Diurnal moths are a rare and fascinating group of insects that, unlike their nocturnal counterparts, are active during the day. These moths have colorful wings and can be found in various environments, from lush forests to urban gardens. Their incredible array of patterns and colors makes them an interesting subject for nature enthusiasts, photographers, and researchers alike.
One example of a diurnal moth is the well-known Hummingbird Hawk-Moth, which is admired for its fascinating behavior and unique appearance. These moths hover in front of flowers, using their long proboscis to feed on nectar. This ability to hover and feed on the wing resembles the behavior of hummingbirds, hence their name.
Some common characteristics of diurnal moths include:
- Bright and colorful wing patterns
- Daytime activity
- Nectar-feeding habits
If you ever come across a diurnal moth, take a moment to observe and appreciate their beauty and unusual behavior. These daytime visitors to our gardens and natural spaces are truly remarkable creatures worth getting to know.
Understanding Diurnal Moths
Defining Diurnal and Nocturnal
Diurnal and nocturnal are terms used to describe the activity patterns of various organisms, including moths.
- Diurnal: Active during the daytime
- Nocturnal: Active during the nighttime
While most moths fall under the nocturnal category, there are some species known as diurnal moths. One example is the Hummingbird Moth.
Diurnal moths have evolved specific adaptations to thrive during daylight hours:
- Brightly colored hindwings: These stunning colors may help with pollination and deter predators.
- Reduced eye size (ellipsoid eyes): Smaller eyes suited for daylight vision and avoiding excess light sensitivity.
Similarities and differences between diurnal and nocturnal moths can be seen in this comparison table:
|Generally duller colors
|Larger for night vision
Diurnal moths are a unique yet lesser-known subset of the Lepidoptera order, showcasing diversity within the moth species. Their intriguing features and contrasts with nocturnal counterparts provide a fascinating glimpse into the adaptability of moths in their respective environments.
Diurnal Moth Species
Common Diurnal Moths
Diurnal moths are active during the day and include many fascinating species. Some well-known diurnal moths are:
- Hawk moth (Sphingidae family): Known for speed and agility, resembling hummingbirds as they hover near flowers to feed on nectar.
- Tiger moths (Arctiidae family): Recognizable by their bold, bright colors and striking patterns.
- Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar): A pest to trees and forests, they are characterized by their large size and hairy appearance.
- Silk moth (Bombycidae family): Valuable for silk production, these moths are often seen around mulberry trees where their larvae feed.
- Hummingbird moth (Hemaris spp.): Resembling hummingbirds, they hover over flowers to feed and have transparent wings with a dark border.
- Rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda): With pink and yellow coloration, they are often found on maple trees.
Diurnal moths are found all over the world, with some species being widely distributed, while others have a more specific range. Below is a comparison table indicating the distribution of some common diurnal moths:
|Worldwide, except for polar regions
|Global, most diverse in the tropics
|Native to Eurasia, introduced to N. America
|Asia, Europe, N. America
|N. America, Europe, Asia
|Rosy maple moth
|Eastern N. America
In conclusion, diurnal moths are fascinating creatures with a wide variety of species that can be found around the globe. Not only do they play essential roles in pollination and ecosystem balance, but they also captivate us with their beauty and unique behaviors.
Comparing to Butterflies
Butterflies and diurnal moths, although similar in appearance, exhibit some distinct physical differences, primarily in their antennae. A butterfly’s antennae are club-shaped with a long shaft and a bulb at the end, whereas a diurnal moth’s antennae are usually feathery or saw-edged.
- Butterflies: Club-shaped antennae
- Diurnal Moths: Feathery or saw-edged antennae
Another key difference is the shape of their wings. While both have a wide wingspan, butterflies typically display more rounded wings, whereas diurnal moths tend to have elongated wings.
- Butterflies: Rounded wings
- Diurnal Moths: Elongated wings
Habitat and Behavior
Both butterflies and diurnal moths are active predominantly during daylight hours, unlike nocturnal moths. Diurnal moths and butterflies visit flowers for nectar and participate in pollination. However, butterflies are often found in sunny environments and tend to be more active during morning hours, while diurnal moths may be active in more shaded areas.
