A look at moths..

Moths and Butterflies belong to the Order Lepidoptera. There is over 160,000 known species of moths nearly ten times the amount of butterfly species. Most of these are nocturnal, some are crespular and some fly by day. 

Moths have shape and sizes that vary tremendously. In this country we possess 2,400+ species and a great deal more on the Continent of Europe. It is perhaps a consequence of our capricious climate that so many species are found here. The diverse vegetation and the habitats in which they flourish support many species.

Because of the position of Britain in the world, species enjoy a greater degree of twilight which helps to attract more species, than probably found in tropical climates, where the twilight duration is much shorter.   The function of moths in Britain seems to be as plant feeders or being the food of other nocturnal species, as for an example bats.


The structure of adult moths is of interest and is varied among the many species. In some species they are designed for rapid flight and/or prolonged and continued flight, the body shape of this type of moth is usually conical and they possess wing nerves that are very strong. Whilst in the Geometridae, the species tend to be feeble, which flit around hedgerows,occasionally , during daylight hours. The whole structure is light and weak, but it is in the Families Alucitidae {many plumed moths} and the Pherophorinae {plumed moths} that are the lightest of the species occur.

Pterophorinae moths.

 The sub-family of Pterophorinae  produces moths that are both diverse and interesting. The structure make them the lightest of species in the Order.The wings are split from the tip almost to the base into distinct plumes.

Hawk moths are built for prolonged flight their bodies are robust and conical shaped.

Characteristics continued.

In some species the tongue which is characteristic of most, is absent. The majority fly at dusk, or during the night, there are some that happily fly in the brightest sunshine { see humming bird moth Click on the relevant content banner on the right hand side of this page}.

Many species hover over long tubed flowers such as honeysuckle, extracting the nectar while still on the wing, using their long tongues. Others are slow or even sluggish, hardly moving except during the period of mating.

However, it is the diversity of the sexes that there is a great variation, the males being generally smaller and of a brighter colour than the females. The antennae of the males are often beautifully adorned with lateral branches, so as to resemble a double combe of fringe, whilst those of the female are relatively simple.

Some species have the sexes so completely at variance with each other it is sometimes hard to believe they are the same species. The females are wingless and the bodies are mis-shaped. However, this unusual difference between the sexes are present in but a very few species, but in every such case the antennae of the males are spectacularly adorned with a fringe of finecomb like hairs.

The colourful Burnet moth is a day time flyer.


Attracted to light

The habit of moths to enter lighted buildings at night during the summer months, and flying around lighted candles, going so close as to nearly burn their wings, is somewhat mysterious. Most moths have the habit of avoiding light in the natural world, by remaining inactive until twilight commences.

It is a kind of bewilderment which compels these creatures, even at the risk of death, to flitter around a light at that period of time when they ought to be going about their natural business, upon the wing.

Scientists believe that moths are not ' attracted ' to the flame, but rather, disorientated by them.Studies have revealed that moths {and other flying insects} have evolved to receive light {sun/moon} with a fixed part of the eye, more or less, in a straight line, their visual pattern remains unchanged.

However, should a light source, as from a naked flame from a near by candle, the light strikes the moths eyes suddenly as it tries to hold a straight line. When this type of incident occurs the moths do what they have evolved to do, as respect to the light of the sun or moon, that is to say, maintain a constant angle to the source. In attempts to do so it spirals towards the light. They appear to be disorientated that it may be drawn to the flame. 

Being green moth light---Courtesy of earthsky.org

Moth on ragwort


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