Marvelous Moths


Moths – moths! – have their own National Week. In 2012, it’s the week of July 23rd.


Visit the National Moth Week website for moth facts, moth activities, methods for attracting moths, instructions for making a moth feeder, a citizen science data-collecting project (everybody welcome to participate), and more.


There’s not a lot of moth literature – despite moths’ vast superiority in numbers, butterflies get way better press. But there’s some.

  In Cambria Evans’s Martha Moth Makes Socks (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), the socks aren’t just footwear – they’re food, destined for a moth birthday dinner. Martha goes shopping and buys a polka-dot scarf, a shrunken sweater, and a pair of itchy socks, all intended for a fabulous feast. Unfortunately she tastes so much of her woolly dishes that, by the time the guests are due arrive, there’s practically nothing left to eat. Luckily her friends show up with just the right (edible) gift. For ages 4-7.
  Actually it’s not moths that eat wool. It’s the larvae – caterpillars – of certain moths that chow down on sweaters, scarves, and socks. Find out just how woollies get holes.
  Geoff Waring’s Oscar and the Moth (Candlewick, 2008) is an early science book in which Oscar, a goggle-eyed kitten, learns about light and dark from the very helpful and talkative Moth. Covered are common sources of light, what causes day and night, and how shadows are made. For ages 4-8.
  In Kari and Brit Trogen’s Margaret and the Moth Tree (Kids Can Press, 2012), Margaret, an orphan, is trapped in a dreadful orphanage presided over by the evil Miss Switch. Margaret, condemned by Miss Switch to absolute silence, discovers that she can hear things that others can’t – notably the tiny voices of the moths who live in a nearby thorn tree. The moths eat Nimblers – the filmy stuff of dreams – and with their help, Margaret comes up with a plan to defeat Miss Switch and free the orphans from misery. For ages 8-12.
  In Sara Pennypacker’s Summer of the Gypsy Moths (Balzer + Bray, 2012), 11-year-old Stella’s unstable mother is perpetually on the move – designing costumes in California, mining turquoise in Mexico – so Stella, along with Angel, an orphan in need of a foster home, has been sent to live with her great-aunt Louise on Cape Cod. When Aunt Louise suddenly dies, the two girls – fearful of what will happen to them – bury her secretly in the garden and embark on a series of elaborate deceptions to explain her absence. In the process, as they struggle to survive, they forge an unexpected friendship. The girls are polar opposites: Stella, a control freak, is painfully neat and addicted to “Hints from Heloise;” Angel is careless, messy, and rebellious. (They also battle gypsy moths.) Well-written, though the premise and the extremely tidy ending are somewhat unbelievable. For ages 10 and up.
  In Gene Stratton-Porter’s now-classic A Girl of the Limberlost (Empire Books, 2011), originally published in 1909, Elnora Comstock, growing up on the banks of Indiana’s Limberlost Swamp, struggles to pay for her education – in the teeth of her obstructive mother – by selling moths from the nearby swamp to collectors. As well as print, the book is available online. For ages 12 and up.
  In Margaret Willey’s A Summer of Silk Moths (Flux, 2009), seventeen-year-old Pete is passionately devoted to helping his mentor Abe maintain Riverside, a nature preserve dedicated to the memory of Abe’s brother Paul – and to sketching Paul’s beautifully preserved moth collection. Into this idyll comes the angry and disruptive runaway Nora, who claims to be Paul’s daughter. Collecting moths – and reading Paul’s moth journal – eventually bring Pete and Nora together as they solve mysteries of their pasts. For ages 13 and up.
  Virginia Woolf’s 1942 essay The Death of the Moth is a recommended read for high-school students. The text here is accompanied by discussion questions.
  And don’t forget Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed, Titania’s fairies in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play is available in many editions, among them Lois Burdett’s adaptation, A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids (Firefly Books, 1997), illustrated with terrific children’s drawings, in which the plot is summarized in catchy rhyming couplets. For ages 5-8.