Diurnal moths and butterflies share some similarities in their life cycle stages: both start as a caterpillar and go through a metamorphosis process. Additionally, some species of diurnal moths engage in mutualistic relationships with ants, a behavior not observed in butterflies.
- Butterflies: Prefer sunny environments, active in mornings
- Diurnal Moths: Active in shaded areas, mutualistic relationships with ants
|Sunny, open spaces
|Relationship with Ants
|Yes (in some species)
Role in Ecosystem
Pollinators and Food Sources
Diurnal moths, like the Hemaris genus found in North America and Mexico, have a significant role in ecosystems as pollinators. They are attracted to nectar-producing flowers, which in turn feed these day-active moths. Some examples of flowers visited by diurnal moths include:
- Pale or white flowers
- Fragrant flowers
- Plants with copious dilute nectar
Diurnal moths help plants by pollinating flowers and aiding in their reproduction. In return, moths are provided with food sources, such as nectar from flowers.
Predators and Pests
Diurnal moths, in their larval stage, can also serve as food for various predators in the ecosystem, such as:
However, some moth species like the diamondback moth can become pests in gardens and agricultural fields, causing significant damage to Brassica vegetable and oilseed crops. This can result in costs as high as US$4-5 billion annually to the world economy.
|Diurnal Moths as Pollinators
|Species as Pests
|Role in Ecosystem
|Damage to crops
|Impact on Agricultural and Garden
In conclusion, diurnal moths have important roles in ecosystems as pollinators and food sources, and they can also be predators or pests, depending on the species. Understanding these roles helps us appreciate the importance of maintaining balanced ecosystems to support wildlife and our agricultural needs.
Understanding their Life Cycle
From Eggs to Larvae
Diurnal moths, like other moths, begin their life as eggs. These eggs are typically laid on plants that serve as food sources for the larvae. After a period, the eggs hatch into larvae. Some diurnal moths prefer to feed on nuts and fruits, such as pears.
Caterpillar to Adult Moth
Once the larvae have grown, they will undergo a transformation into the caterpillar stage. During this stage, they continue to feed on their preferred host plants. Their feeding habits not only help them grow but also aid in their metamorphosis into adult moths.
After a few weeks, the caterpillar will create a cocoon or pupa, where it undergoes its final transformation into an adult moth. Adult diurnal moths are active during the day and exhibit vibrant colors and patterns.
Characteristics of Diurnal Moths:
- Active during the day
- Vibrant colors and patterns
- Feed on various host plants
Examples of Diurnal Moths’ Host Plants:
Comparison between Diurnal Moths and Nocturnal Moths:
|Nuts, fruits, pears
Pros of Diurnal Moths:
- Easily spotted due to vibrant colors
- Active during the day, making them more observable
Cons of Diurnal Moths:
- Can cause damage to plants they feed on
- May be considered pests if they feed on crops or garden plants
Characteristics and Behavior
Mimicry and Moth Protection
Diurnal moths, like their nocturnal counterparts, often use mimicry to protect themselves from predators. Some species resemble birds, animals, or even other insects to deter potential threats. Here are some examples of mimicry in diurnal moths:
- The Dryocampa rubicund (rosy maple moth) has bright pink and yellow coloration that can help them blend in with their environment, like flowers.
- Caterpillars of some diurnal moths have spines or hairs on their bodies that provide an additional layer of protection against predators.
Sleep Patterns and Adaptation
Diurnal moths are active during the day and rest at night. To adapt to the daylight, these moths have evolved various features that enable them to navigate and function effectively. A few key adaptations include:
- Antennae: Diurnal moths have slender, sometimes feathery antennae that help them detect scents and navigate through their habitat.
- Sleep: Diurnal moths sleep during twilight and are often found resting in cooler, shaded areas during the warmest part of the day.
