Finding moths without tools like lights or traps

Every time I stumble upon a moth it is such an enjoyable moment for me. I study its wing pattern, the coloration, observe how big or small it is, and generally appreciate it for the beautiful expression of Nature that it is.

I would like to find more moths, and at this time, I don’t feel like using tools like a UV or LED light and sheets as described in many places. I understand this is the optimal way to attract and photograph moths, but at the moment I specifically do not want to do this. The same goes for traps or other ways of attracting the moths.

To make it even more challenging, at the moment I prefer to find moths after dawn and before dusk. And I live in a city.

So besides setting up a light or trap, what easy way is there to find more moths?
Are there places where moths can generally be found resting during the day?
Ideally, I would just walk around somewhere and find moths.

I did some general research reading some forum topics and the National Moth Week website, yet haven’t found a good answer to my above questions.


I occasionally stumble upon moths while I’m walking in the woods, mostly when I’m looking closely at something, like this observation when I was looking at the tree for mosses. I see moths resting on the vegetation, too, or at flowers. Ditto for caterpillars. Sometimes I see them resting under bridges during the day. Basically, I just come upon them while I’m looking at everything.


You can look around other people’s lights/on the ground underneath them. Lights on at night effectively function as light traps and have higher insect densities around them during the day. Dead moths often drop near lights too.


There are diurnal moths on flowers and sometimes they land in a driveway or try to hide in leaf litter

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Beating trees should find you some: hold a butterfly net, a beating tray or an upside-down umbrella under a slender branch and whack the top of the branch with a stick. All sorts of invertebrates will fall out.

There is also sugaring. You make a mix of treacle, wine, various components and paint it on a fence post. Moths and other insects should come to it. I never do it so can’t give you tips but I bet there are plenty of recipes online. If you haven’t got a suitable surface to paint, you can soak strips of cloth in the liquid and hang them over branches.


It’s been a long while since I’ve been wandering in a city. Windows that have been well lit the night before. In corners and between blocks/bricks on buildings. Behind light fixtures and downspouts. Flat on buildings, much like lynnharper shows on a tree. I read an article on moths that said the pollution caused moths to become “drab”. :woman_shrugging: They camouflage themselves so well.
Wander slowly with wide open eyes.


One way is to keep the caterpillars until it becomes a moth. That is a lengthy process of 2-3 weeks maybe for 1 observation. This is to make a link between the caterpillar and adult moth.
Moths are sometimes found on old walls during the day. It is found on the the bark of big trees. On the underside of leaves in the shrubs.
Caterpillars of moth may have a preference for certain plant species, although generally more polyphagous than butterflies. The presence of some moth species will therefore depends on the presence of such plants. Maybe there are moths in vegetable gardens.


I’ve experimented with various ways of finding moths without light so here are some ideas

street lamp method
sometimes I can chance upon moths resting near street lamps (particularly geometrids and a lot of the micro moths). Plume moths are another one that’s usually easy to find resting on fences (or by flying into your home)

home invaders
I’ve had decent luck with just leaving windows open in spring and summer and having various noctuids, swifts, micros, geometrids, erebids etc fly in (but there’s the con of having to catch them out later).

leaving a sweet and sugary mix on fenceposts, trees etc that can do good attracting a lot of catocala type moths, lots of noctuids and some micros (best to check around sunset and after)

checking walls, trees and other surfaces
quite arduous and a hit or miss but it can work well (particularly in woodlands and with females of wingless spring species)

just grabbing a net with small holes and running around like a madman at night with a torch to intercept any night flying moths, works surprisingly well but a bit awkward

checking flowers
works well both in the day and at night and I’ve spotted some lifer moths like that before

pheromone lures
can be a bit pricey but especially good if you’re looking for specific species like clearwings and emperor moths (in the same way you can raise certain native species and put virgin females in a net cage and wait for males to arrive)

beating around the bush (literally)
just smack around shrubs and bushes to disturb geometrids, micros and other more dainty moths, they usually settle nearby (similarly you can use a sheet for this)

caterpillar hunting
takes more time but you can grow caterpillars you find into moths (I’m doing this with some scarlet tiger moths right now with decent luck) but it can be a shame if they’re already infected with parasitoids.

I’ll add any more to the list if I can think of them but these are usually the best methods.


