Moths, often overshadowed by their vibrant butterfly counterparts, lead fascinating lives. With approximately 160,000 species worldwide and nearly 11,000 species in the United States, these insects play a crucial role in pollination and serve as a food source for various animals. While butterflies are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, most moths are nocturnal and become active during the evening and night hours.
During the daytime, moths can be found resting in various locations. They seek shelter in foliage, under tree bark, or within crevices in rocks and structures. These hiding places provide protection from predators and shield them from the sun’s harsh rays. As these creatures are sensitive to light and temperature, it’s important for them to stay concealed during daylight hours to maintain their energy for nocturnal activities.
In contrast to butterflies, which display vibrant colors and visit flowers in full sunlight, moths have evolved to have a more subdued appearance. Their wing colors and patterns often resemble the natural environment to help them blend in with their surroundings. This camouflage helps them remain undetected during the day, ensuring their survival and success in their nighttime tasks.
Moths Versus Butterflies
Differences in Behavior
Moths and butterflies differ mainly in their activity patterns. Generally, moths are nocturnal, meaning they are active during the night, while butterflies are diurnal, active during the day1. However, this isn’t a strict rule, as some moths can be active during daytime2.
Differences in Appearance
Moths and butterflies are distinct in their appearance as well. Key differences include:
- Antennae: Butterflies have club-shaped antennae with a long shaft and a bulb at the end3. In contrast, moths have feathery or saw-edged antennae4.
- Color: Butterflies usually boast more vivid colors compared to moths5.
|Mostly nocturnal (night)
|Feathery or saw-edged
|Club-shaped with a long shaft and a bulb
|Generally less colorful or more subdued
|Brighter and more vivid colors
Moths’ Daily Life
Hiding Spots During the Day
Moths are mostly nocturnal insects, which means they are active during the night and prefer to hide during the day. Their hiding spots include:
- Dark spots: Moths prefer shaded areas, such as tree trunks, under leaves, and in crevices.
- Crevices: These insects find small openings in tree barks, walls, or other structures to rest and stay protected from predators.
- Environment: Moths blend in with their surroundings by mimicking the color and patterns of their environment to avoid being detected.
Moths have a diverse diet that varies depending on their species and life stage. Some common food sources for moths include:
- Plants: Moth caterpillars feed on plant leaves and stems, consuming essential nutrients for their growth and development.
- Flowers: Mature moths visit flowers to feed on nectar, a sugary solution that provides them with energy.
- Other food sources: Some moth species also feed on fruits, seeds, or even animal wastes.
|Diurnal, active during the day
|Mostly nocturnal, active at night
|Prefer brightly-colored flowers
|Attracted to pale or white flowers
Moths and butterflies, while related, have some differences in their feeding habits:
- Moths are usually active at night, while butterflies are active during the day.
- Moths are attracted to pale or white flowers, which are often heavily fragranced and produce ample nectar during the night.
- Some moths, like those from the Sphingidae and Saturniidae families, have large, heavy bodies and powerful wings that allow them to hover in front of flowers while feeding.
Moths’ Reproduction and Life Cycle
Moths have unique mating rituals. Female moths release pheromones to attract males, who have specialized antennae to detect the scent1. Once a male locates a female, they attach at the abdomen and mate for up to 24 hours2.
From Eggs to Adults
Moths undergo complete metamorphosis, with four life stages: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults3.
- Laid in various habitats like vegetation, turfgrass, or wheat3
- Develop and hatch into larvae
- Moth larvae are caterpillars
- Feed on host plants to grow
- Shed their skin multiple times (molting)
Common Moth Species and Their Habitats
Moths are diverse creatures, with over 160,000 species worldwide and nearly 11,000 species in the United States alone 1. Their habitats and behaviors can vary greatly, and some moths are diurnal (active during the day), while others are nocturnal (active at night) 2.
Diurnal moths, also known as daytime moths, are active during daylight hours. Examples of diurnal moths include:
- Hummingbird moths (Hawkmoths): These moths fly with impressive agility and precision. They can be found in gardens and are known for their long tongues 3.
- Cinnabar moth: A brightly colored species, the cinnabar moth can be found in grasslands and open habitats, usually around its caterpillar host plants, such as ragwort 4.