As with other creatures, diurnal moths may exhibit changes in behavior when disturbed or placed in an unconscious state, such as reacting defensively or attempting to escape.
|Daytime, particularly in the morning and afternoon
|Slender, sometimes feathery
|Often feathery or plumed
|Type of Habitat Preferred
|Diverse; often found in areas with ample sunlight
|Dark, sheltered spaces
|Rests during twilight and hottest part of the day
|Sleeps during the day
Navigation and Moonlight
Moths have a unique navigation system that relies on moonlight. They use a phenomenon called phototaxis, which means they’re attracted to light.
Some moths get confused by bright lights, like light bulbs, because they think it’s the moon. This is why they fly around them.
Here’s a table comparing moonlight and bright lights in moth navigation:
|Can attract moths
Undesirable Traits and Damage
Moths can sometimes cause damage. For example, they can eat clothes in closets. Their larvae feed on natural fibers found in fabrics.
Here are some traits which make moths undesirable:
- Attraction to bright lights
- Larvae eating clothes
On the other hand, some moth species are also important pollinators of nocturnal flowers. So, they have their pros as well as cons.
To sum it up, although moths might have some undesirable traits, they play an important role in the ecosystem by navigating using moonlight and contributing to pollination.
Resources and Social Media
Websites for Moth Enthusiasts
Insects are fascinating creatures, and diurnal moths are no exception. To learn more about these daytime-flying insects, here are a couple of popular websites to explore:
- Moths and Butterflies of North America: Provides detailed information about various species, including photos and common characteristics.
- The Lepidoptera Project: Dedicated to promoting the conservation and appreciation of moths and their habitats.
Connecting with Fellow Moth Lovers on Social Media
Social media platforms offer a great way to connect with like-minded individuals, share photos, and participate in discussions about diurnal moths. Here are some popular ways to engage:
- Moth Enthusiasts Group: Share photos, stories, and experiences with fellow moth lovers.
- Local Insect and Moth Societies: Join regional groups for updates, events, and specialized knowledge.
- Hashtags: Use or search popular tags like
#diurnalmothsto stay connected with the latest news and trends.
- Moth experts and organizations to follow: Look for passionate moth lovers and organizations that frequently share moth-related content and engage in conversations.
- Hashtags: Use or search popular tags like
|Variety of groups available
|Requires account creation
|Character limit for posts
Happy exploring and interacting with fellow moth enthusiasts! Remember to be respectful and considerate when conversing online, as it fosters a healthy and inclusive community.
Diurnal Moths Around the World
North America and Europe
In North America, there are nearly 11,000 species of moths. A notable diurnal moth in this region is the hummingbird clearwing moth, which can be found in Mexico. In Europe, diurnal moths are less abundant but some species can be observed, especially during August.
- Features of hummingbird clearwing moth:
- Resembles hummingbirds in appearance and behavior
- Has transparent wings
Asia is home to a diverse range of diurnal moth species. Some examples include Atlas moths and the Chinese oak silk moth. While they are not always abundant, they still contribute to the diverse ecosystem.
- Atlas moth characteristics:
- One of the largest moths in the world
- Striking wing patterns
Africa houses a unique range of diurnal moths, although they are generally uncommon in the region. The African moon moth is an example of a diurnal moth found on the African continent.
- Features of African moon moth:
- Unique wing pattern
- Long tail-like extensions on hindwings
Diurnal moths can also be found in Australia, like the aptly named Australian sun moth. These moths exhibit specific characteristics that set them apart from other species.
- Australian sun moth characteristics:
- Active during the day
- Prefers open grassy habitats
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Eyetail Moth from Costa Rica
October 6, 2009
Have had a lot of this kind of (butterfly?) this year. Always shows up at night in either the house or the barn. Can you identify it?
Though it looks like a Swallowtail Butterfly, WE actually believe this is a diurnal moth and not a butterfly, but we haven’t had any luck with its identification. It reminds us of the Sunset Moth, Urania fulgens.
Update from Julian Donahue
This is a moth in the Neotropical family Sematuridae (one species makes it, rarely, into Arizona). This particular moth goes by a number of names, and a revision of the genus is clearly needed. It is most likely Nothus (= Sematura) lunus (or aegisthus?), which occurs from Mexico to Brazil. There are anywhere from four to 11 recognized species in the genus, which also occurs in the West Indies.