  Jack Vance’s science-fiction tale The Moon Moth, originally published in 1961, has recently been adapted as a graphic novel by Humayoun Ibrahim (First Second, 2012). The story is set on the planet Sirene, where the inhabitants wear elaborate masks to indicate their social status and communicate by singing, accompanying themselves – depending on the situation – with any one of a dozen musical instruments. Edwer Thissell, human consul to Sirene, is both socially clueless and tone deaf – challenging in a world where etiquette lapses are punishable by death – and has been condemned to wear the low-status Moon Moth mask. The plot is a clever murder mystery, in which Thissell tracks down an assassin. For ages 12 and up.
  Check out real moon moths in John Himmelman’s beautifully illustrated A Luna Moth’s Life (Children’s Press, 1998). A simple text describes the moth’s life cycle for ages 4-7.
  In Jean Paton Walsh’s The Green Book (Square Fish, 2012), Pattie and her family have fled the dying Earth to make a new life on a distant planet known as Shine. (In chapter one, they struggle to decide which single book each can take along – a great discussion premise.)  Life on Shine, however, proves to be more difficult than expected: farm animals die eating the glassy native grasses and Earth crops refuse to grow. The colonists’ children, however, eventually discover how to live on the new world, and even learn to communicate with the native moth people, who hatch from the boulders – really cocoons – in “Boulder Valley.” For ages 8-12.


  Fran Howard’s Moths (Capstone Press, 2006), illustrated with full-page color photographs, is a simple and nicely informational introduction to moths for ages 3-7.
  Which moth? Peterson First Guides are simplified and condensed versions of the renowned Peterson Field Guides, targeted at beginning naturalists. Paul A. Opier’s color-illustrated Peterson First Guide to Butterflies and Moths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998) covers 182 different species in 128 pages.
  Unabridged guides, however, list a lot more moths. The Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), for example, has 600+ comprehensive pages crammed with color photographs, range maps, season graphs, and general information.
  In Butterfly & Moth (DK Publishing, 2012) in the DK Eyewitness series, each double-page spread is devoted to a different topic, such as “Butterfly or moth?,” “Caterpillars,” “Silk moths,” “Migration and hibernation,” and “Camouflage.” Like all the volumes in the series, it’s beautifully designed, with captioned color photographs, drawings, diagrams, and fact boxes. Officially for ages 8 and up, but the great pictures will also appeal to younger kids.
  What’s the difference between a butterfly and a moth? Find out at Everyday Mysteries, which also features photographs, fascinating facts, and a reference list.
  Check out the fabulous South Asian Attacus atlas moth, the world’s biggest, a gaudy beauty with a wingspan of up to twelve inches.
  Instructions for attracting, studying, and safely releasing moths can be found at Wildlife Fun 4 Kids
  Pheromones were first discovered in silk moths. The first, named bombykol, was isolated from the silk moth Bombyx mori. Learn all about it at Molecule of the Month: Bombykol or Bombykol: Sex Pheromone of the Silk Moth


The peppered moth is often cited as a textbook example of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Prior to the Industrial Revolution in England, most peppered moths were pale; with the spread of industrial pollution, however, the moths became predominately dark, the better to camouflage themselves on soot-blackened trees.

  Wikipedia’s Peppered Moth Evolution has a good general summary and explanation of peppered moth studies.
  From the journal Nature, The peppered moth’s dark genetic past revealed is a reader-friendly explanation of the genetic mutation that rendered pale peppered moths dark.
  At the Peppered Moth Simulation, students play the part of moth-eating bluejays, recording the numbers of light- and dark-colored moths found respectively on light- and dark-colored tree trunks. For another take, see the Peppered Moth Interactive.


