Adventure is engaging in an unusual or daring experience. Discovery is the act of finding or learning something for the first time. Adventure and discovery are both pretty exciting prospects – so how do moths fit in?
For students involved with the Ahi Pepe MothNet participatory citizen science initiative, the adventure comes from being in the dark. After all, how often do you get to be out at night, hunting for nocturnal creatures? Discovery comes the next morning, checking the Heath moth traps to see if any secretive, winged natives of the night have come by for a visit.
The value of observation
Observation is what leads to discovery – whether it’s something as small as discovering the feathering on a moth’s antennae or something as big as discovering a new moth species.
Observation is a skill that improves with practice and knowledge. Students who participate in the Ahi Pepe MothNet project begin their observations by looking at differences in wing shape and colour, whether the antennae are feathery or not and whether the body is thick or thin. Microscopes come in handy to observe the small creatures in detail. Students can then use identification guides to help identify the moths to put a name to a species.
The students at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti use their observation skills to give moths Māori names that are appropriate to the moths’ appearance. Being able to give a Māori name to a moth species establishes a special connection for the kura and encourages the curiosity of the tamariki to take a closer look at the moths.
The value of moths
Moths play several important roles within New Zealand ecosystems. They pollinate plants as they move from one nectar source to the next. Moths form integral parts of food webs in native ecosystems – they are eaten by both native animals and introduced predators. Moths also make good subjects for wider environmental monitoring, but first we need to know more about where they live and how abundant they are.
Historically, moths have not had a lot of attention in New Zealand, but that is changing. The Ahi Pepe MothNet project is now funded to cover all of New Zealand. The science team is making regional identification guides for students to use. That means more students across New Zealand will be adventuring out in the dark, looking for nocturnal natives to discover and identify, building their curiosity, increasing their appreciation of moths and learning to use some interesting scientific equipment in the process.
Dr Robert Hoare, one of the scientists involved with Ahi Pepe MothNet says, “When you start looking at things in detail, I think you begin to appreciate them a lot more. You start being more enthusiastic about them, and hopefully you start caring about them and wanting to conserve them.”
And that’s how moths are helping to make science an exciting adventure. Just imagine opening a Heath trap to find the tutu green spindle moth (Tatasoma lestevata), pictured below.
Nature of science
Ahi Pepe MothNet observations and information are uploaded to a national database. Data is simply numbers until it is analysed and interpreted. It’s up to the science team to make sense of the moth data. For example, the team plans to use it to make predictions about how moths will be affected by climate change.
See the Ahi Pepe MothNet project website, it has extensive information about protocols, methodologies, purposes and more.
Ahi Pepe MothNet project received funding through the Otago pilot, Otago Science in Action, of the Participatory Science Platform (PSP) – a programme that is part of the Curious Minds initiative and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The PSP is currently being implemented as a pilot in three areas: South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago.
Ahi Pepe MothNet has also received additional funding from Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research; Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti; Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu; Te Tumu, University of Otago; Department of Geography, University of Otago; Orokonui Ecosanctuary; Otago Museum; and New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.
The Government’s national strategic plan for Science in Society, A Nation of Curious Minds – He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara, is a Government initiative jointly led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Education and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.