Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Moths are Beautiful Too

a hand holding a plastic dish with seven moths being released outside

Hello Fellow Readers,  A few weeks back, we chatted about how moths are like butterflies that party at night, a sentiment shared by Randi Eckel of Toadshade Wildflower Farm (link to the story below). Since then, I’ve grown far fonder of them; like butterflies, moths are beautiful too.

a greyish brown tucked in the corner of a screenA daily routine in recent weeks is gathering moths that have taken up residence in the screened porch overnight. They’re easy to capture by morning, sliding them into a container, barely waking them until releasing them outside. Curt jokes that I’m gathering the same ones each day. Maybe so, but it brings the question—why are moths attracted to lights and coming indoors?

My porch moths bring a childhood memory.

I’ll admit their party has lessened the desire for porch camps on the futon, having them land in my hair. It reminds me of a time growing up when we’d vie for a position on the cots outside the tent during vacations. It was pitched as a treat, though the truth is we didn’t all fit inside. I woke to my Mom’s “psst” sound to chase a raccoon sitting on my stomach eating undercooked green beans left from dinner. Another time I woke to the tickling sensation of a daddy-long-leggers crawling across my lips. I still adore camping.

There are far more species of moths than butterflies 

Over 160,000 moth species live worldwide compared to 17,500 butterflies, and 11,000 kinds of moths are in the United States. Most moths are nocturnal, active at night, and butterflies by day called diurnal. Both are important pollinators.

a hand holding a lime green moth with light shining through the wings looking transparent

Luna Moth Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

Moths are chubbier, and the scales on their wings sluff off easier than butterflies, hence the powdery debris when you touch them. Their wings are flat on the body when resting, unlike butterflies that hold them tightly upright. Then there are skippers in the family of butterflies that have their wings at different angles when sleeping.

People don’t consider most moths beautiful. Other than, say, the Luna moth (Actias Luna), with its four to seven-inch lime green wingspan and stealth markings that look like eyes baffling bats—one of their greatest predators. Then there are Hummingbird Moths (Hemaris spp.), also called Clearwing Moths, that look like hummingbirds. There are many other beautiful moths too.

a moss-green fuzzy moth with transparent wings that resembles a hummingbird

Hummingbird Moth Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

Mystery of moths attraction to light

It’s a mystery why moths are attracted to artificial light, especially ultraviolet (UV) bulbs, though there have been numerous studies. Most critters that fly keep the light sky above them rather than fly upside down. Nocturnal insects use the light of the moon and stars to navigate flight, and artificial lights confuse them. So, it’s not that they are attracted to it; they are disoriented, causing a sensory overload of sorts. They circle the bulb until they need to rest, finding a spot such as the inside of my screened porch.

Folks create traps under lights taking advantage of the moth’s confusion. But please don’t kill them. Moths, just as butterflies, surpass other insects as critical food for birds and other animals.

Moths don’t eat clothing; it’s their larvae (caterpillars) should a momma moth find animal fibers such as wool, cashmere, silk, or angora, even leather. They seek food for their babies with keratin, the same proteins found in hair and skin—why my diligence to keep them outside.

Yes, mothballs are a deterrent, but they’re almost a hundred percent made of a pesticide called p-dichlorobenzene or PDCB.  Rather than mothballs, cedar-lined closets and trunks or cedar blocks serve as a natural pest repellent.

a single bat sleeping on a wooden beam of a barn

Curt’s Bat Buddy :^)

What moths and bats have in common 

Speaking of mothballs, they also deter bats I learned during Curt’s DIY attempts to keep the resident bat from hunkering down in the barn. He made clever use of my pantyhose worn long ago in the corporate days. They made ideal casings for the hanging arsenal of deterrents along with shiny throwaway pie plates. The strategy wasn’t effective until he added a fan adding movement to the decorations. It was hilarious. The one lone bat, maybe the same little fellow that hung on the barn door until tumbling down stunned, finally moved on. “I feel a little sad,” Curt said. “I became attached to the little guy.”

Yes, while bats and many moths are considered ugly compared to butterflies, it brings an interesting thought. That beauty depends on things labeled as ugly, an irony of opposites. Yet, they serve magical and critical functions in the garden of life—a beautiful thing.

Garden Dilemmas? (and your favorite Podcast App.)

Link to the Native Plants, especially Oaks, are Essential story featuring Randi Eckel of Toadshade Wildflower Farm.



Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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