moth facts

11 Moth Facts About These Moonlit Marvels

Moths hold a unique place in the world of insects. Moths, with their nocturnal behaviors and varied characteristics, are distinct opposites to the butterfly.

These moth facts challenge common misconceptions. For example, some moth species, such as the Buck Moth, remain active during the day. Additionally, certain species, such as the Radiant Rosy Maple Moth, defy the idea that moths are dull. 

Other species of moths also exist, like Tiger Moths, Wasp Moths, Giant Silkworm Moths, Underwing Moths, Lichen Moths, Owlet Moths, Hummingbird Clearwing Moths, and Yucca Moths. 

Related reads: Different types of moths & moth species & moth quotes

11 Moth Facts

brown moth
Photo by Hans on Pixabay

1. Moths have unique physical traits.

Moth wings have delicate scales that create diverse patterns, which are also its secret weapon. When faced with predators, moths shed their scales to escape. 

Unlike butterflies, moths have antennae with sensitive feathered or combed structures, helping them pick up the faintest traces of pheromones and lead them to potential mates. Moreover, they can find mates even miles away. 

Besides, moths' eyes have night vision; they can navigate the darkness only by moonlight. Likewise, when moths migrate, their great senses tell them where to go.

2. Moths are nocturnal.

moth wings
Photo by Illuvis on Pixabay

Moths begin their activity at dusk, unlike butterflies. Their nocturnal activity stems from a need to survive since the darkness gives them cover from birds and spiders.

However, moths are drawn to light, a phenomenon scientists call "phototaxis." Despite using moonlight and starlight to navigate, moths need clarification on artificial light, disorienting them and leaving them vulnerable to predators1.

Moreover, these lights can even hamper the mating rituals of male moths, leading them to neglect their females. 

3. Moths are masters of disguise.

Next on our interesting moth facts list: Moths are experts at concealing themselves from predators. Through their clever disguises, moths remain one step ahead of lurking threats.

In the wild, moths remain hidden during the day through their colors, patterns, and textures. Some species of moths have intricate designs that mimic other elements of nature, helping them hide from predators. 

For example, the peppered moth evolved during the Industrial Revolution to match the soot-stained trees in its environment. Meanwhile, the Atlas moth imitates a snake's head, while the Indian Dead Leaf Moth resembles a dried-up leaf. Wood nymphs also mimic bird droppings.

On the other hand, some moths, such as the adult Luna moth, emit no scent, enhancing their camouflage.

4. Moths have no noses but can smell.

moth pollinating
Photo by 1195798 on Pixabay

One of the moth's most intriguing features (or lack thereof) is the absence of a nose. However, moths can still detect smells using their feather-like antennae. The antennae of moths have receptors that detect scent molecules in the air. Likewise, they detect chemicals producing distinct smells in their environment. 

For example, the male Giant Silk Moth can smell a potential mate from 7 miles away, picking up specific hormones emitted by the females3.

5. Stale beer attracts moths.

Besides light, stale beer draws moths, thanks to its fermentation process. How does it work? As beer ferments, it releases various chemical compounds that create a scent profile moths find irresistible. Thanks to their antennae, moths can detect traces of fermenting yeast and sugar from stale beer. You can also try it yourself. Mix stale beer, brown sugar, and a ripe banana, and paint the mixture onto a tree bark and see what happens. 

6. Moth larvae follow a unique life cycle.

moth's close up view
Photo by Siegella on Pixabay

Next, in our list of moth facts, let's look at their reproduction characteristics. Mother moths lay eggs on appropriate food sources; the larvae become caterpillars by consuming food and increasing their size before transforming by metamorphosis.

As they grow, moth caterpillars eat vegetation; some eat leaves of toxic plants, deterring predators. When they get big, they shed their old skin to reveal a new one. Afterward, the caterpillars wrap themselves in a cocoon to transform into adult moths. The caterpillars become adult moths after a few weeks or several years; some larvae use diapause to harsh weather conditions. 

