A general outline for the implementation is provided with variation allowed for in the amount of time required. Teachers have reported that the flexibility to spend more or less time with moth research allows them to emphasize varying content of the science curriculum that they use in a particular year.

  • Background

    Step 1: Background information and setting the stage

    Time involved: 1-2 class sessions

    The first class session can be used to get students to start thinking about moths. Ask them what they know about moths, where they have seen moths, or what they may have heard about moths. Have them draw a picture of what they think a moth looks like. When we have implemented this curricular unit, we typically have students work in groups of 3-6 so that they can share their ideas more easily with one another. Finally, ask students to come up with a list of things that they would like to know about moths in their local habitats. These can form the basis of the scientific investigations that students will later carry out in this unit.

    Once students have had a chance to share with you what they know about moths and have developed questions, you can share with them some information about basic moth biology and ecology. When they have questions that you cannot answer, you can point out that this is how science works! People come up with questions and wonderments about the natural world that they then test. You may ultimately want to share information with them about the importance of moths in local ecosystems and their roles as nocturnal pollinators. We recommend finishing the first part of the moth unit with a discussion of how to trap moths, looking ahead to when they will conduct their own investigations.

  • Traps

    Step 2: Trap building

    Time involved: 1-2 class sessions

    In this segment of the unit, students will construct their own do-it-yourself (DIY) moth traps. Each student or group will be required to bring in two empty, rinsed, and dried 2-liter soda pop bottles. You will also need to purchase a suitable number of binder clips and black light keychains which act as an attractant for moths. Students will need to make precise cuts on their bottles to make the parts for the trap. For younger students, you may want to opt for a limited number of traps for the entire class and to do the bottle cutting and partial assembly yourself. A full guide describing how to build the traps is provided.

  • Hypothesis

    Step 3: Questions & hypothesis 

    Time involved: 0-1 class session

    We recommend that students be given agency to choose their own scientific questions. For younger grades or class dynamics, where you may need greater facilitation in helping with the moth trap building and trap placement, you may want to allow them to choose a single question for the entire class. As the teacher, you would then deploy the trap(s) for them and bring in the nightly moth captures. If students wonder about what counts as a “good” question, ask them to think about the habitat around their schools, or in their neighborhoods.

    Questions that students have used before, as part of this unit, include things like:

    • Where will we catch more moths? Under deciduous trees, or under coniferous trees?
    • Will backyards with swimming pools result in more or fewer moth captures?
    • Will I catch more moths near my front door on nights where the outside light is turned on, or on nights where the light is turned off

    Placement of two moth traps to compare bottle colors as a student research question

    Inherent in this stage is the need to come up with a research methodology. Students need to decide where the traps will be set, and for how many nights. This entire step in the project can be done in a single class session, or in certain circumstances, could be folded into Lessons 1 and 2, above.

  • Data and interpretation

    Step 4: Collecting data and interpreting findings

    Time involved: 2-5 class sessions

    Using the provided information on collecting moths safely, students begin to collect data with the goal of answering their research question.  We have found that students have been able to safely and successfully work with moth specimens and were eager to participate in hands-on activities.

    Create teams

    We recommend that teachers divide their classes into small teams of 3-6 students and work within these groups to demonstrate handling of moths, including the safe pinning or gluing of moths for examination. Teachers have reported that students who are less comfortable or confident in their ability to pin the moths often self-select into “specialist” positions.  For example, one student may be the primary pinner, another makes the label or records notes, and another prepares the trap for another night. If the school system and additional adult support permits, teachers have included parents/guardians or older students to provide additional support during early stages of the moth research, especially in trap building and this first time bringing in collected moths.

    Sort and identify

    Nightly catches should be brought into class each morning and time needs to be set aside so that students can document their captures. The moths from each night can be counted (abundance), sorted by morphospecies (i.e., to get a measure of species richness), and the necessary data pertaining to the question being asked recorded. See provided information for help in sorting and identifying moths.

