There are 250,000 different species!
Moth Scientific Classification
Moth Conservation Status
Moths are an extremely diverse species with more than 160,000 different types in the world, while there are only 17,500 species of butterfly.
Most types of moths are nocturnal (active at night). During the day, they hide under the leaves of trees or find a way to get into a dark attic or basement of a home.
Fully-grown moths survive on a liquid diet of tree sap, flower nectar, and even juice from a piece of rotting fruit. These insects only live an average of 40 days.
5 Interesting Moth Facts
• Some moths measure less than an inch while other species have a wingspan of 11 inches.
• These insects move pollen from flower to flower just like butterflies.
• Males have an excellent sense of smell.
• A Luna moth doesn’t have a mouth and can’t eat, so it only lives about a week.
• When they see an electric light it gets confused, loses direction, and fly into the glow.
You can check out more interesting facts about moths.
Evolution and Origins
Which came first, the moth or the butterfly? Moths evolved way before butterflies did. Moth fossils have been found that may be close to 200 million years old.
Moths and butterflies are thought to have co-evolved with flowering plants, mainly because modern species, both as adults and larvae, feed on flowering plants.
Additionally, eggs from light moths morph into light moths and dark moth eggs turned to dark adults. The dark color was caused by a mutation in the DNA of one single moth.
Gynnidomorpha alisman is the scientific name for these insects. Moths belong to the Insecta class and are in the Saturniidae family. Both moths and butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera. This comes from Greek words meaning scale (lepis) and wing (pteron).
There are thousands of subspecies of moth. Some examples include the gypsy -, Luna -, Isabella tiger -, Bella -, cecropia -, hummingbird -, hawk -, Atlas -, and puss moth.
Common Types of Moths
- Gypsy Moth – Gypsy moths have cream-colored to brownish-grey bodies with dark brown zigzag markings on their wings. They are considered one of the most destructive pests in the world due to their consumption of over 500 different species of trees, shrubs, and plants.
- Luna Moth – The Luna moth has a white body with lime green-colored wings. These moths are often preyed upon by bats and as a defense mechanism, they spin their elongated tails around which is believed to confuse the bat’s echolocation.
- Hummingbird Moth – Hummingbird moths have bodies like bumblebees and are often mistaken for actual hummingbirds. This moth has a wingbeat of up to 70 beats per second and can travel up to speeds of 12 miles per hour.
- Atlas Moth – Atlas moths are one of the largest lepidopterans, with wingspans reaching more than 9 inches long. They have small bodies and reddish-brown wings with black, white, pink, and purple patterns.
- Puss Moth – The puss moth is a fluffy-looking moth with whitish-grey bodies with black bands and yellowish-grey wings. When attacked, these moths will fight back, squirting formic acid from whips attached to their wings.
Additionally, here is a full list of moth types:
- Indianmeal moth
- Lymantria dispar
- Peppered moth
- Atlas moth
- Domestic silk moth
- African death’s head hawkmoth
- Case-bearing clothes moth
- Carpet moth
- Bogong moth
- Diamondback moth
- Codling moth
- Japanese silk moth
- Phereoeca uterella
- Polyphemus moth
- Chrysiridia rhipheus
- Duponchelia fovealis
- Creatonotos gangis
- Opodiphthera eucalypti
- White witch
- Eastern Death’s Head hawkmoth
- Garden tiger moth
- Fall webworm moth
- Greater death’s head hawkmoth
- Chinese oak silk moth
- Greater wax moth
- Bella moth
- Yellow woolly bear
- Muslin moth
- Pale tussock
- Purple tiger
- Corn earworm
- Isabella tiger moth
- Cinnabar moth
- Giant leopard moth
- Lesser wax moth
- Ailanthus silkmoth
- Eyed hawkmoth
- Light brown apple moth
- Mopane worm
- Ruby tiger
- Salt marsh moth
- Hickory tussock moth
- Chionarctia nivea
- White ermine
- Oak eggar
- Rosy footman
- European grain worm
- Scarlet tiger
- Hübner’s wasp moth
Appearance and Behavior
A moth’s body is covered in scales, that look like small hairs. It has two antennae that look almost like small feathers attached to its head. They have one large wing and one smaller wing on both sides of their body. They have six legs and two tiny dark eyes designed to see things at night.
