Unique ‘citizen science project’ identifies 500 species of moths in Kerala

One of the most diverse groups of insects, moths play a significant role in the pollination of night flowering plants.
Unique ‘citizen science project’ identifies 500 species of moths in Kerala

KOCHI: Did you know that moths are great mimics and ‘impersonate’ other animals to avoid being eaten? A popular example is the owl moth (Brahmaea wallichii) which has stunning wings that look like the face of an owl.

One of the most diverse groups of insects, moths play a significant role in the pollination of night flowering plants. In fact, they are better pollinators when compared to butterflies. But, according to naturalists, these are oft-overlooked insects.

Kerala Biodiversity Monitoring Network and iNaturalist Kerala community, Moth-ers Kerala recently conducted a citizen science project in the state, in which around 500 species of moths were identified.
“This is the fifth year we have observed the National Moth Week (July 23-July 31), and this time, more than 1,034 persons engaged in moth observations in different parts of the state.

The observations were recorded and the photographs of the moths were uploaded on the application of iNaturalist. The observations are still being made to document the moths found in Kerala,” says Manoj Karingamadathil, naturalist and coordinator of Kerala biodiversity monitoring network.

Unnikrishnan M P, a keen ‘moth-er’ for the past five years, has identified about 341 species of moths in the recent study. “Butterflies and moths come in the category of ‘Lepidoptera’, which is derived from the Greek word ‘Lepidos’ (scale) and ‘Ptera’ (wings). While butterflies are commonly seen during the daytime, moths are nocturnal. About 75% of moths are only seen during the night,” says Unnikrishnan.

“It is still a mystery as to why moths are attracted to the light,” he says. The most accepted theory is transverse orientation, where the moths keep a fixed angle on a distant source of light for orientation. Moths are hence attracted to artificial lights, adds the nature enthusiast. The life cycle of moths includes four stages -- egg, larva, pupa and adult.

“There are more than 1,50,000 species of moths in the world and they outnumber butterflies in terms of population. The most commonly found moths are Sri Lankan Atlas moth (Attacus taprobanis), Oleander hawk-moth, hummingbird hawk-moth and owl-moth,” says Unnikrishnan, who is an undergraduate in Zoology from Payyannur College.

Haneesh K M, a naturalist who works in the engineering department at Christ University, Bengaluru, who has made 216 observations and identified about 54 species of moths says, “Identifying moth species is also difficult because of the lack of awareness. Earlier, the research on moths was collection-based. But now, it is difficult to collect the specimens. It is through platforms like iNaturalist that we are able to connect to experts and study more about the moths.”

Did you know?

  • Some species like the luna moth (Actias luna) don’t have a mouth and has a life span of just a week. They only mate.
  • Some varieties like the Atlas moth are as large as a human hand
  • Some don’t have noses but have a strong sense of smell. They sense it through the tiny scales (powder) on their body.
  • Some moths can survive underwater, like aquatic moth larva found in water bodies.

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