Nocturnal moths are active during the night and are typically attracted to light sources, such as porch lights or streetlights. Examples of nocturnal moths include:
- Polyphemus moth: A large and strikingly patterned moth, the polyphemus moth can be found in forests, gardens, and sometimes even attics 5.
- Tiger moths: These moths are known for their bold patterns, and they find shelter in dense vegetation, other hidden daytime locations, or near doors and windows of houses 6.
|Active during day
|Active at night
|Forests, dense vegetation
Common features of these moths include:
- Attraction to different light sources
- Unique and colorful patterns
- Diverse habitats, both in nature and near human activity
Characteristics of diurnal and nocturnal moths may vary depending on their species and preferred habitat, but they both play crucial roles as pollinators in their ecosystems.
Pest Moths and Prevention
Clothes moths are common pests that can damage fabrics made of natural fibers like wool and cotton. Signs of an infestation might include:
- Holes in clothing
- Webbing or cocoons on fabrics
To prevent clothes moth infestations, consider the following:
- Store wool and cotton items in sealed plastic bags or containers
- Use cedar blocks or cedar-lined storage to repel moths
- Regularly clean and vacuum closets and drawers
- Freeze infested items for at least 72 hours to kill larvae
Pantry moths can infest a variety of pantry goods, such as flour, cereal, and dried fruits. Signs of an infestation include:
- Webbing or larvae in food items
- Moths flying around the pantry
To prevent pantry moth infestations, follow these tips:
- Store pantry items in airtight containers
- Regularly clean pantry shelves and vacuum any spilled food
- Dispose of infested food items in sealed plastic bags
- Use sticky traps to catch adult moths
Remember, it’s important to act quickly if you notice signs of a moth infestation in your home. These preventative measures can help protect your clothing and pantry items, ensuring a pest-free living environment.
Moths’ Ecosystem Roles and Interactions
Moths play a crucial role as pollinators in many ecosystems. They are attracted to pale or white flowers that emit a strong fragrance.
- Moths are active during day and night
- They hover above flowers or land on them for pollination
Some examples of moth-pollinated plants include:
Moths have a long mouthpart called a proboscis, allowing them to access nectar in deep flowers.
Relationship with Predators
Moths have various defense strategies to avoid predators:
- Nocturnal behavior: Many moths are active at night to avoid daytime predators like birds and lizards.
- Camouflage: Their wing patterns and colors help them blend in with their surroundings.
- Mimicry: Some moths imitate other organisms, such as the polyphemus moth, which has eyespots resembling large owl eyes.
Despite their defenses, moths are still preyed upon by various predators:
|Daytime, visual and audio cues
In summary, moths are essential pollinators for many flowering plants and serve as prey for a wide range of predators. Their unique adaptations and interactions within their ecosystems make them a key species in maintaining ecological balance.
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 – Dot Lined White Moth
October 25, 2010 2:11 pm
Hi bugman, Can you help me identify this moth? Perhaps a Fall webworm moth? Thanks for the help!
Your moth has the descriptive common name of Dot Lined White, and the scientific name is Artace cribraria. The Dot Lined White is a member of the Lappet Moth and Tent Caterpillar family.
Hi Daniel, thanks so much for the id! Have a great day! S. Cyd “weisey” Read
Letter 2 – Dot Lined White Moth
What moth is this?
Location: Brownsville, Kentucky
October 20, 2010 11:56 am
I took this picture on 10/17/10 in Kentucky and was wondering what type of moth this is. I found them on this leaf and both of them had their wings closed until I picked it up to get a picture in the sun and the one opened it’s wings. Also, is image #2 a chrysalis for this moth?
We were amazed at the speed with which we identified your Dot Lined White Moths, Artace cribraria. We observed a similarity to the genus Tolype, so we searched the Tent Caterpillars and Lappet Moths on BugGuide, and quickly found a match in the Dot Lined White. According to BugGuide: “adults fly from June to October (1), or as early as March in the south Food Larvae feed on leaves of oak (Quercus), cherry (Prunus), and rose (Rosa).” It is highly likely that the cocoon is also that of a Dot Lined White.
