mac or Windows computer.

  • Step-3: Take photographs -- following the protocols for Moth Monitoring (described here), Moth Party, or One More Moth.

    How-to videos -- MothingAdvanced Mothing

    The first time you take photographs at a particular site, take photographs of

    1. your cell phone's time and date (to check that your camera's time and date are set correctly),
    2. GPS and/or a landmark, such as a street sign (to document the exact location),
    3. the light or lights that you are monitoring (to get a relative estimate of the total moths that night),
    4. and finally, each specimen (moth, frog, ...) that comes to the light.

    On subsequent nights at the same site, take photographs of your cell phone, lights, and the creatures. You do not need to take a photograph of your GPS after the first night, so long as the photograph of the light(s) is sufficient to link your location to a previous night's photograph of a GPS/landmark.

    In photographing the creatures, your goals in order of importance should be to

    1. Photograph each SPECIES each night.
      Our primary goal is to document when each species is flying during the year.

    2. Document when there are no moths.
      Don't just photograph on nights when there are lots of moths. On nights where there no moths, just take photographs of your cell phone and the lights. In this way you will document absence as well as presence. This is something that many studies do not do but is very important to distinguish between whether the site was sampled and a species was absent or whether the site was not sampled.

    3. Photograph each SPECIMEN each night with a millimeter ruler.
      If you wish to take multiple photographs of the same specimen, do so, but only submit one photograph of each specimen with a ruler. Thus, by counting the number of specimens photographed with rulers, we can estimate the relative abundance of the species. In cases where there are lots and lots of moths of a species and it is impractical to take a photograph of all of them, take photographs of at least 5 individuals. If a moth is jumpy and likely to fly if you put a ruler beside it, first take a photograph of the moth and then one of the moth with the ruler.

    4. Moth condition, size and behavior.
      In addition to recording the geographic distribution, seasonality, and relative abundance, your photographs will document variation in the size of individuals, mating behavior, wing wear and damage by predators, and whether individuals are infected by parasitic mites. We use wing length in helping to identify species.

    When is the best time during the night to take photographs of moths?

    Switch on your lights at dusk and switch them off at least half an hour before dawn. This gives the moths time to fly away before birds get up and eat them.

    Moths fly all night but seem to fly earlier in the night in the winter when it is cold. In the summer when it is hot, they fly later. Thus, it is best to start photographing them about an hour or two before dawn, say at 5:00AM. In the winter, you can photograph them in the evening between 10:00PM and midnight. In short, because moths tend to accumulate at lights all night, it is best to photograph them as late as possible, especially on hot nights. If you don't want to get up early, then photograph them as late as you can.

    How often should you monitor moths during the year?

    As often as possible, but be consistent. Here are some possible options:

    • Every night -- for the really dedicated, usually for a team of individuals working together.
    • Every night except when you can't -- for the most dedicated fanatics.
    • Every other night
    • Two (consecutive) nights every week
    • Once a week
    • Two (consecutive) nights every other week
    • Two consecutive nights once a month
    • Once a lunar cycle (on the new, quarter or half moon but not the full)
    • Once a month

    If you can, increase your frequency in the spring from March - May, ideally to every other night or at least weekly.

  • Step-4: Upload images -- see general instructions for Mac and Windows users.

  • Step-5: Tag where and when you took each photograph -- click on the [edit] link next to your name on the Albums page to enter information about each photograph, such as where and when you took them. Once you have entered and submitted information for an image, you can click 'Set id as template' and then use the lefthand column of the page as a template to apply the values to an id range of multiple images.
    • Find a latitude & longitude -- Use this link to find your latitude and longitude if you don't have a Global Positioning System (GPS). Enter the values in 'decimal degrees' rather than 'Degrees Minutes Seconds', as given in this link's 'Get the Latitude and Longitude of a Point' section. For example, Atlanta, Georgia is approximately latitude '33.758' and longitude '-84.380'. When specifying decimal degrees, use positive values for northern latitudes and eastern longitudes; use negative values for southern latitudes and western longitudes. Thus, points in North America have positive latitudes and negative longitudes.
    • Set your camera's date and time -- Make sure that your camera's date and time are set correctly using the time on a cell phone. Also check that these are set correctly on your GPS.

    How-to Video -- Tagging images for when and where

  • Step-6: Identify specimens -- the Identification section explains how to use our online IDnature guides to moths and put names on specimens using your album's 'title' field. Once you have identified a specimen, use the [edit] features in Step-5 to name one or more images.

    How-to Video -- Identifying Species

Contact information

Updated: 10 March, 2015
Discover Life | Top
© Designed by The Polistes Corporation