The size of the moth depends on what type of moth it is. A Cecropia moth is the largest species of moth in North America. It has a wingspan of five to six inches and weighs around two or three grams. A Cecropia moth with its wings spread out would be equal to half the length of a wooden ruler you may use in school. Its weight would be equal to a small cotton ball.
Some of these insects, like the Luna moth, have a wingspan of two to four inches whereas a really tiny one, such as the pigmy moth, has a wingspan of just four millimeters. Put three tiny grains of sand from the beach together and you have the length of a Pigmy moth!
An Atlas moth is one of the largest moths in the world with a wingspan of a little over nine inches. A line of 16 nickels is about equal in size to the wingspan of an Atlas moth. This moth is about the same size as the world’s largest butterfly, Queen Alexandra’s birdwing. This butterfly lives in Papua New Guinea and has a wingspan of almost ten inches.
The color of the moth also varies depending on its species. For instance, the body of a puss moth is white. It has gray spots on its head and gray swirling designs on its wings. This moth earned its name because its scales are furry making it look like a cat. Alternatively, a male Gypsy moth has dark brown scales, while a female’s scales are white and black.
The colorful designs on this insect’s body aren’t just for show. A moth’s colorful design can help it to hide from predators. The color of an angle shades moth allows it to look exactly like a brown leaf hanging from a tree. A brown Gypsy moth can easily blend in with the dark bark of a tree.
Sometimes a moth’s appearance can scare a predator away. For example, a Lunar Hornet moth’s appearance is remarkably similar to a hornet’s. Many predators see it and mistake it for an insect that can sting! Not surprisingly, they keep their distance. In addition, a hummingbird moth (like the name says) looks a lot like a hummingbird. So, many predators are fooled into believing it’s a bird and not a moth.
These are solitary, shy insects. They have many predators, so they like to remain hidden whenever possible.
Moths are highly adaptable and live in every part of the world except for polar regions. There are more than 11,000 species of them in the United States and 160,000 species worldwide.
They need a warm climate to survive, so moths migrate south when it grows cold in the wintertime. A moth living in the midwestern part of the United States during the summertime migrates to Mexico before the weather turns cold. Sometimes the insects will make their way into homes to get shelter during the cold winter months.
Some moths fly a very long distance during migration. As an example, a hummingbird hawk-moth leaves North Africa when the weather turns cold and makes its way to the southern coast of the United Kingdom.
Moths adapt to their environment in several ways. They have eyes that reflect the light so they can see best at night. Most of them spend the daytime in the woods or hiding in the vegetation. Their color and wing design help them blend into their surroundings (trees, leaves, bushes) when they are most vulnerable to predators during the daytime hours.
The insect in caterpillar form are herbivores that eat the leaves of plants and sometimes fruit. A caterpillar may eat one large leaf per day. A fully-grown moth drinks flower nectar or sap for nourishment. Nectar is the food source of butterflies as well.
Did you know that some of these insects don’t eat at all? They don’t eat because they don’t have a mouth! One example is the luna moth. This insect doesn’t eat, so its lifespan is about one week. During that week, the insect mates to keep the species alive.
Moth caterpillars instinctively know which plants to eat. However, a caterpillar may eat plants in a garden that have been sprayed with pest control poison. When this happens, the caterpillar becomes sick and dies.
Predators and Threats
Bats are one of the main predators of these insects because both animals are active at night. A bat uses echolocation (reflected sound) to find them and swoop down to grab them.
Moths also become caught in spider webs and are eaten by spiders. If the insect flies near the ground, it could also be eaten by a toad. Other predators include lizards and birds. Sometimes they can be killed by a pet dog or cat.
These insects are attracted to porch lights, streetlights, and other lights that come on around houses and buildings at night. Sometimes they fly into the lights, so many times they fall to the ground and are picked up by a predator.
Also, when they invade the closets or wardrobes in a home, the people living there may call a pest control company or use other poisons to kill them.
The official conservation status of moths according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is threatened, although some species are more at risk than others.
Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan
A female releases a particular chemical scent when she is ready to mate. Males in the area pick up this scent and go to find her. After mating with a male, the female lays eggs on a plant that she knows her babies can eat once the eggs hatch into caterpillars.
