Missing Moths

Activities Integrating Math and Science (AIMS)
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Experiment/Lab Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


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Per website: As of January 1, 2020 our published materials are no longer available for purchase.


Students use a model illustrating the effects of camouflage on animal visibility in an environment, then create their own moth to blend within the classroom environment. Students complete an activitiy where they try to locate moths camouflaged on a coordinate grid and then map the moths’ locations. Teacher lesson plans with guiding questions, student lab sheets, and a student rubber-band book with background knowledge are included in this lesson.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 3
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

3-LS4-3 Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence could include needs and characteristics of the organisms and habitats involved. The organisms and their habitat make up a system in which the parts depend on each other.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students will observe moths of various colors (brown, green, white, and newsprint) on a background of newspaper. The brightly colored moths (brown and green) will be contrasted and very easy to see, the white moths will be a little harder to identify, and the moths made of newspaper will blend into the background and be very hard to see. Moths that are easy to see will be eaten by predators and will not survive. Moths that are a little harder to see will survive, but some will be eaten by predators. The moths that blend into the background will be hard for predators to see, and will survive well in the environment. Students should follow up this investigation by obtaining information regarding the real life example of the peppered moths of Manchester, England.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students uncover how variations in the coloration of the same species of moths provide some advantages and others disadvantages through a model. Students record data regarding the presence and location of different colors of moths on a newsprint background, then analyze the results to see what percentage of each color moth was located, before being introduced to the real-world supporting evidence of the Peppered Moths or "Sphinx Moths" of England.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students use the data of the moths, which had a variation of colors to address this Disciplinary Core Idea. To more fully address this core idea, examples of other types of species variation should also be introduced. An example using birds is that many males are brightly colored to attract mates, while the females are muted colors so that predators cannot spot them as they sit on their nest is one suggestion.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
After locating different colors of moths on a black and white background, students can hypothesize that moths that are a different color from the environment are easier for predators to see. Armed with this knowledge, the students will then make camouflaged moths that blend into the classroom environment to test their hypothesis. Having a post-activity discussion where cause and effect in the moth population is identified would reinforce this crosscutting concept.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Missing Moths provides opportunities for students to observe the phenomenon of how a variation in the color of the same type of moth can help to hide the moth from predators, record and analyze data from experimentation to make sense of this phenomenon, design and test their own camouflaged moths, and then connect it to a real-world example of protective coloration. To further strengthen this activity, other types of variations in characteristics should also be introduced to the students so that they understand that color is not the only characteristic that can vary. For example, plants that have thorns are less likely to be eaten by animals than plants without thorns, allowing the thorny plants to survive. To make this lesson more three dimensional, the teacher might begin the lesson with the real-life example of the Sphinx moth as an anchoring phenomenon. Using the focus question, "What do you think happened to the population of moths over time?", the students would make a claim, complete the investigation, and then answer the focus question by constructing an argument which consists of revising their claim supported by evidence from the investigation and logical reasoning.

  • Instructional Supports: This lesson plan provides teacher background information, procedures for preparing the lab activity, guiding questions, prepared data sheets, and a rubber-band book for the students that illustrates a real world example of variation in characteristics among individuals of the same species. At the end of the lesson, the teacher is to ask the question, "What are you now wondering? " New investigations can be conducted based on their wonderings, thereby reinforcing the learning for struggling or ESL students. Gifted learners might want to extend their learning by finding out what would happen to the moths over successive generations. The Utah Education Network has an interactive simulation, which can be found at http://www.techapps.net/interactives/pepperMoths.swf. The development of a rubric is suggested to clarify learning expectations for the students and guide teacher assessment.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The student records their observations of the types of moths and number of each type of moth that they see on a lab sheet, and then construct their own moth. The teacher should be able to tell if the student understands the concept by observing the moth and how well it is camouflaged, This activity could be strengthened by asking the student to explain what they learned on the lab sheet. Another addition to the lab sheet would be to have the student think about the real world and come up with three examples of how variations in characteristics among individuals of the same species could help them to survive, find a mate, or have offspring.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This activity does not have any interactive technology. The two video links that are cited in the lesson plan no longer work.