Winter Moth

Operophtera brumata

Last updated: July 31, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

Only the males fly and the females walk.

Winter Moth Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Insecta
Order
Lepidoptera
Family
Geometridae
Genus
Operophtera
Scientific Name
Operophtera brumata

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Winter Moth Conservation Status

Winter Moth Locations

Winter Moth Locations

Winter Moth Facts

Prey
Leaf buds and shrubs
Group Behavior
  • Largely solitary
Fun Fact
Only the males fly and the females walk.
Biggest Threat
Flies and wasps
Most Distinctive Feature
Fringe at the end of their wings
Gestation Period
6 weeks
Wingspan
22-28 mm
Litter Size
150-300 eggs
Habitat
Tree bark, Near lights
Diet
Herbivore
Lifestyle
  • Solitary
Favorite Food
Flower buds, Leaves
Origin
Europe
Location
Europe, North America

Winter Moth Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Yellow
Lifespan
1-6 months
Length
1/10 - 3/4th of an inch
Age of Sexual Maturity
6 to 8 months
Venomous
No

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The Winter Moth is a type of moth that traveled from Europe and found its way into Canada and the United States. It comes from a community of moths that can survive in the seasons of late fall and winter. Hence, its name became Winter Moth. They are greyish yellow or brown in color, depending upon the type. In addition, only their males can fly while the females have shortened wings and locomote through their legs. 

Species, Types, and Scientific Name

The Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) comes from the family Geometridae and of the order Lepidoptera. Its larvae form is often confused with the Cankerworms (Alsophila pometaria) and the Bruce spanworm (Operophtera bruceata) because of the similarity in their physical attributes. 

As per today’s research, only two known species exist of a Winter Moth. But the name Winter Moth is quite common and is often snatched by some scientists for naming certain similar moths. Apart from the (Operophtera brumata), Bruce spanworms (Operophtera bruceata) and linden loopers (Erannis tilaria) are also considered the Winter Moths in the US.

There are more than 160,000 moths around the world. But the estimated population size of the Winter Moth remains unknown. 

Here are the two known species of a Winter Moth;

  • Operophtera brumata
  • Operophtera bruceata

Appearance

The Winter Moth is one of the toughest moths in their community. It is known to come out in the winter season and aims to survive through it. If you wish to spot one, you can identify it based on its unique and mesmerizing physical attributes outlined below.

A Winter Moth has a base body color that may be different depending upon its type. The male gender is either greyish yellow in color or resembles a beige brown shade. Its body may have slight hints of the color red on top of this base color. The female, on the other hand, is more of a greyish brown color.

Apart from these “shades” on the body, there is a pattern of dark bands but they are not as distinct or visible from a far distance. The band may be dark brown in color. Both the genders are approximately 0.39 inches in length but the females are known to be shorter than the males. 

The Winter Moth has a pair of wings that are yellowish pale in color and with a wingspan of 0.86 to 1.10 inches. At the end of its body, there is a fringe that lines the bottom of the wings and is yellow in color. 

However, it is noteworthy that females have rudimentary wings and they are reduced as compared to that of males. Many scientists believe that females are wingless but that is not entirely true. Instead, the female Winter Moth has reduced wings and uses its hind legs as a way to move around. Both genders also have a pair of antennae that are short and hairy.

When it comes to the larvae, they are hatched from the eggs coming up to 1/10th of an inch. Imagine the length of an eyelash. They can grow up to 3/4th of an inch when they reach about six weeks. They are black in color with fine whitish pale vertical lines at both ends of the body as they grow older. 

When it comes to behavior, both the larvae and the adult moths portray different styles. The larvae of the Winter Moth are often found with similar larvae. They are never solitary. 

As for the adults, they are mostly found alone. They hunt and grow in solitude and are never found in groups. However, when the time comes to reproduce, the female and male moths will be seen together following the ritual of mating. 

Habitat: Where to Find the Winter Moth?

They are found in various parts of Europe. Recently, they traveled to Canada and the US. But they are found in the UK in abundance. Usually, the male Winter Moths come out in late fall and stay till February. During this time there are lesser predators and these moths have the stamina to survive through the cold season.

