Moths have known night fliers, often considered as pests in many parts of the world.
Of course, we typically conjure them as these butterfly-like, winged species stuck in our screens or doors during hot summer nights. But did you know that some moth species are good pollinators?
Did you also know that they come in different shapes, colors, and sizes? If you are interested in the life of moths, knowing the types of moths is a good place to start.
What is a moth?
Entomologically, moths belong to the family Lepidoptera. Its most famous cousins are butterflies and also skippers. It has more than 16,000 species and are all nocturnal fliers. It is only available in tropical to subtropical climates.
The largest species of moths are typically brown with dust-like particles from their bodies. On average, they have a wingspan ranging from 4-30mm.
The moth holds a wide range of double-edged symbolism across cultures. Spiritually, its inherent attraction to light or flame stands for focusing and going at great lengths to achieve positive change or transformation.
In the Navaho culture, their characteristic of being drawn to the light may indicate madness or foolishness.
In many native American and European tribes, moths are used as rattles to summon the spirits of their ancestors to give them guidance and good luck. In some areas, it is the symbol of death; a meaning popularized by the movie Silence of the Lambs.
What does it mean when a moth lands on you?
A moth landing on you can have varied meanings but the most interesting ones have something to do with their color. For one, a white moth landing on you would mean that the spirit of an ancestor is currently around you either for guidance or to give warning.
Black moths are believed to be harbingers of evil or death. Brown moths landing on you will mean taking extra caution or choosing well who you will allow in your home or inner circle.
Moth vs butterfly
Both insects belong to the Lepidoptera family but are strikingly different in many physical and behavioral tendencies.
The most notable one is that butterflies are diurnal meaning that they are active during the day while moths are nocturnal which is why they are fondly dubbed as night fliers. At rest, butterflies tend to curl up their wings while moths rest with their wings on a jet plane position.
In their pupa stage, butterflies are enclosed in silkless chrysalises while moths are wrapped in silky cocoons. In terms of physical differences, moths tend to be stouter and have duller, less vibrant colors than butterflies.
There are 160,000 recorded moth species. 2500 of these could be found in the UK, 11, 000 are found in the US and the rest are scattered in parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. There are some key characteristics that you should look out for in identifying moths:
- Moths are nocturnal and have a stouter body compared to butterflies.
- They niche on fabric, wool, and high humidity locations but some of them sip nectar-like butterflies.
- They have dust-like particles emitted through their legs.
- They do not have antennae.
If you are looking for specific ways to ID moths, there are some available online tools for that. An example of this would be Discover Life.
Types of moths
1. Atlas moth (Attacus atlas)
It is definitely one of the largest moths in the world in terms of wing surface and it is found in Asian forests. It has a wing size of at least 12inches and a surface area of at least 400sq.cm.
They also have one of the most distinguishable multicolored wings of brown/copper with white, pink, and purple lines. They are also unique for being one of the moth species with no mouth.
2. Black witch moth (Ascalapha odorata)
It is considered as the largest type of noctuid in the USA. It has a unique appearance with its bat-shaped body, large black wings with streaks of brown linings, and an eye-like structure in the forewings. It is endemic to Brazil and the rest of south-central America.
3. Brown-tail moth (Euproctis chrysorrhoea)
They are considered as pests in the United Kingdom because they tend to flock in communes niching on bushes and trees. They are called as such because of the brown and white tufts of hairs surrounding their abdomen.
Outbreaks of brown-tail moths infesting orchards are well-archived. The most extreme happened at around 1720 in the UK.
4. Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia)
It may not have very bold colors for its wings but this does not make it less attractive. It has small antennae, eye-like markings, and golden yellow wings.
While its wingspan is relatively short at only 6inches, being a part of the giant silk moth family makes it economically valuable for the silk it produces, hence the name.
5. Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae)
It is one of those brightly colored moths with its red and black wings and forewings. It is native to Europe and Central Asia introduced in many parts of the world because it feeds on the invasive ragwort.
They are also avoided by predators because their vibrant color essentially suggests that they are poisonous.
6. Codling moth (Cydia pomonella)
It is actually known for the destruction it brings to crops feasting particularly on fruits like apples and pears. This is so because their larvae cannot feed on leaves allowing premature ripening to take place. They do not grow very large, only attaining a wingspan of 20mm.
7. Comet moth (Argema mittrei)
This is a very unique looking moth native to the rainforests of Madagascar. It is considered as one of the world’s largest types of silk moth with a wingspan extending to up to 20cm.
It sports a bright yellow, brown, and tinge of green wings, black linings, and dark orange circles. It is named as such because of its long tails that could reach up to 15cm. They do not have mouths and they have a relatively short lifespan.
