When was the last time you sat down and appreciated the humble moth? I know moths, at least where I live, tend to be a little drab, but they’re actually fascinating creatures. Luckily, it’s National Moth Week, so you have an excuse to get outside and investigate moths in all their glory!
1. Moths get bigger than you might think. And also smaller.
When I think of moths, I usually think of relatively small, winged insects. Maybe an inch long. But actually moths vary in size greatly. The Atlas moth is considered to be the largest moth, with a wingspan of about 10 inches. Lay your hands down side-by-side on a table so your thumbs are touching. The Atlas moth’s wingspan is a little bigger than that. It also has a surface area of 62 square inches. That is one enormous moth.
If moths can be super big, they can also be super small. Very super small. A yet to be described moth from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was discovered in 2012. It’s only 1 mm long with a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 mm. The length of this tiny moth is comparable to a typed period. We’re talking very, very small.
2. Moths helped show that natural selection actually happens.
Evolution is a scientific fact, and it just so happens that the humble moth helped illustrate the mechanism of evolution, by which I mean natural selection.
Peppered moths live all over the world and they come in light and dark varieties. In England in the 1950s, coal dust was getting all over everything, including trees. The trees in question naturally had white-ish bark. Thanks to a good coal-dusting, the bark was now black. The light peppered moths were then easier for birds to spot and therefore catch and eat. The population of light moths decreased while the population of black moths increased because their dark color was better camouflage. As Britain made air quality better, the trees went from black to white again, and black peppered moths became rarer and light peppered moths became common. It’s hard to find a more stark example of how natural selection works than that.
3. Moths are masters of disguise.
No, I’m not just talking about how some people can’t tell the difference between butterflies and moths. There are some types of moths that are actually really good at disguising themselves as their scarier insect brethren. For example, both moths from genus Cosmosoma and from the family Sesiidae mimic wasps. These two types of moths have lost the scales on their wings so they look clear and have yellow stripes on their bodies. The Scarlet-bodied wasp moth, pictured above, is another example.They don’t look like the moths we’ve come to know and love. Moths don’t always mimic stingy insects to avoid predators, though. The Buff-tip moth looks suspiciously like a broken branch when it’s sitting still.
4. Some moths have no mouths and don’t eat.
It sounds weird but it’s totally true. While some moths do suck nectar and are important pollinators, others don’t have a mouth at all. For example, the Atlas moth mentioned earlier has no mouth, neither does the luna moth. As such, these gorgeous (and big) moths only live for a bout a week. Their sole function in this phase of their lives is reproduction.
5. There are nine times more species of moths than butterflies.
Even though butterflies get a lot more press, there are far fewer species than their similar cousins. There are about 17,500 known species of butterfly and, while that’s a lot, there are 160,000 known species of moth.
As you can see, moths are everywhere, and in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors, so make sure to take some time this National Moth Week to appreciate them!