Moths

(Lepidoptera species)



With over 142,000 described species worldwide, Moths are a smashing success, second among animals only to beetles in number of species.

Over 12,000 species, grouped into 65 families, are found in North America alone.

The Luna is probably the most recognized species.

Luna Moth

The fauna of the Southwest is particularly rich, as it includes the northern limit of distribution for many primarily Neotropical species.

Within the order Lepidoptera, moth species outnumber butterflies and skippers nearly 15 to 1, with many species left to be described, especially among the numerous “microlepidopteran” families.

Moths and Bats make up the night shift.

Pollination is key to flower fertilization and often happens naturally as insects visit flowers for nectar. Many night blooming flowers employ a different strategy for getting themselves fertilized (pollination syndrome) than do the daytime bloomers.

While the sun is up, flowers use color to flag down passing insects and birds.

In the low light of dusk and night, intense flower colors fade to black.

White and pale tones almost glow in moonlight so these are the shades that draw night moths. Odor is another floral attribute important to night fliers.

Strong, sweet or spicy scents draw moths from hundreds of feet away. And when it arrives at the scented white flower, it hopes to find a tubular shaped flower that will accommodate its drinking straw shaped mouthpart (proboscis). All this adds up to a formula used by night time pollinators.

Tubular or trumpet shaped flowers in pale colors or white, open late in the day into nighttime, and emitting a strong perfume like the Moonflower (Datura wrightii).

Day blooming flowers with tubular bases that butterflies feed on may be used by some Lepidoptera species as well (Sphinx or Hummingbird).

Next consider the availability of food sources for the young.

Hummingbird Moth

Moths don't seem to get the attention that bees or butterflies do. But they are well worth some attention. You've likely given them more attention, in their caterpillar phase, than you realize.

The species far outnumber butterfly species, and includes lots of showy larvae and winged adults. While these caterpillars are active (maybe too active) in
your garden daily, many adults wait until dark to make the rounds.

Larvae are incredibly diverse in their feeding habits. Likewise, adults vary in their nectaring needs; some don't feed at all.

Those that you'll likely encounter as night pollinators belong to a few groups.

Obviously, the first step to observing pollinators is to find or grow the flowers they visit. Many "moon garden" selections will be good choices for the night shift, since the light colors and strong scents that make their flowers good choices for our pleasure at night are also preferred by night pollinators.

Tomato hornworm

Some larvae, like the tobacco hornworm (aka hawkmoth) are handily named for the plants they consume as caterpillars.

More often than not, we see the damage from the larval state as we discover some of our plants seem to be stripped clean almost over night. Or crops like squash vines eaten from within.

Typical chemical pesticides residues will be harmful to these insects, just as
they affect daytime pest insects.

The "natural" pesticides formulated with Bacillus thuringiensis are toxic to larvae just as they are to pest caterpillars of all Lepidoptera species.

Attract Moths, butterflies and Other pollinators

Protecting Pollinators

Pollination Primers

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