Moths and Moth watching in the Kingston Region
Moths are a fascinating group of insects that are gaining in popularity with naturalists across North America. This is at least partially thanks to an increase in resources, both online and in print, that bring identification out of the realm of professional entomologists.
Moths and their caterpillars literally come in all sorts of colours and shapes and the diversity (~3000 species in Ontario) means it takes a very long time before you run out of new species.
Moths and their caterpillars are all around us, and you don't need much effort to start to find them. Some species are active by day and are best found by watching flowers that are in bloom, just like you would if you were looking for butterflies. However, many species are nocturnal and there are a few ways to entice them out and increase the number of moths you are seeing.
Attracting moths to lights
Simply leaving a light on at night is enough to attract many moths out of the nearby vegetation. The theory goes that many species of moths navigate at night by using the light of the Moon as a fixed reference point in the sky; when a moth tries to do the same with an artifical light they end of circling closer and closer until they are right beside. Doing a few things can greatly increase your yield:
- Shine your light on a white sheet. The sheet will reflect the light as well as provide a white background for the moths to land on. This makes it easier to notice them when they show up. Apparently, cotton sheets work best as they reflect UV more effectively than aritifical fabrics.
- Choose a better light bulb. Not all light bulbs are equal! Choose a bulb that transmits light in a broad spectrum, including UV. Black lights are available at Canadian Tire and most other hardward stores. Mercury Vapour bulbs are the best, and in Kingston Petsmart sells a Mercury Vapour bulb (for reptiles) that can be used in a standard outlet. Avoid LED lights as they broadcast in a very narrow spectrum.
The problem with the sheet/light technique is that either you have to stay up all night checking it or else once you start regularly using it in the same spot birds will figure it out very quickly and beat you to the moths in the morning, leaving you with an empty sheet and piles of bird poop. The solution is to build a simple live trap that you set up in the evening and then check over your morning coffee. There are many designs like this one but the concept is always the same: a container with a funnel in the top, with a light over the opening. Usually the container is filled with old egg cartons so the moths have somewhere to hide once they're in the trap. For double the fun, set your trap up in front of your sheet!
Some species of moths aren't attracted to lights but are attracted to a sugary treat. There are many recipes for moth sugar bait but they usually contain some combination of sugar, extra-ripe fruit, and beer and are then spread on a tree trunk and visited at night to see what moths have been attracted. The recipe from the Peterson Guide is as follows: "one soft banana, scoop of brown sugar, dollop of molasses, and a glug or two of beer".
Moth Checklists and Reporting Forms
There are about 3000 species of moths on this Ontario checklist
compiled by Mike Burrell and a reasonable guess would suggest that at least 2/3 of those species should occur within the Kingston Study Area with our varied habitats. We have our work cut out for us!
Please help contribute to our knowledge of moths within the Kingston Study Area
by submitting your observations:
- Submit single observations of moths or their caterpillars by email to Mike Burrell. Be sure to include the following information
- Observer name
- Basis of record (sight, photo, specimen)
- Life stage (caterpillar, adult, male, female, etc.)
- Location name
- Location coordinates (optional)
- Habitat comments (optional)
- Observation notes (optional)
- If you have more than just a few records, please submit them in bulk using the KFN Moth Reporting Spreadsheet and submit the filled in form annually to Mike Burrell.
- Click here for the current KFN Moth Checklist (July 2015).
There are many excellent resources to help you learn about moths and how to study them. We recommend the following:
- Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie. This is the best guide for adult moths in Ontario. The guide shows photos of live adults so you can see the distinctive shapes and postures of many species as you will encounter them in the field. The book includes most of the species you are likely to encounter but be aware that you will certainly find moths that aren't included in the book.
- Les papillons du Québec by Louis Handfield. This is an excellent book to accompany your Peterson Guide. The text is mostly in French, but it is still well worth the purchase even if your French isn't very good. The book focuses on Quebec so includes most of the species expected in Eastern Ontario. The plates are excellent but, unlike the Peterson guide, show pinned and spread moth specimens.
- Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History by David L. Wagner. This is the go-to identification guide for caterpillars in our area. If you are interested in caterpillars at all, this book should be at the top of your list.
- Moth Photographers Group. An excellent resource for all things moth, including photos and maps, in North America.
- Bug Guide. An excellent photo and information resource for North American insects, including moths.
- Ontario Moths. David Beadle's website. Includes a systematic Ontario list with photos for many species.
- Ontario Moths blog. Seabrooke Leckie's moth blog - has many very helpful articles for getting started with mothing.
- Ontario Moths Facebook Page. Facebook page run by David Beadle with lots of news and photos posted regularly.