Update from Karl
This is indeed a moth, Sematura luna (=lunus?), and it looks like it is probably a male (females have a white band down the middle of both wings). The taxonomy is a little confusing as I had trouble determining if luna = lunus, or if they are closely related species or subspecies. My favourite Costa Rican reference (Mariposas de Costa Rica) uses S. luna, South American references seem to use S. lunus. It belongs to the relatively small and poorly understood family Sematuridae (subfamily Sematuerinae), which has approximately 40, mostly neotropical species. They belong to the superfamily Geometroidea, along with the Uraniidae and Geometridae families. Although they resemble the large diurnal Uraniid moths, most Sematurids are nocturnal, Sematura sp. included. They are sometimes called Eyetails, for obvious reasons. Regards.
Letter 2 – Diurnal Microlepidopteran from Canada
Subject: Some kind of butterfly?
Location: Near Saskatoon, SK, Canada
July 20, 2013 9:00 am
I stopped to take a photo of some small purple flowers, and this tiny insect just happened to be hanging out on one. It kind of looks like a butterfly, but the wing are rather unusual to me. Can you identify this bug for me?
This photo was taken this summer (mid July), in an old pasture that has gone partially back to native grasses.
Microlepidopterans, tiny moths, can be very difficult to identify, but since this is such a distinctive looking diurnal moth, we decided to give it a try. First we discovered Linnaeus’s Spangle-Wing on BugGuide, but your individual has more wing markings than that species. Then we found a very close match with Embola ionis on the Moth Photographers Group, and we thought we had your moth, but upon searching the family Heliodinidae on BugGuide, we realized there were other general with other similar looking species. BugGuide indicates the family can be identified because: “Members of the family Heliodinidae are metallic-colored, mostly diurnal moths.” Our top favorites for possible species include Neoheliodines cliffordi, which is pictured on BugGuide as well as on the Moth Photographers Group and Embola ionis, which is also pictured on BugGuide. Both of those species have a more northern range, and though neither is reported from Saskatchewan on BugGuide, both are reported from Minnesota.
Letter 3 – Diurnal Moth
Geographic location of the bug: Silver City, NM
Time: 08:06 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: There were hundreds of these butterflies on this one type of bush. I tried to get close to them to get a good photo but they would all fly off. I caught one but didn’t want to kill it to get a good picture so I apologize for the poor photos. The spots on the wings are yellow. They are small, like skippers. I did look through the photos on your website but couldn’t find it.
How you want your letter signed: Karen Nakakihara
Butterflies are generally thought of as diurnal and moths as nocturnal, but this is actually a diurnal Moth that flies during the day. We have identified it as Litocala sexsignata thanks to Butterflies and Moths of North America where it states: “Adults are diurnal. They may be seen nectaring at flowers or sipping moisture in muddy spots.” According to BugGuide: “common to abundant in some areas; uncommon in others.” This species has no common name.
Letter 4 – Diurnal Moth from Ecuador: Erateina cometaris we believe
Subject: Ecuador Genus Erateina Moth
Location: Milpe, Eucador
December 1, 2012 5:17 pm
Can you determine the species of this day flying moth?
This is a beautiful moth. Thanks for providing us with the genus. We would never have suspected this diurnal moth to be in the family Geometridae. We would have guessed Uraniidae. We believe we have matched your individual to the photos of a mounted specimen of Erateina cometaris that we located on caterpillars.unr.edu.
Letter 5 – Orange Spotted Flower Moth
Location: Mission, TX
August 16, 2011 9:36 pm
Took this photo at NBC Butterfly Park in Mission, TX. He is about 1/2 ” wide and long.
Signature: Troy Zurovec
We had time to do this last post this morning, but no time to identify. We did not find it on the Texas Entomology site of Diurnal Moths. Perhaps one of our readers will take this identification on today. Is the NBC Butterfly Park open air or a closed pavilion will all imported species? Is this a wild moth or a cultivated moth?
