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Moth: Basic Information Plus 10 Amazing Facts

Three different moths isolated on the white.

Moths, quite similar in look and biology to a butterfly, share the same order with them. Both belong to Lepidoptera family. Though both are different species yet they have a lot of things in common. There are about 200,000 species of moths all across the globe. Moths are categorized in two types—macro moths (bigger in size), and micro moths (the smaller ones).  Let’s read on to get more info about these nocturnal pests (mostly).

Basic information about moths

1. Appearance and size of moths

Moths are tiny and scaly-winged insects (like butterflies). Contrary to butterflies, moths have hairy bodies. An overlapping of thousands of colorful scales forms different patterns on their wings.  The scales are so delicate that even touching them slightly can dislodge the whole wing into a powdery dust (it’s better not to touch them). Looking around, you would find moths in a diversity of patterns and hues. Some are bold and bright, while some have incredibly drab shades.

Small emperor moth on the tree.A moth has two pairs of wings with a frenulum. Frenulum is something that aids in joining the forewings to hindwings. Frenulum allows these two pairs to function as a single wing, while flying. Moths have two compound eyes and feathery or hairy antennae (for sniffing) without any club. Moth’s antennae are bigger than butterfly’s. Moths come with sucking mouthpart or coiled proboscis (long straw-like tongue) that are used to suck the fluids from fruits and flowers. Each moth has different size of proboscis (long or short). Particularly, humming bird moth is the specie that has a tongue longer than its whole body.

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As far as the size of moths is concerned, it varies with each species. The moths could be as small as a pencil tip or as big as a songbird. Let’s read on about a few moth species and their sizes.

  • Hummingbird moth’s wings are smaller than other. These are about 1 to 2 inch in size.
  • Sphinx moth are about 87mm to 96mm in size
  • Giant silk moths can be about 70 – 100 mmas an adult.
  • Cloth moths are 6 – 8 mm long.
  • Tiger moth’s wingspan is about 37 to 50 mm(1.5 to 2 inches)
  • Royal walnut moth has wingspan of about 4.5 inches (11 cm). It is the biggest of all North American Species.
  • Atlas moth are 12 inches in wingspan, making it the biggest in the world.
  • Pygmy moth species are the smallest of all. They are sized about 3/32 of an inch.

2. What do they eat?

Each species of moth has different eating preferences. Their species and stage of life determine their major food source or eating habits. Most of the species eat nothing at all. Their life and survival largely depends on drinking. They drink nectar from fruits and nighttime flowers (pollinating) or sip water from the mud or wet sand to balance the moisture level in their body. As their lives revolve around flying, mating and reproducing, so all they seek is a diet enriched with salts, carbs and moisture. Besides nectar, they feed on rotting fruits, sap, feces of animals and contaminated animal bodies. They use their antennae to sniff and find the food around. Contrary to that larvae or caterpillars eat plants, leaf, papers and fabrics.A clothes moth is eating a blue spotted sock.

Note: Cloth moths eat wool and other store pantry items including—furniture, fur, fabrics, hair and milk powder.

3. Where do they live?

As moths are nocturnal pests, most of them are not found in bright day light. Woodlands, gardens and farmlands are their natural habitat. But they are not confined to these places only. There are several other locations where they live. These may include—sand dunes, mountaintops and marshlands. There is no particular season of their activities. Different species of moths are active in different times of the year, including winter.

Indoor infesting moths are domestic species who may invade your house and damage about every household item. In indoor, places like closets, attics and basements are where they are generally found.

4. Reproduction

Being nocturnal, moths utilize their sharp sensory system to find a partner for mating. Male keeps on chasing the female until it gets her for sex. Following are the steps that a moth couple undertakes for copulation and reproduction:

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  • They attach their abdomens together.
  • Male’s anus has hand-like appendages (claspers)to grab the female during sex.
  • The copulation ends as the male’s penis passes spermatophore in female. The spermatophore consists of sperms as well as several essential nutrients for the production of larvae.
  • This sac of sperms is stored in female “bursa copulatrix”, a reproductive organ.
  • Eggs are already there in female’s body. All they need is the fertilization of male’s sperm. The sooner that happens, the female lays her eggs on the places like—leaf, plant tissues or stick them on some twig (for a week or so, depends on the specie). Some females release them in the air while flying.
  • The numbers of eggs laid by a female may vary with each specie. Some lay about 40 at a time minimum, while there are many who can lay 100 to 1000 eggs at a time.
  • Summer or spring is the season when the eggs are hatched (not in winter). Now starts different stages of moth metamorphosis.Wax moth larvae on an infected bee nest.
  • Eggs are hatched to produce caterpillars or larvae. This stage involves a lot of eating, growing and molting.
  • Next is the transition stage, when a fully grown caterpillar turns into a pupa and hides inside a silk cocoon (produced from its silk gland). It stays inside the cocoon for a few weeks to months and even to years. All through this period, a larva cells are grown swiftly.
  • And finally this whole process ends with the reproductive stage, when the moth changes into an adult. It appears from the cocoon suspended from the tree.

