Look on the Bright Side: The Lives of Ohio Moths

Spring is here and so are our many pollinators and beautiful bugs! Many times when people think of beautiful bugs, their first thought might be butterflies. But what about moths? Moths are usually overlooked as butterflies’ uglier, boring relative but they can be just as interesting and just as helpful to the environment!

Moths and butterflies are from the same order called Lepidoptera and are both important pollinators to our environment, but they have several differences as well. Most moths are nocturnal, and only come out at night, whereas butterflies are diurnal, meaning they come out during the day. Since moths are nocturnal, they have a few different features from butterflies that help them survive at night. Firstly, they have a duller coloring so they can blend into their surroundings easier. Moths also have to have big eyes and big antennae so they can stay safe from predators at night. Here are just a few of the cool moths you can find here in Southwest Ohio!

Luna Moth

A bright green Luna moth caterpillar is on a tree branch. It has tiny, red spots across its body.
Luna moths are bright green from caterpillar to adult. Click to enlarge photo. (Actias luna – Luna Moth Caterpillar” by Thomas Shahan is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)
A bright green Luna moth rests against a tree trunk.
You can often find Luna moths on hardwood trees and forested areas at night. Click to enlarge photo. (“Luna moth (Actias luna)” by khteWisconsin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

The luna moth (Actias luna), sometimes mistaken as a lunar moth, is a common and beautiful moth you can find in some Great Parks! They’re a bright green and can be easily identified by their long, curving tails. Luna moths are fairly large moths, with a wingspan of 1–2 inches. They usually can be found in May–June on most hardwood trees. Like all moths, luna moths do not eat as adults, so they only live a few weeks once fully grown. Their main purpose is to breed and pollinate.

Rosy Maple Moth

A rosy maple moth caterpillar rests on a green leaf. The caterpillar is a light, greenstriped in color. It has a yellow head and two prominent horns on its head.
A rosy maple moth caterpillar snacks on a leaf. Click to enlarge photo. (“#7715 – Dryocampa rubicunda – Rosy Maple Moth Caterpillar” by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.)
A rosy maple moth sits against wood. The moth is cream colored with pink or rosy wings that have a horizontal cream strip across them.
A close-up of the rosy maple moth’s pink-and-yellow-colored wings. Click to enlarge photo. (“Rosy Maple Moth” by foxtail_1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

Rosy maple moths (Dryocampa rubicunda) are covered in yellow and pink coloring. Sometimes they can be more a white or cream than yellow. These eye-catching insect tends to have a wingspan of 1–2 inches. Rosy maple moths can be found in May–August, and usually can be found on several types of maple trees. They use their big antennae to detect odors and sounds, which help them get around more than eye sight!

Giant Leopard Moth

A giant leopard moth caterpillar is curled up in a circle. It is primarily black with a few brown stripes and has black spines protruding from its body.
A giant leopard moth caterpillar – aka, a wooly bear – curls into a ball, showing its spines, to defend itself. Click to enlarge photo. (“Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar, Ecpantheria scribonia” by Rob Swatski is licensed under CC BY NC 2.0.)
A white giant leopard moth. The moth is primarily white with black spots and white, black-ringed spots along its body.
A giant leopard moth shows off its black spots. Click to enlarge photo. (“Giant leopard moth or Eyed tiger moth” by Ronnie Pitman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

The giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia) is the largest species of tiger moth. The adults are white with mostly hollow black spots, but sometimes they can be solid black spots. Their wingspan is 2–3 inches. Giant leopard moths can be found on several kinds of low-growing and woody plants. Their caterpillars are called wooly bears and they are big, fuzzy-looking caterpillars! To defend themselves from prey, they will curl up to show their spines, similar to a hedgehog. Their spines are not venomous, but are very pointy and sharp. Giant leopard moths also can produce high frequency clicks to respond to bat sonars.

Cecropia Moth

A green Cecropia moth caterpillar munches on a green leaf. The moth is green in color, with different color tubercles across its body. The tubercles are blue, green, and red. The tubercles have black spikes protruding from them.
This Cecropia moth caterpillar has green, blue and red projections or tubercles on its back. Click to enlarge photo. (“Cecropia Moth Caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia)” by Marvin Smith is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)
A Cercopia moth rests against wooden rafters. The moth has a bright red body with brown, red, and white wings.
Has a Cercopia moth been lured to your porch light? Click to enlarge photo. (“Cercopia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)” by Kurt Faler is licensed under CC BY NC 2.0.)

Cecropia moths (Hyalophora cecropia) are a beautiful type of silk moth. They are the largest moth found in North America with a wingspan of 5–7 inches. They can be identified by their red bodies and black or brown wings with bands of red and tan. Cecropia moths can be found in March–July. Their caterpillars are one of my favorite, with their rainbow-like spots going down their back. Cecropia moths usually feed on various trees and shrubs, and they can be found in a lot of urban areas because they’re easily attracted to street lights and porch lights.

We are lucky enough to see many different amazing moths in Southwest Ohio and these are just a few to look for! If you’re interested in learning more about these beautiful creatures, check out the resources below.

Maddie Jones
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest

Works Cited