All About Garden Moths: Important Pollinators

Updated: Dec. 12, 2022

Learn essential facts about garden moths and how to identify them. Plus, see photos of some beautiful garden moths you might find.

Garden Moths You Should Know

A rosy maple moth sitting on a wire grate.Courtesy of Cynthia Raper
A rosy maple moth

When it comes to an insect popularity contest between butterflies and moths, butterflies get most of the attention. Butterflies are usually, but not always, larger and more colorful. Plus, most moth species, such as the luna moth, fly at night when we’re not as likely to see them. This isn’t a reason to ignore garden moths, though. Some are important pollinators, and all are a food source for birds and other wildlife you want to attract.

You can find thousands of moth species in North America, but we wanted to highlight a few of the most impressive ones. To attract them, plant their caterpillar host plants and make sure you never spray pesticides. You don’t want to harm the helpful bugs in your yard.

Check out pictures that will change the way you look at moths.

Io Moth

Spotlight On Moths | Birds & BloomsROLF NUSSBAUMER

This large, widespread garden moth has a wingspan of more than 4 inches. Males have pale yellow forewings and females have a reddish brown. Both have a striking “eyespot” on each hind wing, which helps deter predators. Host plants include hackberry, willow, mesquite, redbud, currant and blackberry.

Learn how to attract more moths to your garden with light.

Scarlet-Bodied Wasp Moth

Spotlight On Moths | Birds & BloomsSUPERSTOCK/ALAMY

This gorgeous garden moth has a bright red body with black-lined, clear wings. You might have trouble believing it’s a moth because it looks more like a wasp. This mimicry behavior helps keep predators at bay. It’s found in coastal areas from South Carolina through Florida and across the Gulf Coast into Texas. Hemp vine is its caterpillar host plant.

Meet the colorful moths you can see during daytime.

Isabella Tiger Moth

isabella tiger mothGlass and Nature/Shutterstock

These medium-sized garden moths are a pretty pale yellow, and females have orange hind wings. Common across the continent, you’re most likely to encounter this garden tiger moth species in its caterpillar phase when it’s known as a woolly bear. These furry, reddish brown and black-banded caterpillars are often spotted on the move in the fall. They spend winter as full-grown caterpillars, and are specially adapted to survive freezing temperatures.

Spotlight On Moths | Birds & BloomsPERRY VAN MUNSTER/ALAMY
The Isabella tiger moth caterpillar is also known as a wooly bear

Isabella tiger moths emerge as adult moths in the spring. Attract them with host plants such as asters, birches, maples and elms, and by leaving fallen leaves in your garden.

Meet the sphinx moths, the stars of the evening garden.

Rosy Maple Moth

Spotlight On Moths | Birds & BloomsMARY HOLLAND

It doesn’t get prettier than this garden moth species, with its pale pink and yellow color scheme. It’s found over much of eastern North America, from southern Canada down to Florida and east Texas. Its caterpillars feed on the leaves of maples and oaks.

Learn 10 interesting facts about hummingbird moths.

Cecropia Moth

A cecropia moth perches on a gerber daisy.Courtesy of Carol Ecker

Cecropia silk moths have a wingspan up to 7 inches, and their caterpillars are nearly as big. Adult male cecropias find mates from a mile or more away by the pheromones the females produce.

Psst! Do you know why moths are attracted to light?

Royal Walnut Moth

Spotlight On Moths | Birds & BloomsTODD FINK/DAYBREAK IMAGERY

These giant garden moths have a wingspan of over six inches, with the females larger than the males. The upper sides of its wings are reddish brown with random pale yellow spots. It’s found from the Midwest to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.As its name suggests, walnut is its caterpillar host plant, along with hickory, pecan, butternut, sweet gum, persimmon and sumac. The caterpillars are 5-inch green giants with orange horns known as hickory horned devils.

Luna Moth

A luna moth rests on a tree.Courtesy Jason Nibbe

Adult luna moths have pale green wings lined in yellow or pink, spanning over 4 inches wide. This member of the silk moth family is related to the rosy maple moth and the cecropia moth.

Next, learn how to plant fragrant moonflower to attract moths.