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Researchers Document "Hummingbird Moths" in Montana

PHOTO: A 'moth sheet' can be set up by anyone as a way to observe moth species. It's National Moth Week, and researchers are looking for white-lined sphinx moths in Montana. Photo courtesy of NationalMothWeek.org.
PHOTO: A 'moth sheet' can be set up by anyone as a way to observe moth species. It's National Moth Week, and researchers are looking for white-lined sphinx moths in Montana. Photo courtesy of NationalMothWeek.org.
July 21, 2014

DRUMMOND, Mont. - Student researchers from California's La Verne University are conducting studies under the darkness of the northwestern Montana night. They're tracking the white-lined sphinx month, commonly known to as the 'hummingbird moth.' Their work is being highlighted for National Moth Week, July 20-27.

Assistant Professor Heidy Contreras said the sphinx moth is considered a keystone species. It pollinates many flowers, and its larvae, known as hornworms, are an important food for other species.

But Contreras said not much is known about why the moths emerge when they do.

"We can get an idea of what are some of the cues that they're using to emerge as adults," said Contreras. "We're out here correlating environmental temperature and environmental humidity to the abundance of these moths that we're finding in these different areas."

According to Contreras, they've found very few sphinx moths in their research area near Drummond.

The researchers are also tracking moths in California and Arizona.

Scientists have estimated there are up to 500,000 species of moth, though the exact number is unknown. It's thought that some moth species are declining.

Although pesticides and habitat destruction may be a part of the reason. Contreras said they're zeroing in on climate change.

"If there is a change in climate due to global warming," said Contreras, "specifically targeting certain areas around the country, then how are these organisms going to respond to these changes?"

If you want to provide habitat for moths, insect experts recommend choosing native plants for landscaping, finding out what plants moth larvae prefer, and dialing back on the use of pesticides.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT