Moths comprise a group of insects related to butterflies, belonging to the order Lepidoptera. Most lepidopterans are moths, and there are thought to be approximately 160,000 species of moth, many of which have yet to be described. Most species of moth are nocturnal, but there are also crepuscular and diurnal species.
|Emperor gum moth, Opodiphthera eucalypti|
While the butterflies form a monophyletic group, the moths, comprising the rest of the Lepidoptera, do not. Many attempts have been made to group the superfamilies of the Lepidoptera into natural groups, most of which fail because one of the two groups is not monophyletic: Microlepidoptera and Macrolepidoptera, Heterocera and Rhopalocera, Jugatae and Frenatae, Monotrysia and Ditrysia.
Although the rules for distinguishing moths from butterflies are not well established, one very good guiding principle is that butterflies have thin antennae and (with the exception of the family Hedylidae) have small balls or clubs at the end of their antennae. Moth antennae are usually feathery with no ball on the end. The divisions are named by this principle: "club-antennae" (Rhopalocera) or "varied-antennae" (Heterocera).
The modern English word "moth" comes from Old English "moððe" (cf. Northumbrian "mohðe") from Common Germanic (compare Old Norse "motti", Dutch "mot", and German "Motte" all meaning "moth"). Its origins are possibly related to the Old English "maða" 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.
Moth larvae, or caterpillars, make cocoons from which they emerge as fully grown moths with wings. Some moth caterpillars dig holes in the ground, where they live until they are ready to turn into adult moths.
Moths evolved long before butterflies, with fossils having been found that may be 190 million years old. Both types of Lepidoptera are thought to have evolved along with flowering plants, mainly because most modern species feed on flowering plants, both as adults and larvae. One of the earliest species thought to be a moth-ancestor is Archaeolepis mane, whose fossil fragments show scaled wings similar to caddisflies in their veining.
Some moths, particularly their caterpillars, can be major agricultural pests in many parts of the world. Examples include corn borers and bollworms. The caterpillar of the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) causes severe damage to forests in the northeastern 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. Also in sub-Saharan Africa, the African sugarcane borer is a major pest of sugarcane, maize, and sorghum.
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 some artificial fibers. There are some reports that they may 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).
Despite being notorious for eating clothing, most moth adults do not eat at all. Many, like the Luna, Polyphemus, Atlas, Promethea, cecropia, and other large moths do not have mouth parts. While there are many species of adult moths that do eat, there are many that will drink nectar.
Some moths are farmed for their economic value. 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. As of 2002, the silk industry produces more than 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 also are 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 larvae of many species are used as food, particularly in Africa, where they are an important source of nutrition. The mopane worm, the caterpillar of Gonimbrasia belina, from the family Saturniidae, is a significant food resource in southern Africa. Another saturniid used as food is the cavorting emperor (Usta terpsichore). In one country alone, Congo, more than 30 species of moth larvae are harvested. Some are sold not only in the local village markets, but are shipped by the ton from one country to another.
Nocturnal insectivores often feed on moths; these include some bats, some species of owls and other species of birds. Moths also are eaten by some species of lizards, cats, dogs, rodents, and some bears. Moth larvae are vulnerable to being parasitized by Ichneumonidae.
Baculoviruses are parasite double-stranded DNA insect viruses that are used mostly as biological control agents. They are members of the Baculoviridae, a family that is restricted to insects. Most baculovirus isolates have been obtained from insects, in particular from Lepidoptera.
There is evidence that ultrasound in the range emitted by bats causes flying moths to make evasive maneuvers because bats eat moths. Ultrasonic frequencies trigger a reflex action in the noctuid moth that causes it to drop a few inches in its flight to evade attack. Tiger moths also emit clicks which can foil bats' echolocation.
Some studies indicate that certain species of moths, such as those belonging to the families Erebidae and Sphingidae, may be the key pollinators for some flowering plants in the Himalayan ecosystem
Moths frequently appear to circle artificial lights, although the reason for this behavior (positive phototaxis) remains unknown. One hypothesis is called celestial or transverse orientation. By maintaining a constant angular relationship to a bright celestial light, such as the moon, they can fly in a straight line. Celestial objects are so far away that, even after travelling 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. When a moth encounters a much closer artificial light and uses it for navigation, the angle changes noticeably after only a short distance, in addition to being often below the horizon. The moth instinctively attempts to correct by turning toward the light, thereby causing airborne moths to come plummeting downward, and resulting in a spiral flight path that gets closer and closer to the light source.
Studies have found that light pollution caused by increasing use of artificial lights has either led to a severe decline in moth population in some parts of the world or has severely disrupted nocturnal pollination.