  Lily Toy Hong’s The Empress and the Silkworm (Albert Whitman and Company, 1995) is a tale of the origin of silk, beginning when a cocoon falls into the Empress Si Ling-Chi’s teacup and begins to unwind. The empress envisions her husband, Huang-Ti, the Yellow Emperor, clothed in a shimmering robe woven from this “heavenly thread.” She weaves him just such a robe; silk-making comes to China; and Si Ling-Chi becomes known as the Lady of the Silkworm. The book is, sadly, out of print, but is available through libraries and as a free download. For ages 5-9.
  For an early-elementary-level lesson plan to accompany The Empress and the Silkworm, see Story of Silk. Accompanying projects include putting (printable) Silkworm Sequencing Cards in order and unraveling a silkworm cocoon.
  Charles Santore’s The Silk Princess is the fairy-tale like story of the little princess Hsi-Ling Chi who – when a silkworm cocoon falls into her mother’s tea and starts to unravel – decides to find out how long the thread is. Off she goes on a long and magical journey to the Holy Mountains that results in an encounter with a giant spider and a dragon – and ultimately a triumphant return, bringing with her the wonderful secret of silk-making. For ages 6-9.
   In Deborah Noyes’s Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China (Candlewick, 2007), a young Chinese princess is sent by her father to marry the faraway king of Khotan. Sad to leave her home, the princess lists the many things she will miss – pink peach petals, red-crowned cranes, sour plums – and the beautiful silk made by Chinese silkworms. Though it is forbidden to reveal the secret of silk-making outside China, the princess nonetheless smuggles out silkworm cocoons and mulberry seeds in her hair, so that she will always have with her a part of her beloved home. For ages 6-10.
  In Linda Sue Park’s Project Mulberry (Yearling, 2007), Julia, a daughter of Korean immigrants, and her friend Patrick team up to do an animal husbandry project on silkworms for the state fair. Initially, Julia isn’t enthusiastic (it’s too Korean), but soon both kids become wrapped up in the project – and along the way learn a great deal, not only about environmentalism and silkworm biology, but about friendship and tolerance. For ages 9 and up.
  Sylvia A. Johnson’s Silkworms (First Avenue Editions, 1989), illustrated with great color photographs, is a straightforward account of domesticated silkworms and silk production for ages 9 and up.
  Carrie Gleason’s 32-page The Biography of Silk (Crabtree Publishing, 2006), illustrated with color photographs, covers all the basics, including silkworms and silk production, ancient China and the Silk Road, the silk industry in America, and the uses of silk. For ages 9-12.
  John S. Major’s The Silk Route: 7000 Miles of History (HarperCollins, 1996), in 32 lushly illustrated pages, traces the early silk trade from the mulberry groves of China to Byzantium (now Constantinople) via a journey on the famous Silk Road in 700 AD. For ages 9 and up.
  Kathryn Ceceri’s The Silk Road: 20 Projects to Explore the World’s Most Famous Trade Route (Nomad Press, 2011) covers the history and geography of the Silk Road, the peoples who lived along its path, the role it played in the spread of technology, and the Silk Road today in 128 nicely designed pages featuring “Words to Know” and “Fascinating Facts” boxes and capsule biographies of famous Silk Road travelers. Sample projects include making an abacus and a sand design bottle, and building a model yurt. For ages 9-12.
  Make your own silk? Silkworms has general information, sources for eggs and equipment, instructions for raising silkworms at home or in a classroom, and much more.
For more information on silkworms or to order eggs or worms, see the Silkworm Shop.
  Silk and…vaccines? Silk protein may help deliver vaccines and antibiotics to developing countries. Find out how from Scientific American


  Douglas Florian’s Insectopedia (Sandpiper, 2002) is a great collection of insect poems, illustrated with colorful paintings. Among these, along with poems in honor of army ants, mosquitoes, termites, and praying mantises, is “The Io Moth.” For ages 5-9.
  Among the fourteen bug-themed poems in Paul Fleischman’s Newbery-winning Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (HarperCollins, 2004) is “The Moth’s Serenade,” a love poem from moth to porch light. For ages 5-10.
  The Lesson of the Moth has the text of the poem by archy – Don Marquis’s famous typewriting cockroach (no capital letters; archy can’t hit the Shift key) – and a helpful analysis.
  For Emily Dickinson’s “A moth the hue of this,” see here
  For Mary Oliver’s “The Moths,” see here

Moth Arts and Crafts

  For information on moth artist Joseph Scheer, a spectacular gallery of his moth photos, and supplementary moth information, see Uncommon Vision from National Geographic.
  Meet Van Moth has information on “Van Moth,” an artist who paints with bugs, and a view of his bug-created masterpieces.
  View examples of John Hampson’s “Bug Art” mosaics made with moths, beetles, and butterflies at the websites of the Fairbanks Museum or Roadside America. (George Washington in moths.)
  Moth Coloring Pages has (many) printable ready-to-color blackline moths. 
Ruth Soffer’s Exotic Butterflies and Moths (Dover Publications, 2002) has 20 black-line ready-to-color drawings of butterflies and moths. $3.99.
  Sunset Moth is a craft project for making a gorgeous moth from colored cellophane.
  By Nicola Tedman and Jean Power, Beaded Bugs (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012) includes instructions for making 30 different moths, butterflies, and beetles from colored seed beads and wire. Included are basic beading instructions for beginners. Too finicky for the very little, but fun for older kids


  Watch a jumping mothballs experiment! (Never has taking a cap off a vinegar bottle seemed so cool.)
  Science Fair Projects with Mothballs and Baking Soda has instructions for several experiments, including bobbing mothballs, balloon-inflating mothballs, and a mothball-based volcano.
  Mothballs in outer space! Naphthalene, the major chemical component of mothballs, has been found in interstellar clouds. Read about it here


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One Comment

  1. Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Hi Becky
    what a great list of moth resources!
    I am one of the founders of National Moth Week and I wanted to let you and your readers know NMW 2014 will start July 19 and everyone can participate! Information and registration at

    Becky – please send me an email, I hope you’ll be able to help us promote 2014 NMW.

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