How to participate and submit records
The Mass Moths Project always welcomes new Massachusetts Moth data to add to the database. There are several ways to do this, but the following are recommended.
- Join the iNaturalist project ‘Mass Moths’ (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/mass-moths) and submit photo records to that platform. The Mass Moths project will download your data from that site once or twice a year.
- However, the most direct way is to download and fill out the provided Excel form ‘Mass Moths data collection template v.[date].xlsx’. This can be filled out during the year and sent in at the end by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The last method is particularly recommended for capturing records which are not supported by photos. We encourage Massachusetts moth fans to make a note of all species seen and identified. It is simply not possible to photograph everything one sees, and many valuable records would be lost if they are not noted ‘the old-fashioned way’ and submitted to Mass Moths. Minimum required information: Species, locality (preferably with coordinates), date, observer and if not adult, state whether egg, larva, pupa or unknown. Such data can be sent in any format, but the data collection template is best. There is a ‘Simplified data sheet’ for most records, but for more complicated data sets (e.g. for entering collection data) a separate ‘Comprehensive data sheet’ is provided. Records of most easily identifiable species will be accepted without photos, but difficult-to-identify or rare species will generally require further documentation.
Download the data collection template (XLS)
Key to this project is the accurate identification to species. However, moth identification is not always easy. Many species, even some common ones, cannot be identified from external characters, so even the best photographs will not be useful. Such species require dissection of the genitalia or DNA barcoding to achieve an accurate identification. This of course necessitates the collection and preparation of the individual and in general well-prepared collected specimens provide the best basis for an accurate identification.
Obviously, not everyone wants to take specimens, and photos are the most usual medium used for identification. Ideally, photos should be sharp, the subject well-lit and the moth should be large in the frame, either originally or after cropping. Sometimes two or three photos of the same specimen are needed to show all visible characters. Unfortunately, hindwings are often not visible in photos and the size of the moth is usually not apparent, both of which could otherwise provide important identification clues.
Photos can be submitted for identification to iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/). Please also join and add your photos to the iNaturalist Mass Moths Project (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/mass-moths). When posting photos, iNaturalist automatically provides identification suggestions using image recognition software, which can sometimes be very accurate, especially if the photo is good, but it is best to use these suggestions as a guide only. Unfortunately, the system does not take geography into account, so the id suggestion could be a species occurring only in Europe or New Zealand!
Photos can also be submitted for identification on BugGuide or Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA). Whether to primarily use iNaturalist, BugGuide or BAMONA for posting photographs online is largely a matter of personal preference. Some moth experts only look at photos on BugGuide, whereas others only look on iNaturalist and some look at both. It seems that fewer use BAMONA. There are many more images posted to iNaturalist, which means it is more time-consuming for experts to go through them all. Submitting an image to both sites naturally increases the odds it will eventually be identified, although the record is likely to be duplicated in the Mass Moths database (we try to exclude these).
There is also an active Facebook Group ‘Mothing in Massachusetts’ (https://www.facebook.com/groups/288860501256658/about), to which photos can be submitted for identification and questions can be asked.
If you want to identify your own photos first, the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie (2012) gives an excellent overview of the different moth families. However, please note that only 73% of the larger moths of Massachusetts are included in this Field Guide and just 29% of the smaller moths. Fortunately, there are some excellent online resources to help you. First and foremost is the Moth Photographer’s Group (MPG) website. This provides plates of spread and living specimens for browsing. The plates are arranged systematically using the scientific names of the families. Reference to the Field Guide should help you to find the right plates to browse. On each species page there are additional links to the corresponding species page on Bugguide.net and to the DNA database ‘BOLD’. Both of these sites provide additional photographs for comparison. At the top of each plate you can click ‘View By Region’ and select ‘Northeast’ to see only species found in the Northeastern United States.
The book series ‘Moths of America North of Mexico’ (MONA) is a valuable resource to identify the moths of several families. Unfortunately, it is far from complete and some of the earlier volumes are out of date taxonomically. The good news is that most of the published volumes have recently been made available for free download in pdf format. This includes ‘Checklist of the Lepidoptera of America North of Mexico’ by Hodges et al. (1983), which is the original source of the ‘MPG’ numbers.
A large number of moths, mainly micromoths, are leaf or bark miners in their early stages. Many of these can be identified from the mine they make. An essential identification tool for these mines is ‘Leafminers of North America’, by Charley Eiseman. This can be obtained in pdf format, by subscription only, at the following site: http://charleyeiseman.com/leafminers/
While online resources continue to improve and make identification from photos practical for most species, there is no replacement for collecting specimens, especially in less well-studied groups. Several species occurring in Massachusetts have not yet been formally described and new species to science are still being found. Many taxonomists are more than willing to provide identifications of pinned specimens, and amateur Lepidopterists can make important contributions to the study of moth taxonomy with just occasional targeted collecting.
The Mass Moths site is not intended to be used for identification, although as the site develops, there will be photos, maps and other information to help decide on the correct determination.
An enormous number of people have helped to get this project off the ground, mainly by providing data (directly or through online databases) or providing access to collections. It is not possible to thank everyone individually, and it is probably best not to include people’s names online. We therefore thank everyone here anonymously and hope everyone will continue to support the project in future.