Table lists worldwide raw silk production 132,400 metric tonnes in 2002
World Raw Silk Production in 1996 is listed as 83,670 metric tonnes
The Arctiinae (formerly called the family Arctiidae) are a large and diverse subfamily of moths, with around 11,000 species found all over the world, including 6,000 neotropical species. This group includes the groups commonly known as tiger moths (or tigers), which usually have bright colours, footmen, which are usually much drabber, lichen moths, and wasp moths. Many species have "hairy" caterpillars that are popularly known as woolly bears or woolly worms. The scientific name of this subfamily refers to this hairiness (Gk. αρκτος = a bear). Some species within the Arctiinae have the word “tussock” in their common name due to people misidentifying them as members of the Lymantriinae based on the characteristics of the larvae.Bombyx mori
Bombyx mori, the domestic silkmoth, is an insect from the moth family Bombycidae. It is the closest relative of Bombyx mandarina, the wild silkmoth. The silkworm is the larva or caterpillar of a silkmoth. It is an economically important insect, being a primary producer of silk. A silkworm's preferred food is white mulberry leaves, though they may eat other mulberry species and even Osage orange. Domestic silkmoths are closely dependent on humans for reproduction, as a result of millennia of selective breeding. Wild silkmoths are different from their domestic cousins as they have not been selectively bred; they are thus not as commercially viable in the production of silk.
Sericulture, the practice of breeding silkworms for the production of raw silk, has been under way for at least 5,000 years in China, whence it spread to India, Korea, Japan, and the West. The domestic silkmoth was domesticated from the wild silkmoth Bombyx mandarina, which has a range from northern India to northern China, Korea, Japan, and the far eastern regions of Russia. The domestic silkmoth derives from Chinese rather than Japanese or Korean stock.Silkmoths were unlikely to have been domestically bred before the Neolithic Age. Before then, the tools to manufacture quantities of silk thread had not been developed. The domesticated B. mori and the wild B. mandarina can still breed and sometimes produce hybrids.Domestic silkmoths are very different from most members in the genus Bombyx; not only have they lost the ability to fly, but their color pigments have also been lost.Coleophoridae
The Coleophoridae are a family of small moths, belonging to the huge superfamily Gelechioidea. Collectively known as case-bearers, casebearing moths or case moths, this family is represented on all continents, but the majority are found in temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. They are most common in the Palearctic, and rare in sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and Australia; consequently, they probably originated (like most or all other Gelechioidea families) in northern Eurasia. They are relatively common in houses, they seek out moist areas to rest and procreate.Cosmopterigidae
The Cosmopterigidae are a family of insects (cosmet moths) in the order Lepidoptera. These are small moths with narrow wings whose tiny larvae feed internally on the leaves, seeds, stems, etc. of their host plants. About 1500 species are described. The taxonomic family is most diverse in the Australian and Pacific region with about 780 species.
Several genera formerly included here have been moved to the Agonoxeninae.Cossidae
The Cossidae, the cossid millers or carpenter millers, make up a family of mostly large miller moths. This family contains over 110 genera with almost 700 known species, and many more species await description. Carpenter millers are nocturnal Lepidoptera found worldwide, except the Southeast Asian subfamily Ratardinae, which is mostly active during the day.
This family includes many species with large caterpillars and moths with a wingspan from 9–24 cm (3 1⁄2–9 1⁄2 in). These moths are mostly grey; some have long, narrow wings and resemble hawkmoths (Sphingidae) which are more advanced macrolepidoptera, however. Many are twig, bark, or leaf mimics, and Cossidae often have some sort of large marking at the tip of the forewing uppersides, conspicuous in flight, but resembling a broken-off twig when the animals are resting.
Caterpillars are smooth with a few hairs. Most cossid caterpillars are tree borers, in some species taking up to three years to mature. The caterpillars pupate within their tunnels; they often have an unpleasant smell, hence another colloquial name is goat moths.
The family includes the carpenterworm (Prionoxystus robiniae) and the goat moth (Cossus cossus) which have gained notoriety as pests. However, the large caterpillars of species that do not smell badly are often edible. Witchetty grubs – among the Outback's most famous bush tucker – are most commonly the caterpillars of Endoxyla leucomochla, one of the more than 80 cossid species in Australia. In Chile, the sweet-smelling caterpillars of the Chilean moth (Chilecomadia moorei) are harvested in quantity and internationally traded as butterworms, for use as pet food and fishing bait.Crambidae
The Crambidae are the grass moth family of lepidopterans. They are variable in appearance, the nominal subfamily Crambinae (grass moths) taking up closely folded postures on grass stems where they are inconspicuous, while other subfamilies include brightly coloured and patterned insects which rest in wing-spread attitudes.