8. Death’s-head hawkmoth (Acherontia atropos)
This one was made famous by the movie Silence of the Lambs and gets its name from the mark on its lower body that closely resembles a skull shape. It has the most symbolic value as it is associated with bad omens or as a symbol of death.
Its genus is called Acherontia from Acheron or the underworld’s River of Pain. It has a prominent dark brown color and white/light brown streaks.
9. Ethereal moth
It is one of the most beautiful moths you will ever see and true to its name, they look so ethereal you would be confused and will ask if they were even real.
They sport translucent wings and granular, almost 3D dots across the length of their wings. They also have fine-haired heads that are really fluffy. They look magical and they are also very rare.
10. Five-spotted hawk moth (Manduca quinquemaculata)
It is also called the tomato hornworm because it could be an invasive pest to tomato patches and in tobacco fields. It gets its name from its intricately patterned wings of gray, white, black, yellow, orange, and pale green colors. It is endemic to Mexico and the US.
11. Flannel moth (Megalopygidae)
Its larvae are often called as puss caterpillars because of their hairy body and curling habit, making them look like large cotton balls. However, their spines are venomous and could really cause a sting that could lead to inflammation when untreated. In appearance, they look like a brighter colored bee.
12. Giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia)
Endemic in southcentral America, northern America, and southern Canada, this one sports bright white wings and scattered black spots and irregular streaks.
Its belly is often dark blue with prominent orange markings and midnight blue legs with white bands. It is an Eribidae with at least 76mm of wingspan.
13. Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar dispar)
It is one of those moths with several subspecies (Japanese, European, and Asian gypsy moths). Female gypsy moths have a larger wingspan than males.
The European gypsy moth in particular is very unique since they are flightless. Japanese female moths are very attracted to lights and Asian gypsy moths have dark brown, larger male species.
14. Hag moth (Phobetron pithecium)
It is one of the species in the slug moth family. Its larvae are odd-looking with a body covered in short, dark brown fine hairs and tentacle-like arms.
At maturity, the hag moth will remain extra hairy up to the legs. Their wings are translucent and it is their black and brown hair tufts that give them their color.
15. Hawk moth (Sphingidae, sphinx moth)
It has at least 1,450 recognized species endemic in almost all parts of the world except Antarctica.
Recognized as one of the largest moth types, they are unique for their stout body and long, narrow wings. It is also the moth considered to have the longest tongue and feeds on bright colored flowers in the dark.
16. Hercules moth (Coscinocera hercules)
Caterpillars of this moth typically feed on the bleeding heart tree. It is considered as the largest moth type in the whole word native to Queensland. It has a wingspan reaching up to 27cm. Its caterpillar will weave silk cocoons in the trees it will feed on.
Female Hercules moths are more stout and with shorter tails than the males. It stops feeding when it reaches the moth stage and will only get to live for 14days.
17. Hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)
It gets its name for its hummingbird-like behavior of hovering on flowers using its long proboscis. It is small, dull-colored, and a wingspan of only one and a half inches. It is even mistaken as a small hummingbird sometimes with its heavy wing beating as it hovers towards the flowers.
18. Imperial moth (Eacles imperialis)
They are part of the giant silk moth family and are also called as royal moths. They have yellow wings, brown lines, and black spots. They have caterpillars with long black spines that could sting. They niche on large trees including oaks, pines, and maples.
19. Indianmeal moth (Plodia interpunctella)
It gets its name for being an American pest feasting on maize or Indian corn. As such, it is also called grain moth or flour moth. It thrives in tropical climates unique for its red-brown forewings and tinges of bronze and dark gray. It has a wingspan of 20mm and a body at a length of 10mm. It thrives in great abundance in Florida.
20. Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella)
It is also called as the wooly bear endemic in the southern USA and Canada. It is popular for its multicolored larvae with black-brown-red-black segments. Adult tiger moths are known for their pale yellow, scaly body, and orange-yellow wings, and marked forewings. They are considered as generalist feeders as they eat almost all types of plants.
21. Luna moth (Actias luna)
It is also called the American Moon moth known for its white body and lime green wings. It is considered as one of the largest moths in the whole of North America. It has a maximum wingspan of 178cm. It has long, curving tails with either green, black, yellow, red, or blue eyespots.
22. Milkweed tussock moth (Euchaetes egle)
As the name implies, this moth type particularly feeds on milkweeds. Their orange, brown, and black colors are also indicators that they are fatal or poisonous to common predators. They can be fatal specifically their sting during the caterpillar stage because milkweed sap contains cardiac glycosides.
23. Miller moth (Acronicta leporina)
They are migratory moths transferring from one region to the next when temperatures drop. Army cutworms become miller moths at maturity with a lifespan of only three weeks. They have dusty, pale brown wings and some dark brown linings.
