India has a rich diversity of moth species. Every July, the National Moth Week (NMW)—a global citizen-science project for recording moths—is used to study adult moths around the world. This time moth caterpillars are also part of the plan, with schoolchildren across India being encouraged to participate in a caterpillar-rearing project, which started on 5 June to mark World Environment Day and will run till 31 August.
“This year, the National Moth Week global team wanted to focus on documenting early stages and host plants for moths. Every year, we document adult moths. V. Shubhalaxmi (founder of iNatureWatch Foundation) often does sessions on caterpillar rearing. I asked her if she would be interested in doing something similar for schoolchildren,” says Pritha Dey, country coordinator (India), NMW, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Bengaluru. “Last year, we wanted to expand the National Moth Week to schoolchildren but couldn’t do it properly because of the pandemic. Watching caterpillars would be a day-time activity. This way children do not have to stay up at night to study adult moths,” Dey explains.
To help children and schoolteachers, the NMW team in India has prepared a protocol guide with step-by-step instructions on the equipment needed as well as ways to rear a caterpillar. Dey explains that the children will have to make regular notes about the growth of the caterpillar, including its size, colour and markings. “The protocol also explains which caterpillars to look for and which ones to not. They have to photograph every stage—from caterpillar to the next instar, the cocoon stage and so on,” she adds.
From keeping the caterpillar in a jar and feeding it, to releasing a newly emerged moth during the dark hours, the children will have to do it all on their own, under adult supervision. Dey says this activity is open to schools across India; children can explore the outdoors with their parents or teachers. “Caterpillars display a variety of characteristics and defences. Some resemble leaves, while others look like animal poop or display warm colours to ward off predators. The children will be able to understand more about mimicry, camouflage and other ecological phenomena through this activity,” Dey says.
The data will be uploaded on a portal created by Vijay Barve, founder of the DiversityIndia citizen-science portal. He is also part of the NMW India team. The winning schools (one each from the north, south, east and west zones) will receive the book Field Guide To Indian Moths (written by Shubhalaxmi) as a prize for their school libraries. All the students, teachers and schools will also receive participation certificates.
So far, a couple of schools have shown interest in the caterpillar-rearing project. The team will reach out to more schools in the coming days and hopes others will register. “We don’t want it to be a rat race but we decided to incentivise the competition so that the children also get excited to learn something new,” says Dey. “Since this is the first time, even if 10-15 schools participate, that should be a good start. Hopefully, it can snowball into a bigger project in the future.”
For details, visit inaturewatch.org/national-moth-week-2022