Introducing kids to biodiversity can be a lot of fun. Some things are easy to find and simple to show children but it’s often the less obvious, better hidden animal life that is most intriguing to everyone, both kids and grown ups. Think outside the box and you’ll be rewarded.
Butterflies are favourites with children. They’re colourful and constantly in motion, but outside of some very specific areas it’s often quite difficult to ensure butterfly sightings. Moths get comparatively little attention and even environmentally aware adults tend not to notice them. It’s assumed that they’re the poorer, duller cousins to butterflies.
Actually, moths come in a stunning array of colours, from brown to lime green, white to orange. Many species display excellent camouflage. Their wings often beautifully patterned and some have wonderfully elaborate feelers. In size they range from almost too small to see to the size of small birds. In fact, the Atlas moth of south-east Asia has a wingspan of almost 12 inches. What’s more moths tend to land and stay still while butterflies flit around more or less constantly. They’re pretty obliging when it comes to be examined.
They’re almost all completely harmless. While moths have a reputation for making holes in clothes that have been stored away in boxes, only a tiny number pose any threat to fabrics. They’re usually no more than about half an inch long with very narrow wings and a relatively dull brown or pale grey colour, but don’t worry about that. The overwhelming majority of moths have no interest in your old clothes and curtains.
Everyone knows moths are attracted to lights. You can make a very simple moth attractor with a desk lamp and an old white bedsheet. Take them both out the back door on a summer night and set the lamp up so it shines a circle about a foot wide on the sheet. It shouldn’t be any closer than that because bright, hot light can actually hurt the moths, which is the last thing you want.
The lit-up landing zone on the sheet will be a magnet for moths of all kinds. Leave it half an hour on any warm evening, especially a few days are rain, and you’ll almost certainly be visited by quite a few different species. There are a whopping 13000 species of moth in North America alone so you never know what might appear. On a good night the variety can be stunning.
It’s best not to let children touch moths or butterflies- this almost always causes harm no matter how careful the handler is. If they really want, they can sit down and leave one hand in the circle of light, staying very still, and a moth might choose to land on them for a little while.
A better idea is to provide paper and pencils and get the kids to draw their favourite visitor. The internet has a wealth of informational moth and butterfly websites and most of them have a photo gallery, so you can sit down together and try to identify the most interesting moths.
[Author Bio: Jess Spate lives in Britain, where there are a mere 800 moth species. During the day she writes on behalf of Appalachian Outdoors, a US camping equipment store, and works as a sustainable business consultant for a company dealing in garden fountains.]