The mother leaves her eggs and doesn’t return. Most eggs hatch in about 10 days. The number of eggs laid by this insect depends on her species. Some species lay 250 eggs while others lay only 50.
Next, the egg enters the larval or caterpillar stage. This stage lasts about seven weeks. Most caterpillars eat the shell of their egg because it contains protein and other nutrients they need to grow. Then, they start to chew on the plant leaves all around them.
Though caterpillars have limited eyesight, they use their sense of touch, smell, and taste to find more leaves to eat. They can walk around on the leaves of the plants. Caterpillars must eat leaves equaling 2,700 times their own body weight to prepare for the pupal stage.
A caterpillar moves into the pupal stage by spinning silk into a shell, or cocoon, where it stays until it becomes a moth. This stage lasts three weeks to a month. The caterpillar’s body lives on the plant leaves it ate before going into its cocoon.
Once the moth emerges from its cocoon as an adult, the average lifespan is 40 days. The specific lifespan of the insect depends on its species. An adult luna moth lives for just one week while a puss moth can live for 3 to 5 months. Hummingbirds and hawk moths can live for two or three months.
There are more than 160,000 types of these insects that live throughout the world, however, their official conservation status of them is threatened. Keep in mind that some of these insects are more at risk than others. For example, the garden tiger and white ermine moth are categorized as endangered due to the loss of their woodland habitat and food sources.
Along with butterflies, bats, and bees, moths are pollinators helping plants to grow. Also, they are a food source for a variety of animals. They may be small creatures, but they are important to our ecosystem!
- Comet Moth Want to learn more about moths? Check out why this moth is named for a celestial object.
- Clothes Moth Not all moths are good to have around. Click here to learn about these wardrobe-eating moths.
- Winter Moth Most moths need warm weather and migrate away from cold regions. How about the Winter Moth? Click here to find out.
Moth FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is the difference between a moth and a butterfly?
There are a few differences between moths and butterflies. One of the main differences is moths are active at night while butterflies move around during the daytime.
Also, when resting on a flower or other surface, a butterfly usually puts its wings together over its back. Alternatively, a moth spreads its wings out at its sides making it look like a tent. Another difference is a moth’s antennae have a feather-like appearance while a butterfly has thin antennae with a tiny ball on the tip of each one. A moth’s body is short and thick while a butterfly’s body is long and thin. Additionally, a moth’s upper and lower wings are joined together while a butterfly’s upper and lower wings are separate.
Are moths carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?
Moth caterpillars as well as adult moths are herbivores. The caterpillars eat plant leaves while the adult moths drink nectar and sap.
What is moth powder (dust)?
If you’ve ever held a moth or butterfly, you may have ended up with some powder or dust on your fingers. This dust is made up of tiny scales from the moth or butterfly’s wings. Losing a few scales (that may look like small hairs) in the form of dust is not going to prevent a moth or butterfly from flying again. But, if you want to hold a moth, try not to touch its wings so it won’t lose any scales. Or, maybe just observe all of its amazing features from a few feet away.
What is the best moth repellent?
Moths are repelled by the fragrance of cedar. If you want to keep moths away from the clothes in your closet or out of your attic without using harmful poison, spray the area with cedar oil or add some blocks of cedar to the closet, attic, or another place where you think moths may gather.
What Kingdom do Moths belong to?
Moths belong to the Kingdom Animalia.
What phylum do Moths belong to?
Moths belong to the phylum Arthropoda.
What class do Moths belong to?
Moths belong to the class Insecta.
What order do Moths belong to?
Moths belong to the order Lepidoptera.
What type of covering do Moths have?
Moths are covered in Hair.
In what type of habitat do Moths live?
Moths live in quiet forests and pastures.
What do Moths eat?
Moths eat nectar, fruits, and natural fabrics.
What are some predators of Moths?
Predators of Moths include birds, bats, lizards, and spiders.
What is the average litter size for a Moth?
The average litter size for a Moth is 100.
What is an interesting fact about Moths?
There are 250,000 different types of Moth species!
What is the scientific name for the Moth?
The scientific name for the Moth is Gynnidomorpha Alisman.
How many species of Moth are there?
There are 9,000 species of Moth.
How do Moths have babies?
Moths lay eggs.
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- Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
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