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Our goals are to study moth communities and
teach how to collect, analyze and present data.

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Some moths from Clarke County, Georgia

Enlarge -- then find the two that are the same species


The insect order Lepidoptera is comprised of all butterflies and moths. With approximately a quarter of a million described species, the order is one of the four most species-rich on the planet, the others being the Coleoptera (beetles), Diptera (flies), and Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies). In North America north of Mexico, there are over 11,800 described species of moths and over 700 butterflies. With the exception of a few spectacular species that are very distinct, identifying them is not easy. Some species cannot be distinguished without examination of their genetic material or internal genitalia. Nevertheless, by using the local identification tools that Discover Life is developing and by following the procedures outlined below to ensure quality control, Mothing's goal is to identify accurately to species at least 90% of the moths in contributors' photographs. Below we describe how.

On-line local identification guides

We are currently building on-line guides to the moths of Africa, the British Isles, India, Mexico, and North America north of Mexico. The latter is the most advanced and has images to most species. It has filters that enable you to identify species at the state and other finer geographic scales.

If available, use the state, county or local site guide listed below rather than to a continent or country. Guides to other groups, including North American butterflies and North American caterpillars, are listed here. To find local guides to your area, go to Study sites and then BELOW the map, select the site nearest to you.

If you have not used our guides before, see help.

If you wish to contribute photographs to these guides or help in another way, please contact us.

Work flow to identify moths in albums

We are developing the capacity to identify large numbers of moth photographs rapidly and accurately. This process includes the following 5 steps:

  • Step-1: Tagging as 'moth'
    After album owners upload a set of new images (see
    Upload Images), they should tag each image with information on where and when they took the photographs (see Editing Album). While doing this, they should change the title from 'untitled' to 'moth' and change the _grade from '-9' to '-1'. [estimated time: 5 seconds per image]

    If there are a lot of images in a new set, album owners with 'edit' should

    1. submit the values for the first image in a series,
    2. set the first image as the template (use 'Set id as template'),
    3. use 'Browse' to naviagate to the last image in the series, and
    4. use the left column to apply the template to the 'id range' of images.

    Note: Uploaded images are processed each night. You may have to wait until the following morning to tag them.

  • Step-2: Sorting into 'buckets'
    We sort moths to 'buckets' based on shape, color, and pattern. Each bucket contains a group of species. This step is done by
    • Authorized individuals [10 seconds per image]
    • Happy Moths -- a crowd sourcing game being developed in partnership with Syracuse University and the Encyclopedia of Life

  • Step-3: Identification to species
    Student "bucket" experts or album owners add species names to the moths in the buckets. These individuals fill in the determined_by field. [20 seconds per image]

  • Step-4: Quality control: checking by automated computer programs
    Computer checks for outliers based on known geography and season [< 1 millisecond]

  • Step-5: Quality control: Blessing species identifications by human experts
    Experts "bless" the identifications of images for each species, 300 at a time [< 1 second per image].

Life lists

Album owners build a life list of the species that they have photographed. In 'edit' click 'List all' to see an album's life list. This lists the insects, plants, fungi, vertebrates, and other species. After clicking 'Find', one can restrict these lists by location.


In 'edit' one can map where the photographs in an album were taken by clicking 'Map'.

Contact information

Updated: 8 December, 2016