In many classifications, the Crambidae have been treated as a subfamily of the Pyralidae or snout-moths. The principal difference is a structure in the ears called the praecinctorium, which joins two tympanic membranes in the Crambidae, and is absent from the Pyralidae. The latest review by Munroe and Solis, in Kristensen (1999), retains the Crambidae as a full family.De Havilland Tiger Moth
The de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth is a 1930s British biplane designed by Geoffrey de Havilland and built by the de Havilland Aircraft Company. It was operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and many other operators as a primary trainer aircraft. In addition to the type's principal use for ab-initio training, the Second World War saw RAF Tiger Moths operating in other capacities, including maritime surveillance and defensive anti-invasion preparations; some aircraft were even outfitted to function as armed light bombers.
The Tiger Moth remained in service with the RAF until it was succeeded and replaced by the de Havilland Chipmunk during the early 1950s. Many of the military surplus aircraft subsequently entered into civil operation. Many nations have used the Tiger Moth in both military and civil applications, and it remains in widespread use as a recreational aircraft in several countries. It is still occasionally used as a primary training aircraft, particularly for those pilots wanting to gain experience before moving on to other tailwheel aircraft. Many Tiger Moths are now employed by various companies offering trial lesson experiences. The de Havilland Moth club, founded in 1975, is now an owners' association offering a mutual club and technical support.Depressariidae
Depressariidae is a family of moths. It has formerly been treated as a subfamily of Gelechiidae, but is now recognised as a separate family, comprising about 2300 species worldwide.Erebidae
The Erebidae are a family of moths in the superfamily Noctuoidea. The family is among the largest families of moths by species count and contains a wide variety of well-known macromoth groups. The family includes the underwings (Catocala); litter moths (Herminiinae); tiger, lichen, and wasp moths (Arctiinae); tussock moths (Lymantriinae), including the arctic woolly bear moth (Gynaephora groenlandica); piercing moths (Calpinae and others); micronoctuoid moths (Micronoctuini); snout moths (Hypeninae); and zales, though many of these common names can also refer to moths outside the Erebidae (for example, crambid snout moths). Some of the erebid moths are called owlets.
The sizes of the adults range from among the largest of all moths (>5 inches wingspan in the black witch) to the smallest of the macromoths (0.25 in wingspan in some of the Micronoctuini). The coloration of the adults spans the full range of dull, drab, and camouflaged (e.g., Zale lunifera and litter moths) to vivid, contrasting, and colorful (e.g., Aganainae and tiger moths). The moths are found on all continents except Antarctica.Erechthias mystacinella
Erechthias mystacinella, the curve-winged apple moth, is a moth of the family Tineidae. It is found in the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and Victoria.
The wingspan is about 14 mm.
The larvae have been found feeding and living inside galls and damaged stems caused by Uromycladium tepperianum, Cecidomyia acaciaelongifoliae and Schizoneura lanigera and on various plants and trees, including Malus domestica, Acacia dealbata and Acacia melanoxylon.Gelechiidae
The Gelechiidae are a family of moths commonly referred to as twirler moths or gelechiid moths. They are the namesake family of the huge and little-studied superfamily Gelechioidea, and the family's taxonomy has been subject to considerable dispute. These are generally very small moths with narrow, fringed wings. The larvae of most species feed internally on various parts of their host plants, sometimes causing galls. Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga) is a host plant common to many species of the family, particularly of the genus Chionodes, which as a result is more diverse in North America than usual for Gelechioidea.By the late 20th century, over 900 genera with altogether more than 4,500 species were placed here, with about 650 genera known from North America alone. While these figures are certainly outdated, due to the many revisions to superfamily Gelechioidea and new descriptions of twirler moths, they still serve to show the enormous biodiversity contained in this important family.
