Few bugs are quite as overlooked as the humble moth. National Moth Week coming up July 25-31 is a great opportunity to learn more about moths in our area.
Meet the Moth
Moths are members of the order of Lepidoptera, the same order that includes butterflies. However, moth species outnumber butterflies approximately 10 to 1. In general, most moths are active at night, while butterflies are more commonly active during the day. While butterflies tend to be larger and more colorful than moths, many moths break the stereotype and are both quite large and colorful. For example, the pale green Luna Moth is a local beauty in the Wild Silk Moth family often mistaken for a butterfly.
Both moths and butterflies spend most of their lives as caterpillars, munching on various kinds of foliage before undergoing metamorphosis. When they emerge from their encasement, both have radically transformed. Moths more commonly have pointed tips on their front wings. Their front and hind wings are also joined together by a frenulum, allowing the wings to work together. The word “moth” might bring to mind images of the common drab-looking Miller Moth, but moths have all different colorings and markings that are just as beautiful as their butterfly relatives in many cases. The unusual Pink Prominent Moth has bands of pink and yellow on its wings, with pink “fuzz” on its body. The Black Witch Moth is quite large with a complex pattern of striations on its wings and colorful eye spots.
What are Moths Good For, Anyway?
Like other bugs, including their butterfly relatives, moths help pollinate many types of plants–including crops we use for food. Moths are also a source of food themselves. Daytime moths provide food for birds, whereas the more common nocturnal moths are an important food source for bats. In other areas of the world, like many African countries, caterpillars are a food source for people too. High in essential nutrients, caterpillars are also eaten by peoples in rainforest areas.
Alas, no discussion of moths would be complete without a quick mention of the moth menace–the clothes moth. The enemy of moth ball-wielding grandmothers everywhere, the few species of moths known for eating holes in clothing are still around. However, it’s not the moth but rather their larvae or caterpillars that actually feast on sweaters, as long as the clothing is made from a natural or animal-derived fabric, such as wool. The arch nemesis of knitting grannies is still around, though far less common than in decades past due to increased use of air conditioning and changes in fabrics used for clothing.
There is much more to the moth than meets the eye. With 11,000 species in the U.S. alone, moths are an often overlooked but essential part of our national and global ecosystem. Perhaps it’s only fitting they get a whole week of recognition for the largely unknown role they play in our world!