NBC is an open air park, there is no enclosed environment. It is right on the US/Mexico border. This is a wild moth. To my knowlege nothing has been introduced to the park. To my knowledge all plant life in the park is native to the area.
Got an answer today – Orange-spotted Flower Moth, Syngamia florella
Letter 6 – Diurnal Snouted Tiger Moth, NOT Milkweed Butterfly from South Africa
Subject: Please identify
Location: Nelspruit, South Africa
May 19, 2015 3:11 am
I found this butterfly this morning but have not been able to identify it yet
We believe this is a Milkweed Butterfly in the subfamily Danaiae, but we wish your image had more detail because it does not appear that your individual has clubbed antennae. Your individual appears to be dead, so it is possible the ends of the antennae have been damaged. We browsed unsuccessfully through iSpot, and though we did not locate any exact matches, we did observe a similarity to butterflies in the genus Amauris, and the closest match we could find is Amauris ochlea, the Novice, which is pictured on BioDiversity Explorer. We are not fully confident that is a correct identification, and we are still troubled by the lack of a clubbed end on the antennae on your image. Perhaps one of our readers will steer us in another direction.
Correction: Snouted Tiger Moth
South African entomology student Michelle sent us a comment identifying this as a moth in the subfamily Arctiinae, in the genus Nyctemera. Following that lead, we found this image of a Snouted Tiger Moth, Nyctemera leuconoe, on iSpot. We suspect there is some mimicry involved here as Milkweed Butterflies are distasteful, and the Snouted Tiger Moth probably derives some protections from resembling one. The same species is called a White Bear on iNaturalist.
Found an id at last- its a white bear moth – Family: arctiidae
Thank you for taking the time to help me in my search to id!
Letter 7 – Mystery Insect from Costa Rica is rare diurnal moth
April 6, 2010
I sent my question on the site and not with an e-mail.
If you can help me to identify this insect I send you the photo by this e-mail.
This insect was photographied in Costa Rica in the Monteverde reserve, in the cloud forest in March 2010.
I am not a specialist of insects but I suppose it is an heteropter, family of pentatomidae. It is a jewel!!!
Thank you for your help.
This is a mystery, but we would rule out a member of the family Pentatomidae. This may be a Planthopper in the superfamily Fulgoroidea. We wish the view of the head was clearer as that could assist in the identification. We also wouldn’t rule out a Moth, bug again, the details of the head would help. Perhaps one of our readers who has traveled to Costa Rica, like Karl, may recognize this mystery.
Unfortunately I didn’t see anything quite like this. Your hunch was right Daniel, this is a moth. It belongs to the Tortricidae (Tortrix Moths or Leaf-rollers), a very large family usually included in the Micropepidoptera. Most Tortrix moths are rather small and non-descript; this one is obviously a beautiful exception. I found an illustration and description of this moth in the “Biologia Centrali-Americana” by Walsingham (1905-1915) under the name Idolatteria pyrops. That still appears to be an accepted name but I could find no more recent information about it. To confuse the issue, I did find a wonderful photo under the name Pseudodatteria leopardina on the “Animals and Earth” site. I suspect this species has undergone some taxonomic revision since it was first described. Coincidentally, the photo is credited to that old friend of WTB?, Piotr Naskrecki, and it is tagged as a rare diurnal moth from Costa Rica. Perhaps Piotr can provide some additional information. Regards.
Thank you very much for your prompt and documented answer. Thanks to Karl too!!
I did not suppose it was a moth!!
… Best regards,
Piotr Naskrecki verifies identification
This moth is almost certainly Pseudatteria leopardina, a diurnal tortricid
from high elevation Central America
Letter 8 – Diurnal Moth from Portugal probably Geometer Moth
Subject: Moth id
Location: Southern Portugal
December 9, 2016 2:41 pm
Could you id this moth for me please. I’ve had no success elsewhere.
The photo was taken in southern Portugal in May.
Signature: David B
Perhaps our readership will have better luck identifying this lovely, orange, diurnal moth since our initial search has not produced an answer for you. We searched both Encyclopedia of Life Moths of Portugal and The Lepidoptera of Portugal. We suspect this moth is either in one of the following families: Geometridae, Pyralidae, or Crambidae.