Thank you all for contributing. Together, you have come up with quite a few things that I had never heard or thought of. Thanks!

Would there be any pics of this method out there by any chance?

I would be cautious of doing some of these in the city, such as running around with a net. These are strange times and some people might consider you a threat, especially if you walk toward them with a net if they challenge you.

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Yeah that’s something else to take into consideration, usually for me the only times I’ve ever done it are in either dense woodland without many people around, a residential area without many people around (when i was trying to catch chafers flying around tree-tops) and in my own garden.

Experiment with various store lights in your area and eventually you’ll work out a “driving route” that hits all the best store lights for maximum moth density. When I lived in Virginia, I had a 5-store route that I settled on eventually where all the lights were MV/LED (sodium bulbs aren’t great for attracting insects), the lights shined right into good habitat, and there weren’t too many other lights in the immediate area to pull the moths away. On a good night it wasn’t unusual to get 5-10 different Sphingid species at the lights, including good numbers of some really cool-looking ones. Most of the moth enthusiasts I know have their own “Florida Keys” route too, since the public lands on the Keys don’t allow for blacklighting without going through miles of red tape. A good night driving the Keys and hitting all the best store lights can result in an amazing variety of moths. It just takes some trial-and-error and some Google-Maps-sleuthing to find which lights are the best.

And I always carry a net with me, even if I’m not catching anything, because while walking around a store in the middle of the night can look a bit sketchy, all the cops who’ve stopped to see what I’m doing (and it’s been a lot over the years) have an easier time accepting that you’re looking for bugs if you have a bug net in-hand. (I usually start nerding out about the moths and talk the cop’s ear off about the species I’m finding, and I’ve never had any of them give me trouble.)


The number one flower I’ve seen moths on in my yard is phlox. It can often be found in gardens/parks so should be easy to find in an urban setting with some plantings. Hummingbird moths seem to really love them and I’ve seen them during the afternoon hours on my phlox. In general, moths appear to be attracted most to lighter-colored flowers with sweet fragrance and somewhat tubular shapes (accommodating long tongues). You could look for them around e.g. honeysuckle, jasmine, morning glory, ornamental tobacco, also flowers opening late such as evening primrose and four o’clock plants and those oozing fragrance. Check for white moths resting during daytime in white flowers, perfectly camouflaged among the petals.

I’ve found a couple of luna moths that way, though mostly by chance and not because I was looking. It appears they emerge near host trees (e.g. sweet gum, hickory) in the late morning to early afternoon and crawl up to some resting place where they can dry their wings until ready to fly. I’ve found them resting on walls of buildings and on the side of a parked car. So if you have a good spot with a couple of host trees, it might be worth checking the area for any freshly eclosed moths hanging around. They don’t eat as adults and would be unlikely to visit flowers.


Over a century ago J.W. Tutt said:

Details as to sugaring are always worthy of remembrance. Never forget that moths have varying tastes and habits and exhibit them. The most attractive black treacle, mixed with the most alluring jargonelle, rum or methylated spirit, is useless if the weather be wrong, and may be equally useless if the weather be right unless the worker attends to detail, and remembers that some attend the drips, others drink and walk round to the other side of the tree, and so on; and while some species come early, others come late and may be entirely missed by the worker in a hurry.

He goes on rather judgmentally:

It would well repay an entomologist, in spite of the temptation, to lay down his net for two or three years and devote his time to hunting the Lepidoptera in their early stages; and at the end of that time his observations and descriptions would ensure his name being handed down to future generations of scientific workers, while his collection would be enriched with species quite unknown to the mass of collectors without souls.

Tutt, J.W. 1901. Practical hints for the field lepidopterist.


There are a lot of moths, and even some butterflies, whose larval stages are unknown or whose larval host plants are unknown. There are many more for which only the late instars have been described adequately for identification.

This is true even for some quite spectacular ones – the White Witch has the widest wingspan of any moth, yet, according to White Witch Watch, “You would suppose that scientists must know the story of such an impressive organism. We don’t. The egg, pupa, and caterpillar of T. agrippina are unknown. We don’t know the larval habitat or host plant.” At best, we can say (per Wikipedia), “Based on the larval host plants recorded for the owl moth and black witch, the larval host plants for the white witch are probably also woody members of Fabaceae (subfamily Caesalpinioideae), possibly Senna and/or Cassia.” – a prediction, but no observations.