How to Identify Moths

Try to determine overall size and shape and compare with your field guides silhouette page or thumb through guide images and drawings for quick comparison. Repetition will quickly allow you to exceed the learning curve. You'll swiftly realize that the tiny little elongated moth with a puffy snout is likely one of the Crambids as opposed to those cool medium size deltoid-winged moths that look like stealth-fighter jets - likely to be one of the Sphingids.

  1. Look for distinctive patterns of the forewing and unique color configurations.
  2. Start memorizing the anatomical lingo associated with the top (dorsal) wing surface (we've provided you with a special schematic plate for this). Once you get this boring stuff inculcated in your brain you'll quickly find it useful when two species are distinguished by phrases such as "the subterminal line is a series of black dashes along whitish veins" as opposed to, "terminal line are fringed and checkered". This example helps differentiate two very close moths, the green leuconycta and the marbled-green leuconycta that otherwise are very similar in size and pattern.
  3. Always look for a distinguishing characteristic or two; i.e., a unique curvature of the wings (brown scoopwing, lower right), maybe two silvery white spots that dominate the forewing (i.e., silver spotted fern moth, upper left), beautiful color barring (rose hooktip upper right), gigantic green moth (Luna moth), spindly-legged, skinny, tiny moth (plume moth species, lower left), distinct hairy legs (Ursula wainscot).
  4. Keep in mind where you are in the environment - are you next to a brook, near a marsh, an upland deciduous forest, etc? Obviously you will not find a pondside crambid in the middle of an upland forest or conversely dusky groundling near an open lake - these are secondary associations with much overlap so use all the clues available to you before making an identification.
  5. Moths are relatively easy to identify to the family level as most have distinct morphology (geometry and structure). Identification to the species level is a whole other animal (no pun intended). What is necessary in most cases is a variety of field guides and online resources to differentiate individuals to the species level. Many of the species included in our online guide required the consultation of scientists, field experts, and moth collectors to positively key them. This is especially true for the Noctuids - a large superfamily of moths that include 4,200 genera of mostly drab fore winged species. But don't fret - the good news is engaging in "Motheration" is addictive. Like anything else, the more you do it the better you will become, each step easier than the last. The internet has made the process more stress-free as there is no end to the amount of information and help one can find out there in cyberspace as the obsession with this taxa continues to grow exponentially.

Final Step. Use the index of this online guide to see if your species is indicated. If it is highlighted in red than it is "hot." In other words there will be a quality image of the species for you to compare yours with. Most importantly you‘ll now find some facts and specific information on the association of your species with Troy Meadows.

Keep in mind, as the project grows, so will the moths in this guide. We plan on adding many more and look forward to providing all interested biophiliacs with new and fresh insights into the natural world specific to the ecology of this unique landscape.