Skip to content

Ready for National Moth Week next week? Visit the kids' page at the website for a free coloring book to download and cool games to play.

Last week we discussed the identification of moths, part I. Now let's follow up with a few more common families of moths.

5. Family Geometridae - The geometrids or inchworm moths

Moths in the family Geometridae rest with their wings laid out flat, with both fore- and under-wings exposed. The wings are often "scalloped" or have a characteristic curved shape. These moths usually have wavy stripes on their wings that resemble tree bark or other plant material.

geometrid-moth-exampleTypical geometrid moth at rest

Synchlora_aerata(Public domain photograph of wavy-lined emerald moth, Synchlora aerata, from Wikimedia)

Not all gemetrids are brown. Some are green, yellow or white.

6. Family Noctuidae - the noctuids or owlet moths

The family Noctuidae contains a huge number of species and recently scientists have been splitting off some species into new families. The Moth Photographers Group has a page with some 390 different species of noctuids to give you a feel for the diversity of the group.

In general, noctuids are medium-sized to small moths. At rest, they fold their wings back, with the fore-wings covering the hind-wings and abdomen.

noctuid-moth-60This is a typical pose for a noctuid moth.

cabbage-looper-mothCertain noctuids, like this cabbage looper moth, have a great deal of hair-like scales on their thorax, sometimes forming tufts.

7. Family Notodontidae - the prominents

Members of this family can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from the noctuids. They are about the same size and also fold their wings back. One characteristic that can help separate the two is prominents sometimes hold their hairy legs out in front of themselves at rest.

pebble-prominent-moth(Photograph by Alvesgaspar under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at Wikimedia)

8. Micromoths - Crambidae and Pyralidae

Micromoths are a diverse group of tiny moths comprising many families. Two families, the Crambidae and Pyralidae, can be easier to identify than some of the others because the moths have a distinctly triangular shape when at rest.

yellow-bells-mothAlthough the sphinx moths can also have a triangular shape, these moths are much smaller.

Indianmeal_moth_public-domain(Public domain photograph of Indian meal moth from Wikimedia)

Some of the members of the family, however, roll their wings under while at rest.

Interested in learning more about identifying moths? Try:

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America (Peterson Field Guides) by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie

(Affiliate link to Amazon)

Related posts:

Be sure to visit our growing list of children's books about moths and butterflies at Science Books for Kids


Do you have a favorite resource for learning more about moths? We'd love to hear about it.

Did you know that there are some 15 species of moth for every species of butterfly? Yet, unless you are a night owl, it is likely you rarely see moths. If you would like to learn more about these secretive insects, check out the festivities for National Moth Week coming up next week, July 19-27, 2014. The website has links to activities and events, some of which may be in your area.

What is a moth?

Just in time for moth week, a moth is resting on our window.

moth-on-window-outsideHow can I tell it is a moth? Some clues come from the fact that it is resting during the day. It also has its wings flat over its back. Even its antennae are folded back. This one could easily pose on some tree bark and be camouflaged.

moth-on-window-underneath-1Underneath I can see that its body and legs are fuzzy. Because moths are active at night when it is relatively cooler, they often have hairs which serve as insulation. Like a butterfly would, this moth has its mouthparts rolled up under its head.

Color is not a good way to tell if an insect is a moth. Although moths have the reputation for being dull and drab like the one on the window, some are as brightly colored as butterflies.

Rosy_maple_moth(Public domain image)

Take, for example, this rosy maple moth. It still has the wings folded flat and the hairy body, the true signs it is a moth.

Life Cycle of a Moth

Moths have complete metamorphosis like butterflies. The only difference is that the majority of moths build a cocoon.

For example, here are the life stages of the cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni) as recorded in our back yard.


cabbage-looper-eggsCabbage looper eggs are rounded, with surface sculpturing and patches of color.

cabbage-looper-tinyThe eggs hatch into tiny larvae. To give you scale, this one is crawling across a piece of paper towel.

cabbage-looper-larva-leaf As you can see, the looper gets its name from the fact it “loops up” in the middle while walking.

cabbage-looper-catepillar-rocksOnce it is full grown, the cabbage looper larva searches for a place to pupate.

lacewing-larva-on-cabbage-looper-cocoonIt makes a cocoon out of white silk, and then pupates underneath. The silk cocoon helps keep out predators like this hungry lacewing larva.

cabbage-looper-mothHere is the moth that came out of that cocoon.

cabbage-looper-moth-with-fuzzy-topCabbage looper moths have a fuzzy topknot that you don't necessarily notice in photographs taken from above.

Seeing moths differently yet?  Interested in exploring the moths in your community? The National Moth Week website has several suggestions for how to find more moths, both during the day and at night.

If you choose, let us know if you participate in National Moth Week and what moths you encounter.


Studying moths with children? We have Moth and Butterfly Facts with Hands-On Activities at the Growing With Science Website  and a recently-updated List of Moth and Butterfly Books for Kids at Science Books for Kids.



This week we are excited to observe National Moth Week, which runs from July 20- 28, 2013. The website has links to many local events, so see what is happening in your area.

Why moths? Moths are often ignored in favor of their more-brightly colored and day-flying relatives, the butterflies, yet they are more numerous and ecologically diverse. Many are just a beautiful as butterflies, they are simply harder to spot. According to the news release:

National Moth Week literally shines a much-needed spotlight on moths and their ecological importance as well as their biodiversity. The event allows people of all ages to become “citizen scientists” and contribute scientific data about moths they observe in their own communities. Participating in National Moth Week can be as simple as turning on a porch light at night and watching what happens, or going outside in daylight to find caterpillars and diurnal moths, often mistaken for butterflies.

How do you tell a butterfly from a moth?  Sometimes they look alike and children (and some adults) may not have a clear understanding of what separates the two. Here are two picture books for the youngest reader that will help:


What's the Difference Between a Butterfly and a Moth? (What's the Difference? (Capstone)) by Robin Michal Koontz and illustrated by Bandelin-Dacey (2009) is a beautifully-illustrated picture book that answers the question clearly for children in grades K-3. (Google books has a preview). It also would be useful for units on life cycles.


Butterfly or Moth?: How Do You Know? (Which Animal Is Which?) by Melissa Stewart (2011) uses color photographs to explores the same question. (Google books also has a preview). For example, by asking, "Knobs or no knobs?" Stewart points out that butterflies often have knobs on the tips of their antennae, whereas moths often have feathery antennae.


A great way to celebrate National Moth Week is to pick up a book and learn more about them. See a whole list of children's books about butterflies and moths at Science Books for Kids, including some for older children. The list has been updated and expanded from last year.

Finally, if you know a child who is interested in moths, check the free moth coloring book to print out.

How are you observing National Moth Week? If you would like to, please let us know how you are participating.


Note: Linked titles go to Amazon for further information and reviews. Just so you know, I am an affiliate with Amazon. If you make a purchase after clicking on one of the links, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you, the proceeds of which will help pay for maintaining this website.