Also, did you know that moths outnumber butterflies, with 95% of caterpillars turning to moths and only 5% for butterflies?

7. Moths observe complex mating behavior.

During the mating season, female moths emit a cocktail of pheromones, drawing the attention of males around them, whose sensitive antennae can detect them from great distances. When a male moth meets his mate, he starts bobbing and weaving to prove his suitability for mating.

Sometimes, males present their prospective mates with a spermatophore, providing the female with a nourishing meal and ensuring the survival of his genes.

8. Moths pollinate as much as bees.

At night, moths take over pollination from bees, flying between flowers at dusk2. Moreover, they continue pollinating flowers throughout the night. As active pollinators, they use their long proboscis to suck up the nectar deep in the flowers and carry its pollen to the next flower.

Moreover, some nocturnal plants enjoy a symbiotic relationship with moths, producing brightly colored petals and strong scents, attracting the hawkmoth. It has a longer proboscis that enables it to reach deeper into the flowers.

Besides, the yucca plant and yucca moth engage in a mutualistic relationship. The moth helps fertilize the plant while using it as a nursery for its larvae.

Related reads: Bees facts and what to plant in the garden for bees.

9. Some moths help produce silk.

moth on leaves
Photo by Illuvis on Pixabay

The small Silkworm Moth (Bombyx mori) is invaluable in producing silk. It starts life as an egg too small for humans to see and develops through a complex process that results in highly valued shiny silk threads.

Silk production involves the cocoons of silkworms, which eat only mulberry leaves. Each cocoon can produce around 900 meters of silk, though it takes thousands of cocoons to produce a single pound of silk. 

Moreover, silk production, or sericulture, requires heavy labor. It is a big business in some parts of Asia. While the silkworm moth is indispensable to sericulture, it relies entirely on human care; it is not a wild animal anymore. Every silk scarf or tie comes from the belly of a silkworm.

10. Moths are invaluable to the ecosystem.

Moths are an essential food source for predators like birds, bats, and small mammals. If moths were to go extinct, their disappearance could ripple across the food chain, affecting the entire animal kingdom. 

Additionally, moths pollinate flowers when the other pollinators rest for the night. They have become a vital part of the survival of various plants; some have even evolved to bloom only at night to attract moths.

11. Moths also face environmental threats.

moth on wood
Photo by webandi on Pixabay

Human activities such as urbanization, deforestation, and agriculture disrupt moths' natural breeding and feeding patterns4

For example, city lights can be fatal for moths, luring them away from their natural habitats, where they die from exhaustion or predator attacks. 

Additionally, pesticide use threatens moths; these chemicals can kill both larvae and adult moths and disrupt their natural life cycle. Despite these challenges, conservationists and scientists are working to restore moth habitats, reduce light pollution, and conduct research. For example, people can join National Moth Week and observe and report moth sightings to gather essential data.

What are your favorite moth facts? Remember to share it with your friends!

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1

Van Langevelde, F., Ettema, J. A., Donners, M., WallisDeVries, M. F., & Groenendijk, D. (2011). Effect of spectral composition of artificial light on the attraction of moths. Biological Conservation, 144(9), 2274-2281.

2

Macgregor, C. J., Pocock, M. J., Fox, R., & Evans, D. M. (2015). Pollination by nocturnal Lepidoptera, and the effects of light pollution: a review. Ecological Entomology, 40(3), 187-198.

3

Groot, A. T., Dekker, T., & Heckel, D. G. (2016). The genetic basis of pheromone evolution in moths. Annual Review of Entomology, 61, 99-117.

4

Fox, R., Parsons, M. S., Chapman, J. W., Woiwod, I. P., Warren, M. S., & Brooks, D. R. (2013). The State of Britain's Larger Moths 2013. Butterfly Conservation and Rothamsted Research, Wareham, Dorset, UK.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

Photo by mendocino53 on Pixabay
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