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.