The female Winter Moths are usually seen on the trees, climbing atop the trunks, and waiting for the male moths to come and mate. They often climb with the help of their legs. But in some cases, you can find them producing silk threads that latch onto the neighboring trees, closer to their food source. Through these silk threads, they balloon themselves with the help of the air and move about. 

The Winter Moths have a special place for lights and are often seen near the lamps outdoors or near hedgerows. This is the reason many people spot these moths while driving. You may also spot one but you are likely to only find one or maybe two, but not in groups.

Life Cycle: How Do They Mate?

Since the females stay behind in the trees, they release pheromones. When it is sensed by the males, they are attracted to the females. After mating, females lay on average,150 to 300 eggs under the tree barks or near tree cervices, then die soon after.

After a six-week period, the eggs hatch. But the largest Winter Moth lays the most eggs. This is the reason that male Winter Moths are seen attracted to the largest female Winter Moth in the community. 

The eggs usually hatch in early Spring. They change into various colors during that time and are nearly blue when they hatch. It is found that the temperature of the surroundings is a trigger for these eggs to hatch. 

The young larvae are then prone to either feeding or locomoting through silk threads like you would find with adult female Winter Moths. The pupation occurs in the months of May but the adults do not emerge until it is November. Such a long period allows many predators to gobble them up. 

Diet

What does a Winter Moth Eat?

An interesting thing about a Winter Moth is that it usually feeds as a larva or a caterpillar. At that age, it is so small that it usually sticks to leaf buds as its main diet. But to be more specific, scientists have said that it feeds on broadleaved trees and shrubs, heather, and bog-myrtle. When a caterpillar has devoured a flower bud from within, it will move on and eat the next bud in line.  

What Eats Winter Moths?

Its predators are mainly wasps (Agrypon flaveolatum) and flies (Cyzenis albicans). Both the predators are usually fond of eating the caterpillar or the larvae form of the Winter Moth. 

The wasp lays eggs inside the larvae which then grow up to eat the Winter Moth from inside. Similarly, the fly is prone to laying eggs on the leaves. But these leaves are then eaten up by the Winter Moth caterpillars. And then the fly’s larvae usually end up digesting the Winter Moth after they hatch inside the Winter Moth.

Prevention: How to get rid of Winter Moths?

Winter Moths in their caterpillar forms can be quite hazardous to nature. Their feeding habit can sometimes become so deep that it leaves the plant unable to heal. Their main targets are apple, cherry, plum, and pear trees.

Sometimes, the attack is not enough to damage the plant and the damaged ends heal as the plant grows. But other times, the feeding may run too deep. 

Often, with a Winter Moth caterpillar, insecticides do not work. This is because they remain hidden under the buds, feeding on the flower buds. This allows them to remain protected. But many people use parasitic flies (Cyzenis albicans) against the Winter Moths.

Excess amount of water helps plants recover from the damage. Some people use oil sprays but it does not always come in handy apart from being used for fruit orchids.

Up Next…

Check out some of our other moth articles.

View all 77 animals that start with W

About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

Winter Moth FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do Winter Moths Have Mouths?

No, they do not have mouths. As most of their lives are spent on feeding as a larvae, their adult selves only seek to mate with each other.

How do you identify a Winter Moth?

Their larvae are green or black in color with a white vertical line running on both ends of the body. As for their adult forms, you can recognize them through the greyish yellow of their wings with a fringe outlining the end of both wings.

How did winter moths get to the US?

Introduced into the United States from Europe via Canada, is most commonly observed in late fall, early winter as a whitish adult moth and in spring as a tiny green caterpillar.
Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_moth
  2. Butterfly Conservation, Available here: https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/winter-moth
  3. The Daily Garden, Available here: https://www.thedailygarden.us/garden-word-of-the-day/winter-moths
  4. Mass Audubon, Available here: https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/insects-arachnids/winter-moths
  5. U Mass, Available here: https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/winter-moth-identification-management

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