Plant Evolutionary Ecology Lab



A Set of Children’s Activities on moth biology and the effects of light pollution

Developed by Lyric Palmer smaller mail icon

This session is focused on the biology and conservation of moths. A series of displays and activities address moth’s preferences for different flowers according to their odour and colour, and the effects of light pollution. If you are interested in the science behind this activity, you can read a scientific review here

The session consists of a set of activities: ‘The Night Garden’, an olfactory activity, a visual display of moths, and a seed giveaway. It is designed for a science festival, but could be adapted to other venues.


Activity 1: ‘The Night Garden’ (suitable for children 4-11 years)

The Night Garden is an interactive activity where participants dress as a moth, enter an artificial garden and imagine they are a moth foraging at night. Participants are informed of the flower preferences many moths exhibit through a selection tasks, and learn about the effects of artificial light at night (ALAN) through a bright light demonstration.view of night garden

Session aims:

-   Explain that moths are not ‘attracted’ to light, but that transverse orientation is believed to be the reason phototaxis is exhibited

-   Inform participants that many moths show a preference to pale-coloured, night scented flowers

-   Present results from recent research on the possible implications of ALAN

-   Promote discussion around the importance of conserving gardens for moths



Here is a list of materials. It will take about 1 hr 15 minutes to set up.

Prepare the artificial flowers in advance of the event by covering them in UV paint so that they illuminate when UV torches are used, making them distinguishable as ‘desirable’ for moths. In addition, use seasonal plants to improve the visual quality of the display. The 2x UV torchlights are fitted through black polystyrene balls to resemble a moth’s compound eyes for participants to hold. Wooden hoops are optional but can be used to make it clearer for the participants to identify which flowers they have selected.  


Construct a pop-up greenhouse and place all seasonal plants inside to create an artificial garden. Ensure that the four ‘desirable’ flowers are evenly spaced inside the greenhouse and will be easily accessible to participants.


Activity:girl in night garden

  1. Participant puts on the moth costume and is asked to imagine that they are a nocturnal moth foraging upon entering the Night Garden. Explain that moths feed (mostly at night) on nectar from flowers and that they must decide which flowers to forage from. Give participants the ‘eyes’ of the moth- two UV torches.
  2. Participant enters the Night Garden tent, which should be zipped up enough to ensure darkness inside, but slightly open at the corner so that the activity leader is still able to communicate with the participant. Explain the basic pollination process where necessary, highlighting the importance of plants in this interaction.
  3. Ask participant which flowers they are able to see most easily and provide them with 4x wooden hoops to place over the top of the flowers which they select.
  4. Now ask participant why they selected the flowers that they did. N.B. they will only clearly be able to see the four desirable flowers that were covered with UV paint prior to the event.
  5. Unfasten the tent further to allow light in so that the participant can see the entire garden (prompt them to observe how many other colourful flowers there are).
  6. Explain that when moths forage at night, many show a preference for white and pale colours, and this is why the flowers which the participants selected are ideal for nocturnal moths.
  7. Explain that flowers in some plants have evolved to be this way in order to attract moths. Ask the participant if they know what the benefit is to the plant in this interaction? Recap the basic pollination process where necessary.
  8. Close the tent door to ensure darkness again and switch on a powerful light inside the tent. This creates a distraction/disturbance, attempting to replicate the effects of ALAN. Provide a brief explanation of the implications of ALAN, such as ‘artificial light can alter their behaviour, so that they cannot find their food’.
  9. Once the activity is completed, ask the participant which flower traits they would select in a plant if they were to make a moth-friendly garden at home (ideal answer based upon colour/scent).


The remaining three activities are suitable for all ages. To set them up, you will need a large table or a few smaller ones.


Activity 2: Moth Display

This activity consists of a display of preserved moths. A vital aspect of this activity is to engage with participants, encouraging any discussion about moths.

In addition to a well-preserved collection of pinned moths, use two or more display boards. We suggest using one with information highlighting the threats and conservation challenges, and another one informing the public how to make their gardens ‘moth friendly’.



  1. Encourage discussion by asking the following example questions: Do you like moths? Have you have seen any interesting moths in your garden this year? If participant is of school age, ask if they have already learnt about pollination?
  2. Reiterate conservation messages which should also be featured on signs.


Activity 3: Olfactory Experience

This olfactory activity invites participants to discover which plants may be more likely to attract moths.children in display



Place three species of fresh flowers in three separate weighted vases and place together on a display table. Use one ‘scented’ plant deemed desirable to moths; for example, Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) and 2 additional garden plants with little or no scent.



  1. Ask participants to smell the flower of each plant in turn.
  2. Explain that moths are attracted to night-scented flowers.
  3. Encourage participants to make comparisons to suggest which species they think moths may show a preference to.


Activity 4: Seed Giveaway (Take-away Activity)

The seed giveaway encourages participants to plant their own moth-friendly night garden, thus embedding the information received through the other science fair activities.

For this, prepare a number of C7 envelopes with decorative labels and fill with a seed mix of plants loved by moths. Examples are Nicotiana (Nicotiana alata), Marigold (Tagetes patula), Scabious (Stenoptilia annadactyla), Night Phlox (Zaluzianskya ovata), Evening Stock (Matthiola longipetala). Make sure to add written planting instructions in envelopes.  

family in stall


Setup and activity:

Ensure that the seed packets are suitably located in a basket so that they are visible to the public, but also so that you are able to regulate how many are being distributed. As expected with any free gift, demand may be high.

  1. Explain the basic growing instructions
  2. Encourage discussion around the importance of conserving gardens for moths.


Suggestions for Evaluation:

We suggest two methods of evaluation to get feedback for the session. To understand audience demographics, create a form for a volunteer to record observations of participants who visit the stand. The nature of the data recorded (e.g. age, ethnicity, gender) can be selected according to your interests. To evaluate how engaged participants were with the session, you can use the seed giveaway, assuming that the more engaged participants are, the more likely they will be to take a packet away, to ‘help’ future conservation.