Letter 9 – Red Bordered Pixie from Honduras
Black moth with red spots
Wed, Dec 10, 2008 at 8:49 AM
Since it’s resting with its wings open, is it a moth? Also, what’s a good website that helps you learn the major categories of butterflies and moths? I don’t know where to begin with this one.
Lake Yojoa, Honduras
This looks like a Diurnal Moth to us, but we haven’t the time to research the exact species at the moment since it is the end of the semester and work has piled upon us. One of our faithful readers, Karl, has been doing a wonderful job of identifying many unidentified species we have posted lately. Perhaps he will write in with an answer. Though Honduras is outside of the range that is covered by the web site, we like BugGuide for our identifications of North American species. After writing that, we began to think that this moth reminds us of the Faithful Beauty, Composia fidelissima, and we tried to research that genus, but without any luck.
This is actually a butterfly called the Red-Bordered Pixie (or just Pixie), Melanis pixe . It is a metalmark (family Riodinidae), and it ranges throughout Central America as far north as the extreme south of Texas. Regards.
Update: Thu, Feb 19, 2009 at 7:28 AM
Met a local butterfly expert. He tells me it’s a butterfly (not a moth), Melanis pixie, belongs to the Riodinidae family and the catterpilar eats on plants of the Fabacea family. It is slow flying and tends to rest on the underside of leaves. It is fairly common even in San Pedro Sula, it goes from sea leavel to 1400 meters over sea level.
Letter 10 – Probably Diurnal Moth from Malaysia
Is this a butterfly? If so, what species/family?
Sat, Dec 6, 2008 at 5:34 AM
Photo taken in Malaysia near a foothill with heavy vegetation and fresh running water.
Taiping, Perak, Malaysia.
Dear KF Tung,
While we can say with certainty that this is not a butterfly, we are not certain exactly what it is. Your photos, all three of them, are blurry and lacking in detail. We are posting the best of the three in the hopes that a reader can assist with this identification. We suspect this may be a Nerve Winged insect in the order Neuroptera, of some insect that spends its larval stage underwater
Update: December 8, 2008
I believe this is a species of day-flying moth (family Zygaenidae) probably Pompelon marginata . Based on online images , there seems to be some variability within the species, and I couldn’t find anything that looked exactly like the photo from KF Tung. Iridescence and angle of light may also play into it, but the vivid blue leading edge of the forewing appears to be a consistent feature. Red flanking on the abdomen is also a feature of the species, but this is unfortunately not visible in the photo provided. Regards.
Letter 11 – Unknown Small Diurnal Moth from Wisconsin is White Striped Black
moth or butterfly, Northern Wisconsin
The enclosure is a pic. of a lep I’ve never seen before,– going back to 1934 ! Location: 1 1/2 miles N. of Mountain Wisc.( zip 54149), near the Oconto River. (About halfway between Green Bay and Wausau.) Date: July 28, 2007. The impression I got was very much that of a butterfly, but the antennae taper perfectly smoothly to a point without any clubbing or curling. Also, the thoracic exoskeleton seemed not as strong as I would expect in a butterfly this size, say a Blue or a Checkerspot. Nor did the flight seem as powerful as one expects of a butterfly. It holds its wings up together over its back butterfly style, dipping them ocasionally, as in the photo. In my experience, it is unique! I hope you can tell me what it is. Thanks.
Hey! You must like bugs, so you’ll enjoy many of my Escher-like tilings of leps, hemips and coleops on my art website www.ozbird.net Lotsa pages maybe 200 + tilings, Enjoy
We can narrow this down to being a moth, but we cannot tell you the species. The Moth Photographers Group has an excellent site, but that might take us hours to locate your specimen and that would cut into time we don’t have to try to post just a few letters. If one of our readers knows this species or identifies this species, perhaps we will get a response.
I wanted to give a little help on two identifications. The moth in question is the white-striped black moth, Trichodezia albovittata, a common day-flying moth at this time of year in the understory of hardwood forests. Hope that helps.