Moths comprise a group of insects related to butterflies, belonging to
the order Lepidoptera. Most lepidopterans are moths, and there are
thought to be approximately 160,000 species of moth, many of which
are yet to be described. Most species of moth are nocturnal, but there
are also crepuscular and diurnal species.
1 Differences between butterflies and moths
5.1 Significance to humans
5.2 Predators and parasites
6 Attraction to light
7 Notable moths
9 See also
11 External links
Differences between butterflies and moths
Main article: Comparison of butterflies and moths
While the butterflies form a monophyletic group, the moths, comprising
the rest of the Lepidoptera, do not. Many attempts have been made to
group the superfamilies of the
Lepidoptera into natural groups, most
of which fail because one of the two groups is not monophyletic:
Microlepidoptera and Macrolepidoptera,
Heterocera and Rhopalocera,
Jugatae and Frenatae,
Monotrysia and Ditrysia.
Although the rules for distinguishing moths from butterflies are not
well established, one very good guiding principle is that butterflies
have thin antennae and (with the exception of the
have small balls or clubs at the end of their antennae.
can be quite varied in appearance, but in particular lack the club
end. The divisions are named by this principle: "club-antennae"
(Rhopalocera) or "varied-antennae" (Heterocera).
The modern English word "moth" comes from
Old English "moððe" (cf.
Northumbrian "mohðe") from
Common Germanic (compare Old Norse
"motti", Dutch "mot", and German "motte" all meaning "moth"). Its
origins are possibly related to the
Old English "maða" meaning
"maggot" or from the root of "midge" which until the sixteenth century
was used mostly to indicate the larva, usually in reference to
Poplar hawk-moth caterpillar
Moth larvae, or caterpillars, make cocoons from which they emerge as
fully grown moths with wings. Some moth caterpillars dig holes in the
ground, where they live until they are ready to turn into adult
Moth larva from India
Moths evolved long before butterflies, with fossils having been found
that may be 190 million years old. Both types of lepidoptera are
thought to have evolved along with flowering plants, mainly because
most modern species feed on flowering plants, both as adults and
larvae. One of the earliest species thought to be a moth-ancestor is
Archaeolepis mane, whose fossil fragments show scaled wings similar to
caddisflies in their veining.
Moth from Kerala, India
Significance to humans
An adult male pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa). This
species is a serious forest pest when in larval state. Notice the
bristle springing from the underside of the hindwing (frenulum) and
running forward to be held in a small catch of the forewing, whose
function is to link the wings together.
Some moths, particularly their caterpillars, can be major agricultural
pests in many parts of the world. Examples include corn borers and
bollworms. The caterpillar of the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar)
causes severe damage to forests in the northeastern United States,
where it is an invasive species. In temperate climates, the codling
moth causes extensive damage, especially to fruit farms. In tropical
and subtropical climates, the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella)
is perhaps the most serious pest of brassicaceous crops. Also in
sub-Saharan Africa, the African sugarcane borer is a major pest of
sugarcane, maize, and sorghum.
Several moths in the family
Tineidae are commonly regarded as pests
because their larvae eat fabric such as clothes and blankets made from
natural proteinaceous fibers such as wool or silk. They are less
likely to eat mixed materials containing some artificial fibers. There
are some reports that they may be repelled by the scent of wood from
juniper and cedar, by lavender, or by other natural oils; however,
many consider this unlikely to prevent infestation.
chemical used in mothballs) is considered more effective, but there
are concerns over its effects on human health.
Moth larvae may be killed by freezing the items which they infest for
several days at a temperature below −8 °C (18 °F).
Despite being notorious for eating clothing, most moth adults do not
eat at all. Many, like the Luna, Polyphemus, Atlas, Promethea,
cecropia, and other large moths do not have mouth parts. While there
are many species of adult moths that do eat, there are many that will
Some moths are farmed for their economic value. The most notable of
these is the silkworm, the larva of the domesticated moth Bombyx mori.
It is farmed for the silk with which it builds its cocoon. As of
2002[update], the silk industry produces more than 130 million
kilograms of raw silk, worth about 250 million U.S. dollars, each
Not all silk is produced by Bombyx mori. There are several species of
Saturniidae that also are farmed for their silk, such as the Ailanthus
Samia cynthia group of species), the Chinese oak silkmoth
(Antheraea pernyi), the Assam silkmoth (Antheraea assamensis), and the
Japanese silk moth (Antheraea yamamai).
The larvae of many species are used as food, particularly in Africa,
where they are an important source of nutrition. The mopane worm, the
caterpillar of Gonimbrasia belina, from the family Saturniidae, is a
significant food resource in southern Africa. Another saturniid used
as food is the cavorting emperor (Usta terpsichore). In one country
alone, Congo, more than 30 species of moth larvae are harvested. Some
are sold not only in the local village markets, but are shipped by the
ton from one country to another.
Predators and parasites
Tomato Hornworm parasitized by braconid wasps
Nocturnal insectivores often feed on moths; these include some bats,
some species of owls and other species of birds. Moths also are eaten
by some species of lizards, cats, dogs, rodents, and some bears. Moth
larvae are vulnerable to being parasitized by Ichneumonidae.
Baculoviruses are parasite double-stranded DNA insect viruses that are
used mostly as biological control agents. They are members of the
Baculoviridae, a family that is restricted to insects. Most
baculovirus isolates have been obtained from insects, in particular
There is evidence that ultrasound in the range emitted by bats causes
flying moths to make evasive maneuvers because bats eat moths.
