It’s the middle of the fourth annual National Moth Week, held from July 18 – 26, 2015. This is a time to celebrate moths in all their glory, whether they fly at night, during the day, or in the twilight times in between. This year, National Moth Week is focusing on the spectacular hawk moths, including the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe), a day-flying moth that never fails to surprise people. Here are a few surprising moth facts.
Moth moths fly at night – but not all. Some moths fly during the day, like the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth shown above, and Oleander Moths (Syntomeida epilais). Many sphinx moths (also known as hawk moths) fly in the early morning and late evening, when they serve as the primary pollinators for night-blooming flowers and vegetables like squash.
The easiest way to tell the difference between moths and butterflies is to look at their antennae. Moths in general have large feathery antennae, while butterflies have slender antennae with clubbed ends. You can also tell male moths from females by their antennae – male antennae are much larger than females.
Members of the silk moth family do not eat as adult moths. In fact, they don’t even have functional mouth parts! Instead, these large moths store up plenty of extra fat during the 4 – 8 weeks they spend eating as caterpillars. When they emerge as adults, they have only about five days on average to find mates and lay eggs before they die. Silk moths include some of the most striking species, like Imperial Moths (Eacles imperialis), Polyphemus Moths (Antheraea polyphemus), Luna Moths (Actias luna), and Io Moths (Automeris io).
Moths spin cocoons – butterflies don’t. Sorry, lovers of the The Very Hungry Caterpillar – butterflies don’t make cocoons; they make a chrysalis. Moths (especially silk moths) spin cocoons of tough silk around their bodies, often incorporating nearby leaves and twigs. Inside that cocoon, the caterpillar sheds its skin to become a pupa (a term also used to describe the butterfly’s chryaslis). Some moth caterpillars don’t spin cocoons at all; they dig down into the soil and pupate there instead.
Moths are much more numerous than butterflies. There are over 11,000 species of moths in the Unites States and Canada, compared to about 750 species of butterflies. Many of these moths are small and go unnoticed, but all are important parts of the ecosystem. Moths are pollinators, and they serve as significant food sources for other animals, like birds and bats.