Moth-Watching

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Total Time 1 hour Ages school-age

If you've been dismissing moths as just plain-Jane versions of their comely butterfly cousins, you're overlooking some strange and beautiful insects. They are challenging to study, however. They're nocturnal, for starters, and if you try to observe them as they flock to an artificial light, they rarely stop fluttering long enough for you to get a close look.


That's why for the last hundred or so years, mothers (another name for moth watchers, often spelled moth-ers to avoid confusion) have experimented with "sugaring": painting a sweet, intoxicating brew on trees to attract hungry moths. You can start sugaring in the spring, but you'll get more and more takers as you move into summer. Shoot for warm, still nights. This particular recipe has brought good luck for the teachers and students at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island in Bristol.

What you'll need

  • Ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup beer
  • Paintbrush
  • Rubber band
  • Red tissue paper or cellophane
  • Flashlight

How to make it

  1. In a blender, puree the banana, brown sugar, and beer.

  2. Outside, use the brush to paint magazine-size patches of the moth brew on the trunks of several trees near your home.

  3. Use the rubber band to secure the tissue paper over the flashlight lens (the red light keeps your eyes adjusted to the dark). At night, head out with the flashlight to see who's feeding.


    Fun Moth Facts

    Scientists think there are as many as 160,000 species of moths. They outnumber butterfly species nine to one.


    Many bats feed on moths. The clever tiger moth fights back by emitting ultrasonic clicks that jam the bats' echolocation.


    The humble banded woolly bear caterpillar grows up to become the Isabella tiger moth.

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