Letter 3 – Dot Lined White Moth
Subject: Fuzzy Moth
Location: Little Switzerland, NC
August 3, 2014 5:23 pm
I had the pleasure of seeing several of these lovely, fuzzy moths while in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. I would love to know what they are. Thank you for your wonderful website.
We were struck with the resemblance to other moths we are frequently asked to identify from the genus Tolype, and we quickly identified this Dot Lined White Moth, Artace cribrarius, on BugGuide as they are both in the subfamily Macromphaliinae.
Letter 4 – Dot Lined White
Subject: spaceship-like moth
Location: West Windsor, NJ
March 21, 2016 9:26 am
I took a picture of this moth on a leaf of my fig tree last spring/summer (can’t remember exactly). I live in an area in central New Jersey that has a decent amount of trees.
Please let me know if you know what it is!
Letter 5 – Insect, probably a Moth, infested with Fungus
Subject: What is this insect?
Geographic location of the bug: Eno River State Park Durham, NC
Time: 04:10 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hello,
I came across this insect yesterday. I thought this was a moth, but I cannot find a reference to this anywhere (and I’ve looked at over 700+ insects). It was the color of lichen (a very light green/white). As you can see, there are spikes all over the wings, back, and antennae. Thanks for your input.
How you want your letter signed: Christine Allen
We agree that this is probably a Moth, but the reason you are having difficulty with an identification is that the insect has been infested with fungus that has covered its body. There is an image on K.S. Shives site of a different insect with a similar fungus infection. Here is a similar looking image on Nature Picture Library and one on Alamy.
Thank you, Daniel, for helping me with this.
Letter 6 – Unknown MicroLepidoptera from Australia is Identified
Horned Micro Moth for ID
Mon, Oct 6, 2008 at 5:29 PM
came across this little guy in my garden this morning and was taken by the stunning iridescence in the brown scales and the two little horns. The yellow section also fluoresces in the sunlight and was hard to photograph without flaring. It is about 1 cm long and only about 1 to 1.5mm cross section. It is seen here sitting on the leaf of a cucumber vine. No idea what the ID might be so hopefully someone can help.
Burnett Region, Queensland AU
We usually can’t even identify the Microlepidoptera we receive from the U.S., but perhaps someone will write in with an identification for your lovely Australian specimen.
October 7, 2008
Hi Daniel – What a great new site. Congratulations!
Re: Microlepidoptera from Australia
I am wondering if the microlepidoptera is a Micropterigidae. “A Guide to Australian Moths by Zborowski and Edwards describes them as “tiny, hairy head, short thickened antennae held up and out, shining colours, wings held steeply roof-wise.” They are “very small, shining in gold and blackish purple and are found in moist places, usually rainforest.” They are active during the day, preferring shade or dappled sunlight. Sabatinca sterops is very small and golden in colour and is found in Northern Queensland, which I think is where Trev lives? Unfortunately the book has no photograph of Sabtinca sterops.
Hope this helps,
Update: October 8, 2008
after several inquiries to moth men here in Australia the ID is most possibly XYLORYCTIDAE Telecrates melanochrysa. Several images can be found at http://www.ento.csiro.au/gallery/moths/Telecratesmelanochrysa/telecrates_melanochrysa_02
Thanks Grev for your research. The two little horns turn out to be labial paps. Possibly not easily spotted in the photo is the fact that the antennae are lying back along the body curving down to the leaf just before the second brown band.
Letter 7 – Unknown Moth
DARTH VADER? CHIC IN BROWN
Location: TONASKET, WA
July 31, 2011 10:29 pm
I THOUGHT WITH SUCH AN UNUSUAL MOTH, IT WOULD BE EASY TO FIND! HA HA. BUPKIS, NADA, ZILCH. NOT MANY HAVE THIS FLAT FACE. I COULDN’T EVEN FIGURE OUT A FAMILY. I TOOK THIS AROUND THE 10TH OF JULY.I WOULD REALLY APPRECIATE HIS REAL NAME. A THOUSAND THANK YOUS FOR ALL YOUR HELP. AND DEDICATION. AND FUN!
