Moths have been on earth since long before butterflies. Fossil records suggest that moths were here about 190 million years ago.
About 20,400 butterflies exist world-wide. 765 butterflies are found in North America, and 189 butterflies are thought to occur in Florida.
We are in the midst of National Moth Week, the last week of July. Many moth species have yet to be described, and estimates of the number of moth species range from 150,000 to 500,000. About 11,000 moths species occur in the U.S.
Butterflies are beloved by many people, but moths often are overlooked. Yes, some moths are significant agricultural pests like corn borers or bollworms. Invasive gypsy moths defoliate Northeastern forests. Some moths damage wool or silk clothes, but silk comes from silk moths.
Moths are known as the “night shift” pollinators and are associated with white or pale fragrant flowers. The National Moth Week website has instructions about simple and elaborate ways to view nocturnal moths. A long time ago on March 31, 2000, Dr. Roxanne Connelly (then Rutledge) led an evening insect collecting activity for ORCA volunteers at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.
Not all moths are nocturnal, though. Diurnal (day-flying) moths are are more common in subtropical and tropical climates.
The showy, diurnal moth pictured above, the Spanish moth (Xanthopastis timais), feeds on plants in the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) including spider lilies. The picture comes from the University of Florida Department of Entomology & Nematoligy Featured Creatures website, since I’ve not taken any decent moth photos.
Oleander, an exotic ornamental, has become the preferred larval host for the brightly colored polka dot wasp moth (Syntomeida epilais), the first moth to be shown to use ultrasound communication in mating. Devil’s potato (Eichites umbellata) is a larval host plant for the diurnal faithful beauty moth (Composia fidelissima), a red, white, and blue tropical moth sometimes called the Uncle Sam moth, and the nocturnal tetrio or giant gray spinx moth (Pseudosphinx tetrio).
The Fairchild Botanical Garden website has a marvelous Moths of South Florida Guide created in honor of the 2016 National Moth Week. Check it out to learn more and see photos of adult and larval life stages.
Be on the lookout for beautiful moths, even during the day!