Magnificent Winged Wonders

All, Stories

Did you know that there are more than 20 times more species of moths than butterflies in Ohio? There are more than 160,000 species of moth worldwide and more than 3,000 of those can be found right here in Ohio. And new species are being discovered and catalogued every year!

Only about 1% of moth eggs make it to become adult winged wonder. Almost 99% of caterpillars die due to predators such as birds, parasitoid wasps and flies and other predatory animals. The world’s largest moth is the giant atlas moth from southeast Asia with a wingspan of more than 10 inches. The smallest is the Nepticulidae family with only a 3 millimeter wingspan.

Ailanthus webworm moth (Photo by Doug Focht on Flickr)

So what’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly? Both butterflies and moths go through a complete metamorphosis. Both also have a long tongue called a proboscis and tiny scales that cover their bodies and wings. But that’s where a lot of their similarities end.

Moth Butterfly
Fly at night Fly during the day
Feathery antennae Single filament with a clubbed tip
Rest with wings open Rest with wings closed
Fatter and hairier Typically more colorful
Pupal stage: soft cocoon filled with silk, old leaves and other plant parts Pupal stage: Hard, smooth chrysalis

Why should you care about moths you may ask? Well, they are beautiful; help feed other animals such as bats, spiders and birds; and lastly, they are very important pollinators. Moth caterpillars provide a food source for about 75% of breeding Ohio songbirds, so without the moths we’d lose a lot of the songbirds.

Moths are very important pollinators. Moth-pollinated plants are usually white and emit a fragrance at night to attract the moths. Evening primrose and certain orchids such as the prairie fringed orchid are only pollinated by moths. Sphinx moths are specifically attracted to this orchid species.

Hummingbird moth (Photo by Jack Sutton)

To learn more about moths and how to identify these magnificent winged wonders, join me at a free, upcoming citizen science program:

Operation Observation: Mothing
Friday, August 25 at 8:30 p.m.
Woodland Mound – Seasongood Nature Centre

To see a full list of Great Parks’ citizen science programs, click here

Naturalist Jenn Wallace with luna moths

Jenn Wallace, Naturalist, Woodland Mound