We agree that this is such an unusual looking moth, however, we do not recognize. We are unable to take the time this morning to research its identity, however, we will post your image and letter and we hope one of our readers will be able to supply an answer.
Letter 8 – Unknown Moth from Costa Rica
Subject: Unidentified Costa Rican moth no. 2
Location: Arenal Observatory Lodge, Costa Rica
February 26, 2014 7:50 pm
This is the second most impressive moth that I was unable to identify. Also at about 600 meters, Caribbean slope. Fairly large, wingspan was probably 2-3 inches, maybe a bit more. Thanks.
Signature: Ben Jesup
We are posting your unidentified Moth and we hope that you might eventually get an identification. We frequently get comments many years later, and when that much time has elapsed, it is rare for us to be able to email back to the original querant with an ID, so we would urge you to provide a comment on the posting with any additional information that will be helpful so that the marvels of the internet will compensate for the shortcomings of the WTB? editorial staff.
Letter 9 – Unknown Moth from Botswana
Subject: Beautiful black and white moth
Location: Central Kalahari, Botswana
April 23, 2015 2:49 am
Hey guys 🙂
I have been doing a lot of searching for this fella/misses lately.
It came by on April 4th and I haven’t seen one before or since i my almost 3 months stay. It came to our dining area late evening, where we have lights on.
as you can see on the picture, the hind wings are white outlined with black and fore wings are white and black, but much diffuse markings. The abdomen is yellow with a broad black line from thorax to the tip of abdomen.
I hope you can help me with an ID 🙂
As you have probably realized, attempting online insect identifications can be quite difficult, and many times after hours of searching, no results are produced. With that said, we are posting your image and tagging it as unidentified. It is not unusual for us to get comments many years later that provide proper identifications.
Jep I know…
I identify insects as my job in Denmark, but in Denmark we have
Bayasian keys for almost every kind of insect in the country. So being
in Southern Africa and the only way to identify is by internet search,
isn’t that much different, except you don’t have anything to start
But it can never hurt to try right 😉 sometimes one can get surprised 😉
Letter 10 – Unknown Moth from Cape Town is Equine Maiden
what type of moth is this
Location: Noordhoek Cape Town
September 28, 2011 1:14 pm
i saw this moth during the day , and again the next morning in the same spot. Very sunny and warm day.
We suspect this may take more time to research than we have this morning, so we are posting your photo as an unidentified moth and we hope our readership will come to our assistance today, our longest and busiest work day of the week.
Karl provides an identification
Unknown Moth from Cape Town
Hi Daniel and RocketGirl12:
Your moth is in the genus Thyretes, probably T. hippotes. It belongs to the Superfamily Noctuoidea and is variously assigned to the Family Thyretidae, Arctiidae, Erebidae or Notodontidae. This sort of taxonomic confusion is not uncommon (particularly online). Arctiidae appears to be the most common but I couldn’t determine if there is a current consensus. It is another one of those African Maiden Moths (Ctenuchinae), specifically the Equine Maiden. Regards. Karl
Thanks Karl. As always, your research is greatly appreciated.
Letter 11 – Unknown Moth from Hollywood: Pyralid perhaps???
Subject: Camouflaged Moth
Location: West Hollywood, CA
November 28, 2012 12:13 am
Hello from your neighbor over the hill,
I was in West Hollywood today and almost walked past this beauty. I had to do a double take at the ”fuzzy” wall when I realized it was a very well hidden moth.
Any idea wheat he/she might be? The furry legs are different from what seems more common around here.
As far as size goes, I’d say about 1.25” from head to tip of abdomen. A bit longer if you consider the wing tips. For such a neutral color I thought it was quite beautiful.
Signature: joAnn Ortiz
We are in agreement that this moth is quite lovely in a very subtle and nuanced way, but alas, like many moths, it is rather small and drab and we are not the best at discerning these differences when it comes to their identification. Noted entomologist Julian Donahue once said that chances are good that most moths that can’t be identified, and we very loosely paraphrase his words, likely belong to the families Pyralidae, the Snout Moths or Noctuidae, the Owlet Moths. We are going to post this as unidentified and then head outside to do some gardening before the sun rises. We returned from Ohio with some corms from a yellow calla lily as well as some Fellow’s Favorite daffodils. Since we spent the Thanksgiving holiday away, the garden and the website have not had much attention. Right now we are relishing the thought of witnessing the southern California dawn and the crepuscular wildlife that might be about. Perhaps one of our readers will take a stab at identification.
