Moths and Butterflies: Identification, Taxonomy and Specimen Preparation

RGV BioU Mark

Instructors: Bryan Pfeiffer and Hugh McGuinness
June 29 – July 3 | $525


esigned for students at virtually any level of expertise, this seminar is five days of Lepidoptera immersion in the lab and in the field. Moths, in terms of diversity and abundance, dominate the course.  But with two instructors, we adapt to the aspirations of any student — from beginning butterflyers to experienced lepidopterists looking to advance with a particular moth taxon. Methods include:

  • Morning lectures on taxonomy and family- and genus-level characteristics.
  • Field outings on identification of macro-lepidopterans, net-and-release techniques and specimen collection.
  • Lab work featuring sorting and identification of moth specimens trapped during the seminar, study of lepidopteran anatomy, and dissection and examination of genitalia for identification purposes.
  • Optional photography instruction, covering butterflies in the field and moths at the lights.
  • Sleep deprivation owing to late nights with an abundance of moths at UV and mercury-vapor lights.


Course Objectives and Goals

This seminar is principally about Lepidoptera identification. Our goal is to give students a complete range of skills — from visual identification to dissection — for succeeding with this insect order. Our other objective is flexibility: each instructor will teach to match student aspirations, so that graduates leave with the appropriate skills to advance on their own.


About the Instructor(s)

Hugh McGuinness received his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Michigan in 1987. A former faculty member at Long Island University, he now teaches science at Maret School in Washington, DC, and curates moths at the Smithsonian Museum. His current research focuses on moths as indicator species in successional habitats, the spread of introduced Lepidoptera, and documenting Lepidopteran biodiversity on Long Island, N.Y., where he has encountered more than 1,000 moth species. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and two children.

A field entomologist, writer and boy explorer, Bryan Pfeiffer is perhaps more than anything a teacher. Over the course of three decades, he has guided thousands of people to the discovery of birds and insects. Bryan was a co-founder of the Vermont Butterfly Survey and its principle field lepidopterist. He has collected, watched, and photographed butterflies from the tropics of Central America to above the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. He now consults with the University of Vermont’s Field Naturalist Program and is at work on two books.

Lodging Options

There are several options available to participants of this course:

  • Camping onsite at North Branch Nature Center (free)
  • Home stay with local community members or local course participants (free)
  • Shared rental farmhouse 10 minutes from North Branch Nature Center ($70/night)
  • Other nearby hotel/lodge accommodations. We recommend:
    1. Capitol Plaza ($200/night; Montpelier)
    2. The Inn at Montpelier ($200/night; Montpelier)
    3. High Hill Inn ($150/night; East Montpelier)
    4. Comfort Inn and Suites ($120/night; Berlin VT)
    5. Marshfield Inn and Motel ($100/night; Marshfield, VT)


All meals from breakfast June 29 through July 3 lunch are included.

Required Materials and Recommended Reading

Students will have access to the instructors’ extensive combined library of Lepidoptera. Specific texts, field guides and readings will be suggested to match each student’s skills and objectives.


Course begins 8 AM on June 29 at North Branch Nature Center. Course concludes at 5 PM on July 3 at North Branch Nature Center. Any participants arriving in town Friday evening will be met by a staff member for an orientation and welcome.

Academic Credit / Professional Development options:

This course qualifies for 3 graduate-level science credit for an additional $450 course fee. All BioU courses are accredited by Castleton University. It is each student’s responsibility to ensure that their home institution will transfer the credit. Participants pursuing academic credit will be required to complete an additional assignment above and beyond the course hours. Assignment may include literature review, fieldwork, and/or reflective writing assignments.

This course qualifies for 60 hours of professional development or continuing education units. Certificates of completion are included in the course fee, and are available upon request.

North Branch Nature Center

713 Elm Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
(802) 229-6206

Hours: Center Open Monday-Friday 9-4
Trails Open 24/7