Sunday, July 19, 2015

Moths - The Other Butterflies

Moths and butterflies both belong to the Lepidoptera order of insects. They share many of the same characteristics: they start out as eggs on a leaf, develop into caterpillars, transition to a period of quiet transformation and then emerge with wings to procreate and start the cycle again.

Luna moth, does not eat as an adult and only lives a week

Some of the differences include when they feed - butterflies are active during the day while moths are generally active at night or during dawn and dusk. The antenna can be different. Butterflies have simple antennae that end in a swelling or "club."  Moths can have simple antennae (but no swelling at the end) or they might have feather-like ones. In general, butterflies are more brightly colored than moths but there are exceptions on both sides.

Azalea sphinx moth, adult eats nectar
This week is National Moth Week which is a time dedicated to the appreciation of these insects. Between their coloration (usually browns and grays) and their nocturnal habits, we don’t notice them much.  Yet they are important pollinators and a significant part of the local ecosystem.

Couldn't id this one, but I love his expression!

Clymene moth (or Jesus moth) sitting on Eupatorium (host plant)

You can see more moths if you put up a white piece of cloth with a light at night. Most of us just see them hanging out on foliage in the morning or fluttering around our windows at night. I have found brown moth cocoons in the soil sometimes.



Snowberry clearwing moth caterpillar on
native honeysuckle

And of course, we find moth caterpillars on our plants, happily eating their way through what is usually the longest phase of their life.

Having caterpillars on your plants is a good thing. That means you have what it takes to support life in your garden. You probably also have happy birds because they need caterpillars to feed their babies. The birds will eat a few and a few will live on, just the way nature intended.


Southern pink moth










So take a few moments to learn more about moths this week and appreciate them for the roles they play in our ecosystem. Just like butterflies, they help make our little world go round.

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