Most species of moth are nocturnal (which means they are
active at night), but there are crepuscular and diurnal species.
They can be distinguished from butterflies in several ways.
People who study butterflies and/or moths are called lepidopterists; the study of butterflies is known as butterflying, and the study of moths mothing, the latter giving rise to the term "mother" for someone who takes part in this activity—sometimes written with a hyphen inserted (moth-er) to distinguish it from the word for a female parent. This confusion does not arise in spoken English since the two terms are pronounced differently.
The Modern English word "Moth" comes from Old English "mođđe" (cf. Northumbrian "mohđe") from Common Germanic (compare Old Norse "motti", Dutch "Mot" and German "Motte" all meaning "moth"), perhaps its origins are related to Old English "mađa" meaning "maggot" or from the root of "midge" which until the 16th century was used mostly to indicate the larva, usually in reference to devouring clothes.
Moths, and particularly their caterpillars, are a major agricultural pest in many parts of the world. The caterpillar of the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) causes severe damage to forests in the northeast 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.
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 artificial fibers. There are some reports that they can 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. Naphthalene (the 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).
Moths are sturdy and usually are more resistant to pesticides than are mosquitoes and flies.
Some moths are farmed. 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. The silk industry produces over 130 million kilograms of raw silk, worth about 250 million U.S. dollars, each year. Not all silk is produced by Bombyx mori. There are several species of Saturniidae that are also farmed for their silk, such as the Ailanthus moth (Samia cynthia group of species), the Chinese Oak Silkmoth (Antheraea pernyi), the Assam Silkmoth (Antheraea assamensis), and the Japanese Silk Moth (Antheraea yamamai).
The mopane worm, the caterpillar of Gonimbrasia belina, from the family Saturniidae, is a significant food resource in southern Africa.
Despite being framed for eating clothing, most moth adults do not eat at all. Most like the Luna, Polyphemus, Atlas, Prometheus, Cercropia, and other large moths don't have mouths. When they do eat, moths will eat nectar. Only one species of moth eat wool. The adults do not eat but the larvae will eat through wool clothing.
Moths will circle bright objects, and thus appear to be attracted to light.
The favored hypothesis advanced to explain this behavior is that moths
navigate by maintaining a constant angular relationship to a bright
celestial light, such as the Moon. The Moon is so far away, that even after
traveling 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. However, when a moth encounters
an artificial light and uses it for navigation, the angle changes noticeably
after only a short distance, in addition to often being below the horizon.
The moth instinctively attempts to correct by turning toward the light,
causing airborne moths to come plummeting downwards, and - at close range -
which results in a spiral flight path that gets closer and closer to the
In 1972, Henry Hsiao, now a professor of biomedical engineering, suggested that the reason for moths circling lights may have to do with a visual distortion called a Mach band. Henry Hsiao conjectures that moths, as nocturnal creatures, fly towards the darkest part of the sky in pursuit of safety and are thus inclined to circle ambient objects in the Mach band region. This hypothesis is not scientifically accepted and has never been confirmed. It should be noted that many moths fly directly towards light sources, which contradicts this hypothesis, in addition to the simple fact that moths obviously do not fly solely in order to seek safety.
Night-blooming flowers usually depend on moths (or bats) for pollination, and artificial lighting can draw moths away from the flowers, affecting the plant's ability to reproduce. A way to prevent this is to put a cloth or netting around the lamp. Another way is using a colored light bulb (preferably red). This will take the moth's attention away from the light while still providing light to see by
This Moth Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub