How To Attract Moths to Your Backyard

Plan a memorable excursion after dark.

By Sharon Lovejoy

Wow your grandchildren with your ability to predict an eruption of moths. It’s simple. A couple of days before you and your grandkids will take a night foray, mix your bait, allow it to ferment, then paint your lure together.

How to attract moths with homemade "moth broth"

Here's what you'll need:

  • Ripe banana
  • Brown sugar
  • Stale beer or active dry yeast and warm water
  • Other ripe fruit such as pears, peaches, plums, and watermelons (optional)
  • 1-inch paintbrush

Your grandchildren will be perfect fruit squishers; let them go to it. Stir the fruit and the other ingredients together for a thin paste, and let it sit for a couple of days. (I store it in the warm garage and cover it with screening to keep flies away.)

In the late afternoon before your night exploration, paint a broad swath (about 12 inches by 12 inches) of moth broth on chosen tree trunks or fence posts at a child’s eye level. Be careful not to spill the sauce on the ground or you’ll attract ants.

The best moth-watching hours are on warm nights between 10 p.m. and midnight. Wake your grandchildren, pick up your flashlights or headlamps and magnifying glasses, and trek outdoors together for a moonlit adventure. Cover your lights with a couple sheets of red cellophane for better nighttime vision. Just lay the cellophane over the lens and secure it with a rubber band. The red light will not disturb the moths.

Explain to the kids that you’ll need to sneak up on the moths as quietly as possible or they’ll take flight. The “ear” (tympanum) of a moth picks up the sounds you make and quickly sends a warning. The temptation is great, but don’t shine your flashlight on the trunk until you are right beside it, then remove the cellophane and flick it on. You will be rewarded with dozens of moths of various shapes, colors, and sizes, with eyes that glow like brilliant red and orange coals.

Things to observe

Look closely at a moth’s head and its long tongue-like proboscis that probes at the sauce and sips it through two fused, strawlike tubes. When the moth stops sipping, the tube will recoil like a spring and disappear below the head. Moths have combed, tapered, or feathered antennae that receive scents, such as a female’s pheromones, that waft through the night air for miles. The sensitive antennae also sense sweet aromas that signal a nectar-rich meal.

After you gently touch a moth’s scaly wings, you’ll notice a light powder on your fingertips. The powder is the residue of the tiny scales that give each species of moth its signature pattern and color. Entomologists believe that the slippery powder may help moths free themselves from sticky spiders' webs.

Excerpted and adapted with permission from Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars by Sharon Lovejoy. Copyright © 2009. Published by Workman Publishing Company, Inc.

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