Thoughts on making a moth ID book

Thanks for the recommendations everybody. The Moth Photographers Group looks like a great website. The Moths of North America looks interesting too, but that’s an awful lot of pages if I wanted to print it.

I also wanted to share an idea I’ve had for a while…

Since it appears that most moth books other than the Peterson guide are geared towards the beginner (with only a few hundred of the most common species) or the expert lepidopterist (with spread specimens and only scientific names), I thought a bunch of us could get together and create…

… A Guide to the Moths of Eastern North America, by the Moth-ers of iNaturalist.

It would be about a half-step above the Peterson guide, with a few more species and a more in depth section about mothing (different types of lights, sugar bait, moth collecting, etc).

It might be a bit of a far-fetched idea, but I think it would a fun project.
Fellow moth-ers let me know your thoughts.


Does anyone have any thoughts on making a moth book? Is that something we could do? I’m very interested in doing this but I don’t really know where to start. Also, if this is a plausible idea should I move it to a separate thread?

Start by defining the scope. Is this a field guide, a pretty picture book, a deep dive into taxonomy and morphology, etc?

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I’m thinking a semi-advanced field guide. Sort of like the new Peterson guide but with a few more species, and a more in-depth section about mothing (lights, sugar bait, etc). If any of you have the Beetles of Eastern North America by Arthur V. Evans, I love the way that book is set up. I was thinking something similar to that, but with moths instead of beetles. With the exception of the Peterson guide, it doesn’t appear that there are many books that cover a large (1,000 or so) number of species and aren’t overwhelming to the amateur moth-er. Not every moth-er is going to become an expert lepidopterist, sort of like how most birders probably aren’t going to become expert ornithologists. I have a few other ideas, and I’d love to hear other people’s if you or anybody else is interested.


I love the idea. I don’t have Arthur V. Evans’s guide to Eastern beetles but I do have Beetles of Western North America. Am I correct in assuming they have the same layout? If so I think it would be a great template.

I would definitely like to see a good moth field guide either for the west or all of North America. I’m not sure how I could contribute though since I would be the target audience rather than the author/contributor.

Depending on the region(s) you want to cover, a guide to genus level with a few common species might work best. New Mexico has over 2,000 species of moths (estimated), for example.

You could create an iNaturalist project for Moths in the region you are contemplating covering. That might give you a scope of how many moths would have to be covered. I have a couple created for Michigan. One for Research Grade, and one for those needing ID still.

I’m pretty sure both of the beetle guides have the same layout. I think we should do something similar and split the moth book into two guides. One for Eastern North America and one for Western North America, that way we can omit fewer species. If we keep it about the same size as the beetle book we should be able to cover approximately 1500 species, if we can get five species on a page instead of four we might be able to get to 2000.

I’m hoping to find some more moth-ers that are interested, because this is a really big project to do all by myself.

Thanks for the input @egordon88 and @chipperatl. I will try making a project for Eastern North American moths in the next few days.

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For eastern stuff, @michaelpirrello would probably participate

If you need any help with the project, let me know. I filtered mine by Lepidoptera, and then excluded Papilionoidea (Butterflies).

I know people may be tired of my saying this, but Peterson-type bird guides with paintings can get a lot more species on a page, and a lot more angles of view, than pretty photographic guides.

Examples from Peterson’s Eastern bird guide (1980 edition):

page 121: Belted Plovers. Has Semipalmated Plover, summer, winter, and in-flight; head of Ringed Plover for comparison; Piping Plover, summer, winter, in-flight, and head of belted form; Snowy Plover, summer male, head of female, and in-flight; Wilson’s Plover, male, head of female, and in-flight; Killdeer, standing, in-flight, and chick; and across the bottom, a side-by-side comparison of the heads of these same six species. So that’s 23 views altogether of six species, all on one page. What pretty photographic field guide can match that?

page 73: Bay Ducks in Flight. Top half of the page is overhead views, male and female of each, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Common Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, and Bufflehead, and male only of Ruddy Duck – 13 views of 7 species; bottom half of the page is the topside views, the same 13 views of the same 7 species.

I find the Peterson system much more useful than photographs.

No argument here. I grab Sibley before I grab something like Kaufman for birds. Still Sibley and Peterson are both only around 1000 species of birds crammed into the 520-600 pages each. Peterson guide to Moths has 1500 in smaller format with roughtly same page count. If one were to up the size to the Peterson/Sibley size might be able to get to 2000 species in a book.

Question would be who would illustrate 3000 or so paintings, assuming 50% of them you want more than one angle.

That’s one of the reasons I’d prefer pictures. The new Peterson Moth Guide has pictures and it seems to work fine, but I don’t really want to make a new Peterson guide, I’d prefer to do something a bit different.

Thanks for the ideas everybody, I’d love to hear any other thoughts you have. I’ll keep thinking also. Hopefully some day I can do this with everyone’s help.

Single page, very rough mockup might help some of us that are more visual to get a feel for things. It certainly seems like there would be an easier way to organize an identification/Field Guide for Moths than the Peterson.

I can’t seem to find any previews online, only reviews. How does Peterson organize it?

Noctuoidea - MPG
Moths outside of that - taxonomic order, within each family by Hodges.

This is what they state in the Introduction. They have a brief discussion about whether they should be grouped by similar looking, or taxonomically. They argue taxonimically makes more sense once you know you have a Pinion, you go to Pinions and narrow it down.

I’ll just add some feedback for this. How about a section that is just the damn moths that have to be dissected and microscoped to ID.

I can move this comment and related ones to a separate thread. Let me know what you want me to title it.

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Sure, how about “Thoughts on making a moth ID book”

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It is done.

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