Spectacular Underwing Moths on Notes from Nature

Underwing moths are one of the most strikingly patterned, beautiful moths. Their hindwings are marked with orange, yellow, pink, red, blue, or purple, and have been one of the most historically prized moths sought by collectors. Some researchers have called them the “legions of the night” because of their large size and species diversity. When at rest on tree bark, the bright hindwings are hidden by their dark, camouflaged forewings. When disturbed, the moth will flash these hindwings to scare predators. Scientists have thought that the markings resemble the eyes of a cat. Some species are known to drink beer, and collectors often use bait to collect them.

The goal for this project is to examine how these moths have shifted their distribution in light of climate change over the last 100+ years. Some species are clearly declining in number, and may possibly be critically endangered, but we still do not know how their ranges have changed because the data are limited. We cannot assess the impact of human disturbance without obtaining these data from historical museum specimens.

In this project, you will be transcribing the numerous descriptive labels that are pinned to each underwing moth specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center. The McGuire Center has one of the largest collection of these moths in the world, but researchers cannot access the data because they remain hidden on a label under each specimen. Through this interface you will be looking at two images of the moth, taken from the dorsal and ventral sides of the insect. Please be sure to look at both images and remember your role in transcribing is valuable! And be sure to look at the amazing patterns and colors of the “underwing moth.” Can you see the resemblance to cat eyes?

This project is part of a collaborative network of museums seeking to digitize approximately 2 million North American butterfly and moth specimens. Butterflies and moths are one of the most charismatic groups of insects, yet we still don’t know much about them. Obtaining the data from these specimens is very important for research and conservation of butterflies and moths, so please help!


Photo by Lary Reeves



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