What are Moths?

Moths are in the class of “Insecta”— Insects are invertebrates with three parts to its body and six legs.

Moths and butterflies are in the order Lepidoptera, translated to mean “scaly wings” because their wings are made of microscopic scales.

The suborder Heterocera include moths while the suborder Rhopalocera include all butterflies.

Moths evolved long before butterflies, fossils having been found that may be 190 million years old. Both types of Lepidoptera are thought to have evolved with flowering plants, mainly because most modern species feed on flowering plants, 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.

There are several difference between moths and butterflies. Generally butterflies fly during the day and moths fly after dusk. They are most active when the temperature is 80°F but some species can emerge in winter when temperatures reach the 40’s. Moths are generally thick and furry (raised scales) while butterflies are more slender and smooth. Butterfly antennas are slender and thread like with swollen or club ends, moth antennas are usually feathery. Butterflies rest with their wings folded, moths rest with their wings out and open. These descriptions sometimes overlap, as some species of moths and butterflies can have a one or more characteristics specific with what is thought of as common traits for each group.

There are four stages to the life of a moth— first there is the “egg.” It hatches into a “larvae”— called a caterpillar. The caterpillar is an “eating machine,” it molts out of its skin many times as it grows. Each growth stage is called an instar.  Most eventually build “cocoons” where they go through metamorphism. The final stage is called the adult when  emergence from the cocoon  is complete  – the majority of images included in this online guide represent the species in its final form before the life history process begins anew.