This month we’re coming to you with another installation in our “Beautiful Bugs” series—about moths!
The world of moths is a fascinating one to explore. These little winged creatures are far from boring, and play a vital role in our natural environment. Moths come in all shapes and sizes, and can spend hours circling your lights at night time. Some are more “plain Jane” than others, but even so, they’re still beautiful creatures.
Wherever you live, you’re sure to have met the mighty moth. When the sun sets, they come out to play (or work), but some are active during the day too, so don’t confuse them with the butterfly. Moths may seem dull compared to their brightly colored cousins but don’t be fooled!
Let’s get up close and personal with moths and discover more about this beautiful, fascinating insect.
Learning More About Moths
How many times have you watched moths flit around a candle on a camping trip? Or notice them settle down for the day, their wings flattening against the wall? Or maybe…the day you retrieve a sweater from the closet, only to discover they’ve had a feast on it?
Moths do more than fly around lights, sleep all day, or eat your favorite clothing item. In fact, these busy creatures serve many purposes and deserve your respect.
Like every creature on earth, moths have some fun and interesting traits.
Member of the Lepidoptera Group
Both moths and butterflies belong to the same group, called Lepidoptera. Entomologists (insect experts) estimate that over 140,000 different species of moths exist in the world. In fact, they make up 90% of the Lepidoptera group—which means they rule the kingdom of Lepidoptera!
Strong Sense of Smell
Moths smell using complex receptors on their feathery antennae. These receptors help them detect chemical signals in the air with astonishing accuracy. They are especially useful when the male is looking for a mate—a male moth can pick up a female’s scent 20 miles away!
We all know how critical pollination is for our survival as humans. Without them, there are no crops. Butterflies and bees take the most credit as pollinators, but did you know moths also pollinate plants? In Madagascar, scientists discovered a moth with an 11 inch (30cm) proboscis (basically, the tongue). While digging deep down into orchids for the good stuff, they are pollinating as well.
Moths face many dangers, the greatest of which is becoming another creature’s meal. To avoid being eaten, moths are masters at mimicking. As caterpillars, they can look like a twig. As adults, they use bright eye-like markings on their wings to startle away predators. Some species can even blend in with the bark of a tree.
Not All Moths are Nocturnal
Moths are most often seen at night time, but some are active during the day and often get confused with butterflies. A group of moths, called clearwing months, mimic the wasp and visit flowers during the day for nectar. You can expect to see other moths about their business during the day, including lichen moths, owlet moths, and tiger moths.
The Most Common Moths Found in Florida
A lepidopterist living in Florida discovered over 25,000 moths from his back porch over 2 years, and they weren’t all the same species!
Some of the more common moths you can find in Florida include the Bella Moth, the Pink-striped Oak Worm Moth, and the Polka-Dot Wasp Moth (which is also known as the Oleander Moth). The Salt Marsh moth is another moth commonly found in Florida but is a bit of a pest on crops.
The Important Roles Moths Play in the Environment
Moths are often maligned for making holes in clothes, and because we don’t see them often, they get overlooked. However, they play a crucial role in a healthy ecosystem (if not your closet).
Food chains: Moths provide food for many creatures. They’re included in the diets of spiders, frogs, birds, and even bats. Many birds feed moth caterpillars to their young.
Food security: Moths contribute to our food security by pollinating crops, fields, and flowers.
Environmental indicators: Moths are very sensitive to any changes in their environment. When a species starts to disappear or falter in behavior, scientists notice. They can then investigate environmental imbalances, which are often caused by human-made pollutants.
Are Moths Dangerous?
Moths pose more danger to other animals than they do to humans. Unless, of course, you decide to eat (?) a poisonous one! Creatures that do usually dine on moths know the danger signs of a toxic moth and keep away from them.
The biggest “danger” moths pose to humans is to your clothes, carpets, and furniture. Fortunately, this is easily managed.
Adult moths aren’t the problem; it’s the larvae that eat through fabric and even your bread and pasta. So, while they can be a pest, they aren’t dangerous—and one should always remember how important they are to our environment when considering elimination methods.
Use these tips to keep moths OUT of your home and IN your garden.
- Hang bags full of dried lavender, rosemary, or bay leaves in your closets and pantry. These keep moths away, as they hate the odors of these herbs.
- Vacuum your carpets regularly and dust out your clothes.
- Scrub areas where you see signs of eggs with vinegar and water.
- Spray cedar oil diluted with water in your rooms and closets. This is a natural repellent against moths and other insects. Alternatively, use cedar blocks or hanging bags.
How to Attract Moths to Your Garden
By planting flowers and other plants that attract moths, you’ll have a garden full of beautiful winged friends. Ask your local nursery to point you in the right direction. The best flowers are those that release aromatic, sweet scents in the evening. Moths also love willow and oak trees, so if your garden is big enough, plant one of those.
Avoid using insecticides and pesticides in your garden. Moths are highly sensitive to these pollutants and will die if exposed to these chemicals.
Lastly—relax a little bit! Keep a small area of your garden untidy. That’s right! Don’t rake up dead plant matter and leave areas of long grass. Caterpillars and pupae love these areas.
All Moths are Beautiful
Moths are beautiful creatures. They play an essential role in the environment and provide endless hours of fascination for kids and adults alike. Look up close, and discover the beautiful markings on their wings. Sit quietly and watch their feathery antennae move gently as they pick up scents from miles away.
Welcome to the fascinating world of moths!
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest Control