P.S. The legs remind us of the way the Pearly Wood Nymph carries its body at rest.
Thank you Daniel,
I had a feeling it was going to be either really easy or a needle in a haystack to identify this one.
I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving away as well as your return to our lovely fall weather.
Thank you for taking the time to respond. I’m sure I’ll have more images to send your way in the coming months.
Letter 12 – Unknown Moths from Japan
Location: Sapporo, Japan
June 6, 2011 2:36 am
While with my dog outside, I found these two marvellous specimens of moth side by side on the ground. I’d like to say they’re Leopard Moths, but they lack the characteristic spots and their legs are far hairier. While handling them, one of them excreted a mildly foul orange liquid as well. Do you have any info that could help me identify these cool little beasts?
We believe these are some species of Royal Moth in the subfamily Ceratocampinae, but we are unable to confirm that at the moment. We are contacting Bill Oehlke to see if he is able to provide us with any information. Our readership might also write in to provide an identification.
Bill Oehlke Responds
Image you sent is not a Saturniidae species. Don’t have time for a closer look right now.
Letter 13 – Unknown Translucent Moth from Malaysia
Location: Sg. Congkak, selangor, Malaysia
August 5, 2014 12:58 am
Please help to id this butterfly
This is not a butterfly. It is a Moth. At first, we thought it had white-tipped wings, but closer inspection reveals that the tips of the wings protrude beyond the leaf the Moth is resting on, and the backlighting has illuminated the wing tips. We cannot provide a species, genus or family name at this time, so we are posting your image as unidentified. Your moth looks similar to this moth from Gabon, West Africa that is posted to Paxon’s Fauna site.
Letter 14 – WTB? sponsors National Moth Week event Saturday, 21 July 2012
Make plans for your own local National Moth Week event!!!
Posted February 1, 2012
What’s That Bug? will be working the the Mt Washington Beautification Committee to sponsor a National Moth Week event, albeit a few days early to accommodate the busy schedules of the folks involved. Retired lepidopterist from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Julian Donahue, will be leading the event on the evening of July 21, 2012 in Elyria Canyon Park. Julian plans to use a black light to attract moths that can be identified, counted and released. Julian will also provide insight into the life cycles of those moths and how they fit into the ecological environments of the native Black Walnut woodland and coastal sage ecosystems found in Elyria Canyon Park. Join us for a fun evening.
Hi Daniel…it has been a long time, so I hope all is well on your end. I visit WTB often and the site remains incredible! I sent an email to you about two weeks ago, but to a different email address so I suspect it wound up somewhere in cyberland. Julian Donahue suggested I reach out via this email so hopefully it will now connect. I understand you and Julian are neighbors. Cool, two bug guys as neighbors, what are the odds?
So, I wanted to touch base about an exciting project we are working on. It’s called National Moth Week and is basically a cool way to spotlight moths and biodiversity. Hopefully it will bring a lot of people together with similar interests and turn on a lot of people to moths! We have a website up and running, though it needs work (like an interactive map, photos etc.) but its a start and is now being modified regularly to increase content and locations. Its at www.nationalmothweek.org We’ve got a cool logo too. BugGuide, Discover Life, BAMONA and Moth Photographers Group are on board and Dave Wagner and John Himmelman have also lent their support and will likely run or coordinate events. There has been unanimous positive feedback about holding a National Moth Week next year from everyone we’ve reached out to. We are also talking to LepSoc, AES, ESA, and others about being partners. The more we can spread the word about moths and biodiversity, the better!
We’d love to have WTB as a collaborator and link it to the website and Facebook and vice versa and have help promoting this . I think all of us together can do something fun and incredible to bring attention to moths and more broadly biodiversity. I think these events and National Moth Week might just be the perfect venue for raising environmental awareness across the country.
Look forward to hearing from you about this and hopefully WTB as a partner, Dave