Ultrasonic frequencies trigger a reflex action in the noctuid moth
that causes it to drop a few inches in its flight to evade attack.
Tiger moths also emit clicks which can foil bats'
Attraction to light
Assorted moths in the University of Texas
Moths frequently appear to circle artificial lights, although the
reason for this behavior remains unknown. One hypothesis to explain
this behavior is that moths use a technique of celestial navigation
called transverse orientation. By maintaining a constant angular
relationship to a bright celestial light, such as the moon, they can
fly in a straight line. Celestial objects are so far away that, even
after travelling great distances, the change in angle between the moth
and the light source is negligible; further, the moon will always be
in the upper part of the visual field, or on the horizon. When a moth
encounters a much closer artificial light and uses it for navigation,
the angle changes noticeably after only a short distance, in addition
to being often below the horizon. The moth instinctively attempts to
correct by turning toward the light, thereby causing airborne moths to
come plummeting downward, and resulting in a spiral flight path that
gets closer and closer to the light source.
Atlas moth (Attacus atlas), the largest moth in the world
White witch moth (Thysania agrippina), the Lepidopteran with the
Madagascan sunset moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus), considered to be one of
the most impressive and beautiful Lepidoptera
Death's-head hawkmoth (Acherontia spp.), is associated with the
supernatural and evil and has been featured in art and movies
Peppered moth (Biston betularia), the subject of a well-known study in
Luna moth (Actias luna)
Grease moth (Aglossa cuprina), known to have fed on the rendered fat
Emperor gum moth (Opodiphthera eucalypti)
Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus)
Bogong moth (Agrotis infusa), known to have been a food source for
southeastern indigenous Australians
Ornate moth (Utetheisa ornatrix), the subject of numerous behavioral
studies regarding sexual selection
Moths of economic significance
Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), an invasive species pest of hardwood
trees in North America
Winter moth (Operophtera brumata), an invasive species pest of
hardwood trees, cranberry and blueberry in northeastern North America
Corn earworm or cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa zea), a major
Indianmeal moth (Plodia interpunctella), a major pest of grain and
Codling moth (Cydia pomonella), a pest mostly of apple, pear and
Light brown apple moth
Light brown apple moth (Epiphyas postvittana), a highly polyphagous
Silkworm (Bombyx mori), for its silk
Wax moths (Galleria mellonella, Achroia grisella), pests of bee hives
Duponchelia fovealis, a new invasive pest of vegetables and ornamental
plants in the United States
Diagram of a
Plume moth from Robert Hooke's Micrographia
Giant grey moth
Moth in India
Six-spot burnet moths mating (Zygaena filipendulae)
Protective silk (or similar material) case (cocoon).
A caterpillar of death's-head hawkmoth
Mating pair of Laothoe populi, or poplar hawkmoths, showing two
different color variants.
White-Lined Sphinx moth in Colorado, United States
Closeup of a common clothes moth
Giant silk moth
Adult emperor moth
Comparison of butterflies and moths
List of moths
^ "Moths". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
^ Scoble, MJ 1995. The Lepidoptera: Form, function and diversity.
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 404 p.
^ Darby, Gene (1958). What is a Butterfly. Chicago: Benefic Press.
^ Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center
Evolution of Moths and Butterflies Archived 2014-01-06 at the Wayback
Studying the evolution of butterflies and moths is challenging, since
fossils are so rare. But the few Lepidopteran fossils that exist,
captured in amber or compressed in fine-grained rocks, show great
detail. The earliest Lepidopteran fossils appear in rocks that are
about 190 million years old. These tiny fragments of scaled wings and
bodies clearly indicate that moths evolved before butterflies.
^ The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United
States Archived 2010-06-22 at WebCite. USDA.
^ Conlong, D. E. (1994-02-01). "A review and perspectives for the
biological control of the African sugarcane stalkborer Eldana
saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae)". Agriculture, Ecosystems
& Environment. 48 (1): 9–17. doi:10.1016/0167-8809(94)90070-1.
^ a b Scott, Thomas (1995). Concise Encyclopedia Biology. Walter de
Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-010661-2.
^ Choe, D.-H. "
Clothes Moths" in How to Manage Pests: Pests of Homes,
Structures, People, and Pets. University of California
^ "Table 74. Raw silk: production (including waste)". Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved 2008-10-02.
Table lists worldwide raw silk production 132,400 metric tonnes in
Silk Exchanges of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh". Central Silk
Board of India. Archived from the original on March 7, 2007.
gives silk prices in rupees. Exchange rate is about 50 RS to dollar.
Silk Worm Farming". Vegan Society. Archived from the original on
June 19, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-02. World Raw
Silk Production in 1996
is listed as 83,670 metric tonnes
^ "Some Edible Species". Food-Insects.com. Archived from the original
^ Jones, G; D A Waters (2000). "
Moth hearing in response to bat
echolocation calls manipulated independently in time and frequency".
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 267 (1453):
1627–32. doi:10.1098/rspb.2000.1188. PMC 1690724 .
^ Kaplan, Matt (July 17, 2009) Moths Jam
Bat Sonar, Throw the
Predators Off Course. National Geographic News
^ Some Moths Escape Bats By Jamming Sonar (video). npr.org. July 17,
^ "Why Are Moths Attracted to Flame?". npr.org. August 18, 2007.
^ Tait, Malcolm (2006).
Animal Tragic: Popular Misconceptions of
Wildlife Through the Centuries. Think Books. p. 38.
^ Brundage, Adrienne (March 23, 2009), Other Arthropods of Forensic
Importance, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University
Forensic Entomology Lecture
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