    Identification of moths is much easier if both the front (fore) wings and back (hind) wings are visible. This can be accomplished with the larger moths by pinning and spreading the wings.  For smaller moths, simply gluing the moths to a small piece of cardstock is adequate even if the hindwings are not visible.  We also have found that some students may have difficulty pinning moths and the ability to glue them allows them to participate more fully. Once moths are pinned or glued, as appropriate, a student group or class moth collection can be assembled as a visual record of student captures.  Methods for pinning and gluing moths for provided.

    Use your data

    Once your students have trapped for an appropriate number of nights, students will need to make a representation of their data so that they can try to answer their research question (note: you will need to decide what an “appropriate” number of nights is. This may be based on the amount of time you are able to dedicate to the moth unit during the school year or the availability of good weather conditions.) Students may want to make graphs of the number of moths caught in different locations or draw pictures of the moths they caught. Ultimately, students should work towards figuring out how the data informs their scientific question. Here, it may be helpful to have the students in each group work together to write out their original research question/hypothesis and then to summarize their results and conclusions, before class discussion begins.

    We often end the moth unit by circling back around to the same activities that we used at the start of the unit so that we can get a sense of what the students learned. For this, simply re-run some of the activities from the first and/or second class sessions. Ask students what they know about moths; ask them to draw a picture of a moth; ask them what questions they have about moths, and so on. This activity may identify gaps in knowledge or additional questions, providing an opportunity for further investigation and exemplifying again the scientific process.  

  • Extensions


    The following topics, among others that you may wish to include, can be added to your lesson planning to extend the study of moths.


    Study the adaptations that moths have developed to help them survive in their environment. For example, many species of moths have evolved effective camouflage for daytime hiding and are active at night, allowing them to avoid birds and other day-active predators and access flowers for nectar.

    Art and literature

    Incorporate art and literature into your study of moth ecology to make the subject more engaging and accessible to students. For example, students could create drawings of different species of moths, or write poems or stories inspired by their life cycle and adaptations.


    Study the incredible biodiversity of moths, including their wide variety of sizes, colors, and shapes. Discuss the importance of biodiversity and why it is important to conserve and protect insect populations and their habitats.


    Teach students about the impact that human activities, such as habitat destruction, pesticide use, and climate change, have on moth populations. Encourage students to think about ways that they can help to protect and conserve moth populations, such as planting native plants, reducing their carbon footprint, and supporting sustainable practices.


    Allow students to make modifications to the trap design (eg: the number of lights, color of materials used, addition of scented attractants) and have them use recorded data to compare the effectiveness of traps and engage in the engineering cycle to produce a more effective DIY moth trap.

    Life cycle

    Teach students about the life cycle of moths, including their development from egg to larva to pupa and their metamorphosis to an adult. Discuss the role of moths in the food chain at different parts of their life cycle, and how they are important for the survival of other species.


    Discuss the role of moths in pollination, and how they play a crucial role in maintaining healthy ecosystems and on the foods we eat. Encourage students to think about the impact that the loss of pollinators, such as bees and moths, could have on the food supply and the environment.

    Ask older adults about the number of insects they remember in their youth compared to now (e.g. on car windshields). Share with students about well-documented declines of moths and insects in Europe (e.g. a 75% decrease in insect biomass within German protected natural areas (Hallmann et al. 2017), and the decline of 62% of macro-moths in Great Britain (Fox et al. 2014)).   The latter article describes further nuances in studying insect populations that teachers of older students may wish to engage with – notably that some moth species have also increased. There are various causes of environmental changes that affect different species in different ways depending on their ecology.  We hope that students studying their local moths will also start to ask these types of questions – “I caught the only individual of this type of moth in our class; I wonder if its population is not doing well in my area, and why?” Or, “Our class caught so many of this species of moth; what about its environment or biology allows it to be so abundant.”Population declines

    University connection

    Connecting with an entomologist or invertebrate biologist at a local college, university, or conservation organization to discuss student collection of moths and other insects can help educate students about entomology careers.  Additionally, these local experts may be able to answer questions about common or rare moths that could be captured in your area and could open some great opportunities for further collaboration and support.

Photo credits thanks to students at Grand Blanc East Middle School and Chesaning Middle School