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25,000 moths from one Florida backyard show how insects change with the seasons

University of Florida

by Halle Marchese 
It may seem as though the same brown moths circle your porch light each night. But a two-year survey of moths from a single backyard highlights the exceptional diversity of these insects and how they ebb and flow with the seasons.

The study, based on nearly 25,000 moths, shows how their numbers and species fluctuate month to month in North Central Florida, with peak moth abundance in May coinciding with spring plant growth. Certain species persist even when temperatures are freezing and insects seem few and far between.

Renowned lepidopterist George Austin collected the moths from his backyard on the edge of Paynes Prairie from 2005 to 2006. Austin, then the collections manager of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, gathered 44 moth families and more than 800 species.

Ten years after his death in 2009, Austin’s collecting efforts continue to provide important insights into the area’s moths and their seasonality.

“There’s a big change in general from year to year, not only in what species are present, but when,” said Andrei Sourakov, the study’s lead author and collections coordinator of the McGuire Center. “When observing George’s effort, I saw it could be changed from just another biodiversity study into something bigger. By sampling a bit more systematically we could try to understand the underlying patterns of seasonality and changes from year to year.”

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