24. Owl moth (Brahmaea wallichii)
It is one of the largest species of the Brahmin moths. It gets its name from its large eye-like spot which when on flight mode looks like an owl gazing at you from the wings. They feed on fruit trees specifically fermenting fruits.
25. Pandora moth (Coloradia pandora)
This one is a famous pine defoliator in the western US. Caterpillars of the pandora moth specifically love lodgepole and ponderosa pines. They have a hairy body and overall, their color is ranging from black, pale, and dark brown.
26. Peppered moth (Biston betularia)
They are also called as Darwin’s moth because of their cookies and cream-colored wings and body. This color helps them in camouflaging away from predators as they niche in lichen-filled tree trunks. They have plump bodies with narrow, long wings.
27. Plume moth (Pterophoridae)
It is also called the morning glory moth because they feed on morning glories. They look like skippers with their long and narrow, green body and wings. They have an overall T-shape when their wings are outstretched with thin, curled legs.
28. Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus)
It is considered as one of the most attractive and largest silk moths. It gets its name from the cyclops in Greek mythology called Polyphemus because of its large solitary eye-spot in the middle of its hind wings. It generally has a dark orange, pale brown, and black scattered eyespots.
29. Puss moth (Cerura vinula)
The name puss is taken from its cat-like color patterns. Male puss moths are smaller with pale brown color while females are larger and have white, gray, and white colors. They particularly feed on willow and aspen trees.
30. Regal moth (Citheronia regalis)
It is also called the royal walnut moth. Its larva is called the hickory horned devil with its pale green body, scattered black spines, and prominent five to six orange horns. It has vintage colors of dark orange and gray-black stripes.
31. Rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda)
It is a relatively small moth unique for its changing wing color and wooly exterior. Sometimes it has creamy yellow color but the most prominent would be its pink and yellow color combination. It is called such because it only feeds on maple leaves.
32. Saturniidae moth (saturniids)
In general, the Saturniidae is the largest moth family with 2,300 recognized species. This moth family includes large moth types like the giant silk moth, emperor moth, and royal moths.
33. Silkworm moth (Bombyx mori)
This one is most valuable during its larvae phase when slowly, it builds silk cocoons from where it would emerge as an adult moth. It is cultured in China and the Middle East and is essential in the silk garments and fabric industry.
34. Small emperor moth (Saturnia pavonia)
It is an attractive emperor moth notable for its black and orange wings, pink-red forewings, and black and white eyespots. They lay eggs in thorny bushes and could only survive for a few days. The males fly in the daytime to mate.
35. Tussock moth (Lymantriinae)
They can be a vegetation problem because they niche in communes leaving the leaves of plants with destructive holes and silk cocoons. Florida sports three species of the tussock moth. It has odd-looking but vibrantly colored, spiny caterpillars.
36. Vampire moth (Calyptra thalictri)
It gets its name for being a vertebrate bloodsucker. It has to be noted though that only male vampire moths do this. They could last to up to 50minutes of blood-sucking made evident by red sores. It is not fatal to humans though.
37. Venezuelan poodle moth
Documented only in 2009, this one looks straight out of Pokemon. A lot of people actually thought it was not real because it looks like a very large moth, hairy and heavier, more solid wings, a body with the fluffiness of a poodle.
38. Yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella)
They are named as such because they only feed on yucca plants. They are endemic in south-central America, the USA, and southern Canada. They usually have pale colors of cream or light brown. They also have flushes of tan sometimes.
Why are moths bad?
At the most immediate end, moths are bad because they feast on crops (from grains to fruits to green vegetation). Other than this, they could also niche on clothes and fabric in the closet and may make silk balls in your pantry cabinets.
Most importantly, small moths flying inside the home could be poisonous when accidentally ingested. But beyond these, moths are important in wildlife conservation as they are a stable food source for amphibians, among others.
How do you get a moth out of your room?
There are many ways to get rid of moths in your room. Here is a rundown of what you can do to prevent moths from infesting your room.
- Fill your room with cedar furniture.
- Keep dusting and vacuuming at a regular schedule especially in the closet and pantry.
- Freeze wooly cloth, linen, or fabric that are attractive to moths.
- Use vinegar, herbs, or sticky traps on places where they could infest.
To conclude, moths are more than just nocturnal insects that casually stick themselves in windows and screens when the temperature is warm. At best, they have roles to play in the balance of ecosystems.
Symbolically, they are also significant in many cultures and traditions because of some unique behavioral tendencies such as being drawn to the light/flame and eating on plants, fruits, and other agricultural crops.
The types of moths prove to us that they have a universe on their own and that they are equally interesting just like their butterfly cousins.