Moths and other insects gather on a white sheet during the Nocturnal Pollinators Bioblitz.

Glacier National Park teems with life, much of which we seldom see, especially once the sun sets. Among these nocturnal wonders are some of the park’s most important pollinators: moths. With your support, the Citizen Science Program hosted the first Nocturnal Pollinator Bioblitz, aiming to uncover the diversity of moth species in the park and raise awareness about their crucial role in the ecosystem.

 Mat Seidensticker from the Montana Moth Project, a leading expert in the study of these nighttime pollinators, underscored the urgency of such efforts. “Pollinators are not doing well worldwide,” he emphasized, “we should know what we’ve got before it’s gone.” His words echo a broader concern for the future of these species amid growing environmental threats.

People gather around a lit up sheet to view moths.

Ranger Jami (center) points out a moth to citizen scientists.

Moths, a close relative of butterflies, are found across the globe, and there are probably on the order of 800,000 species, although most of these have not been described by science. These insects are intricately linked with plants throughout their life cycles, relying on them for food and as sites for laying eggs. While some moths are known pests, the vast majority have co-evolved harmoniously with native plants, playing pivotal roles in their ecosystems.

 The Nocturnal Pollinator Bioblitz brought together over 100 citizen scientists under the guidance of Seidensticker and Chuck Harp from the C.P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity. Over three nights, they conducted nocturnal sampling at nine different sites, using UV light traps and pheromone traps to attract and capture moths. The participants collected approximately 675 specimens, identifying 128 macro-moths and around 60 micro-moths. Remarkably, four of these species had never been documented before in the state of Montana.

Hand holding a transparent box with a moth.

Examining and identifying a moth.

The event highlighted the vital ecological roles moths play. As adults, moths are important pollinators, sometimes even more so than their daytime counterparts. Studies using DNA metabarcoding at the MPG Ranch in Florence, MT revealed that moths were pollinating twice as many plant families as other pollinators. This makes their decline, driven by habitat destruction, chemical and light pollution, climate change, and non-native species, all the more concerning.

Seidensticker’s insights shed light on the fascinating and complex lives of moths. Despite their adaptability, moth populations are declining, though exact trends are difficult to pinpoint. Understanding these patterns is crucial for conservation efforts.

The Montana Moth Project, which began in 2020, has already revealed how little is known about moth distribution. “What we’ve seen is how little we know about moth distribution,” Seidensticker said. “There’s no doubt there are new species to discover in Glacier National Park.”

Close up of a geometer moth.

An emerald moth observed during the Nocturnal Pollinators Bioblitz.

This bioblitz not only documented the park’s moth diversity but also laid the groundwork for future monitoring and conservation. Moths, which provide a crucial food source for other organisms, including the grizzly bear, are integral to the health of our ecosystems. As they face myriad threats, understanding and protecting these nocturnal pollinators has never been more important.

Through events like the Nocturnal Pollinator Bioblitz, we can begin to appreciate the hidden wonders of the night and the delicate balance that sustains our natural world. The discoveries made here will help ensure that the silent flutter of moths continues to grace our nights, maintaining the intricate web of life in which we all play a part.

How can you help citizen science in Glacier?

Este proyecto y muchos otros programas críticos no serían posibles sin sus donaciones a la Conservación de Glacier.

Dona Ahora para apoyar trabajo importante como este en el Parque Nacional Glacier!