Being abundant, fecund plant-eaters, many species are agricultural pests, including:
Anarsia lineatella – peach twig borer
Aproaerema modicella – groundnut leafminer
Keiferia lycopersicella – tomato pinworm
Pectinophora gossypiella – pink bollworm
Phthorimaea operculella – potato tuber moth, tobacco splitworm
Sitotroga cerealella – angoumois grain moth
Tecia solanivora (Povolny, 1973) – Guatemalan potato moth, Central American potato tuber moth
Tuta absoluta – tomato leafminer, South American tomato mothThe voracious habits of their larvae make twirler moths suitable for biological control of invasive plants. The spotted knapweed seedhead moth (Metzneria paucipunctella), for example, is used to control spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) in North America.Geometer moth
The geometer moths are moths belonging to the family Geometridae of the insect order Lepidoptera, the moths and butterflies. Their scientific name derives from the Ancient Greek geo γη or γαια "the earth" and metron μέτρων "measure" in reference to the way their larvae, or inchworms, appear to "measure the earth" as they move along in a looping fashion. A very large family, it has around 23,000 species of moths described, and over 1400 species from six subfamilies indigenous to North America alone. A well-known member is the peppered moth, Biston betularia, which has been subject of numerous studies in population genetics. Several other geometer moths are notorious pests.Lithosiini
The Lithosiini are a tribe of lichen moths in the family Erebidae.Noctuidae
The Noctuidae, commonly known as owlet moths, cutworms or armyworms, are the most controversial family in the superfamily Noctuoidea because many of the clades are constantly changing, along with the other families of the Noctuoidea. It was considered the largest family in Lepidoptera for a long time, but after regrouping Lymantriinae, Catocalinae and Calpinae within the family Erebidae, the latter holds this title now. Currently, Noctuidae is the second largest family in Noctuoidea, with about 1,089 genera and 11,772 species. However, this classification is still contingent, as more changes continue to appear between Noctuidae and Erebidae.Pterophoridae
The Pterophoridae or plume moths are a family of Lepidoptera with unusually modified wings. Though they belong to the Apoditrysia like the larger moths and the butterflies, unlike these they are tiny and were formerly included among the assemblage called "microlepidoptera".Pyralidae
The Pyralidae, commonly called pyralid moths, snout moths or grass moths, are a family of Lepidoptera in the ditrysian superfamily Pyraloidea. In many (particularly older) classifications, the grass moths (Crambidae) are included in the Pyralidae as a subfamily, making the combined group one of the largest families in the Lepidoptera. The latest review by Eugene G. Munroe & Solis, in Kristensen (1999) retains the Crambidae as a full family of Pyraloidea.
The wingspans for small and medium-sized species are usually between 9 and 37 mm with variable morphological features.It is a diverse group, with more than 6,000 species described worldwide, and more than 600 species in America north of Mexico, comprising the third largest moth family in North America. At least 42 species have been recorded from North Dakota in the subfamilies of Pyralidae.Saturniidae
Saturniidae, commonly known as saturniids, is a family of Lepidoptera with an estimated 2,300 described species. The family contains some of the largest species of moths in the world. Notable members include the emperor moths, royal moths, and giant silk moths.
Adults are characterized by large, lobed wings, heavy bodies covered in hair-like scales, and reduced mouthparts. They lack a frenulum, but the hindwings overlap the forewings to produce the effect of an unbroken wing surface. Saturniids are sometimes brightly colored and often have translucent eyespots or "windows" on their wings. Sexual dimorphism varies by species, but males can generally be distinguished by their larger, broader antennae. Most adults possess wingspans between 1-6 in (2.5–15 cm), but some tropical species such as the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) may have wingspans up to 12 in (30 cm). Together with certain Noctuidae, Saturniidae contains the largest Lepidoptera and some of the largest insects alive today.Sphingidae
The Sphingidae are a family of moths (Lepidoptera), commonly known as hawk moths, sphinx moths, and hornworms; it includes about 1,450 species. It is best represented in the tropics, but species are found in every region. They are moderate to large in size and are distinguished among moths for their rapid, sustained flying ability. Their narrow wings and streamlined abdomens are adaptations for rapid flight. The family was named by French zoologist Pierre André Latreille in 1802.
Some hawk moths, such as the hummingbird hawk-moth or the white-lined sphinx, hover in midair while they feed on nectar from flowers, so are sometimes mistaken for hummingbirds. This hovering capability is only known to have evolved four times in nectar feeders: in hummingbirds, certain bats, hoverflies, and these sphingids (an example of convergent evolution). Sphingids have been much studied for their flying ability, especially their ability to move rapidly from side to side while hovering, called "swing-hovering" or "side-slipping". This is thought to have evolved to deal with ambush predators that lie in wait in flowers.Sphingids are some of the faster flying insects; some are capable of flying at over 5.3 m/s (12 miles per hour). They have wingspans from 4 to over 10 cm (3.9 in).Tortricidae
The Tortricidae are a family of moths, commonly known as tortrix moths or leafroller moths, in the order Lepidoptera. This large family has over 10,350 species described, and is the sole member of the superfamily Tortricoidea, although the genus Heliocosma is sometimes placed within this superfamily. Many of these are economically important pests. Olethreutidae is a junior synonym. The typical resting posture is with the wings folded back, producing a rather rounded profile.
Notable tortricids include the codling moth and the spruce budworm, which are among the most well-studied of all insects because of their economic impact.
Extant Lepidoptera families