5. How long do moths live?

The lifespan of a moth varies with its species. Some species live as long as 10 to 11 months and some (sphinx moths and luna moth) have a limited life cycle. Yucca moth’s life span is just two days long. There are some species who can survive up to 1 or 2 years in colder climates. In most of the species, a female moth does not survive for a long time, after laying eggs.

6. What’s special about their behavior?

Each species of moth comes with a different behavior. Some are purely harmless, while some are furious and may sting as well. Calyptra moth is the bloodiest of all. It is known as a blood sucker. It can suck human blood as well. ‘Puddling’ is another known behavior of moths. It involves the sucking of moisture from sweaty human skin, mud and dung to fulfil their bodily requirements for salts.

7. Moth’s vision

Each stage of moth comes with a different vision level. Caterpillars have poor vision. All they can do is to differentiate between dark and light. While adult moths have two compound eyes with excellent vision. They have hexagonal lens in their eyes. Moths don’t see like we do. Instead of images, they see ultraviolet rays.

8. Moth’s senses

Moths have sharp senses, particularly their sense of smell. Moth body parts, like moth’s legs, moths antennae and palps come with several sense receptors. They use it to smell things (females and food) around them. But things are different with moth caterpillar. Caterpillars use their sense of touch to know things. They use the long hair (tactile setae, that are attached to their nerve cells) on their body to sense the things around.

9. Their ways to navigate

Nocturnal moths can’t travel by following sun, like many other daytime creatures do. That is why, they use the technique called ‘celestial orientation’. They prefer to follow the light of moon to find their way. What if it’s a moonless night? The second option they go with, is to follow the geomagnetic clues to find the right way.Tiger moths are mating on a leaf.

10 Amazing moth facts

  1. Just like butterflies, pollination is the major food source for moths. Pollinating from flower to flower (especially on yucca plants) helps the plants in reproducing. Yucca moths, geometer moths, sphinx moth and owlet moths are known as most important pollinators. They pollinate in the night. Any light source around them can distract them. And that may affect the plant’s ability to reproduce.
  2. Recent studies have blurred the differences between moths and butterflies to a great extent. There are several moth species that look (and sometimes pretend) exactly like some colorful butterfy. Urania leilus is a moth specie found in Peru. Its colorfulness and flying in daytime, makes it look just like a butterfly. Besides colorful wings and daytime flying, there are some moths with clubs at the end of their antennae.
  3. There are several species of moths (luna moth, rosy maple, Polyphemus, Prometheus and atlas moth) who don’t have a mouth. They don’t eat in their reproductive stage. Their sole purpose is to mate and reproduce. In case, they don’t find their appropriate mating partner and their body loses all its nutrients, they would die of starvation.
  4. Moths (male and female) don’t have noses. Still they are good at sniffing. They use their antennae to sniff things around. Even for mating, it detects odor molecules or pheromones, released from a she-moth’s body (from wing’s scales, abdomen or tibia segment of legs). A male moth can easily track its female at the distance of about 7 to 8 miles. Some males too, release pheromones to signify their presence to any she-moth around.
  5. Some she-moths ofTussock family come without any wings.
  6. Hummingbird Clearwing, Spear-Marked Black and Virginia Ctenucha are the species that can fly in the day time.
  7. As moths are bats’ favorite food, tiger moths have got the solution. They have the ability to produce ultrasonic clicking sounds to jam bat sonar ability.
  8. Moths are protein enriched species, that’s why they have numerous natural predators like frogs, lizards, bats and birds. Most interestingly, in some countries, people too ingest moths.
  9. Both he and she-moths can fly together during copulation. They do that to avoid the risk of any natural predator.
  10. Death’s-head hawk moth gets this unusual name because of a skull-like image on its thorax. This specie was made a part of famous movies and literary work like—Dracula by Bram Stoker, the Mothman Prophecies and The silence of the Lamb.

Moth camouflage

Moths know the art of impersonating different creatures in order to avoid an attack. Moths use their colors to camouflage themselves in their natural environment. Drab brown insects sit on twigs and branches of trees to deceive the stalker. Some with bright coloring and spotting can confuse the predators about where to hit. There is a specie named ‘bird dropping moths’. They can mimic to be a bird’s droppings to fool their predator.

Conclusion

Moths are really interesting pests. The more you read about them, the more interest is developed. Their unusual characteristics have earned them a significant place in the realm of art, literature and the real life.

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