Coming off of National Pollinator Month in June, many of us are thinking about and understand the importance of butterflies, birds, and bees as pollinator species. Did you know that moths also play an important role in our ecosystems, but that not all of them are pollinators? While yes, some, such as the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (learn more below!) are indeed pollinators, many moth species actually lack mouthparts and live as adults to only mate and lay eggs.
So other than pollinate, what is the point of moths?
Overall, moths are great food sources for many other larger animals such as birds, mammals, and even other insects! Having a diverse population of moths can also be a bioindicator of a healthy overall ecosystem. Their presence shows that their vital host plant populations are present, and indicate that other animals further up the food chain will be present as well since their moth snacks are around.
There are roughly 160,000 moth species found worldwide. 433 of them are native to Pennsylvania and the surrounding region. Learn more about some colorful moths found in PA below!
This orange and tan moth is quite a sight to behold on it’s walnut tree host plants! That is, if you are lucky enough to spot one! These are primarily nocturnal animals, but may be seen tucked away, sleeping during the day. These are one of the larger moths in Pennsylvania; it’s wingspan measures 3.5-5″. It’s caterpillar (larval stage), has a much larger body, measuring roughly 5-6″ long!
These creatures aren’t pollinators though, so having nectar plants around won’t attract them. Instead, be sure that their host plants of Walnuts, Hickories, and occasionally Sumacs and Sweetgums, are present!
Would you believe that this cutie’s coloration is a form of camouflage? These moths have an uncanny similarity to the size and color of a maple samara (those helicopter seeds). This helps them hide from predators, since the moth visits Sugar and Red Maple trees frequently to lay their eggs.
Again, these adults have no usable mouth parts, so they aren’t important pollinators. Instead they are important food sources for many birds including Tufted Titmice, Blue Jays, chickadees, and to predatory & parasitic insects.
This is my personal favorite insect! “Hummingbird moths” are named for their striking behavioral and morphological resemblance to hummingbirds. They are roughly the same size as the native Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and hover in similar fashions. They dart from flower to flower, many of which also attract hummingbirds, using their long proboscis to drink nectar.
As such, these are moths that also are wonderful little pollinators! While this sets them apart from the other moths on this list, they also are set apart from other moths in general since they are daytime pollinators. Most moths that also help to pollinate flowers are nocturnal.
For the entire two weeks that these adult moths live, they flit around to mate and lay their eggs in great masses on birch and cherry trees.
As another member of the Silk Moth family, they do not have functioning mouthparts (the main reason that they can’t live for very long once becoming an adult!), so they are not pollinators. Yet they are still of great ecological importance! Their numerous caterpillars are a favorite snack of many birds and are very high in nutrients.
This highly recognizable moth is classified as one of the most “beautiful” moths and it’s image has been used all over popular art, media, and more. In 1987, the US Postal service created a first-class stamp featuring this moth! It is found throughout much of North America, so many people continent-wide know it!
Despite sounding like a strictly nocturnal creature, based on it’s name, it can be seen during the day. The “Luna” portion of it’s name comes from the moon shaped spots on it’s wings.
Luna moth populations are negatively impacted, especially in urban areas due to light pollution. The adults spend too much time flitting around light sources. This wastes valuable energy (they don’t eat either!), and allows nocturnal predators to catch them with ease. They can’t get around to mating and laying eggs, so as light pollution increases, Luna Moth population decreases. You can help support their populations by turning off lights when not in use, especially at night.
White birch, walnuts, hickories, sumacs, sweetgums, and persimmon trees are their primary host plants. Planting these where native can also support moth populations!
Do you have a love and fascination in moths? Get to know them a little more and keep them around through my Moths of PA Sticker set (set includes all 5 moths illustrated above, but without the backgrounds)! A portion of the proceeds benefits wildlife conservation efforts. Free shipping in the United States!
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