Moths, like the one in the photo above, are insects with scaly wings. If you disturb one, you might see what looks like dust falling from its wings but the ‘dust’ will actually be some of the tiny scales dropping off. Like butterflies, they have two pairs of wings and long, rolled-up tongues (probosces) but, unlike butterflies, moths tend to have thick, hairy bodies and their antenna may be feathery and don’t have a ball-shaped ‘club’ at the end.
Many types of moth are ‘nocturnal’, which means that they are active at night but sleep during the day. You might have seen moths in the evening-time when it starts to get dark because they can be attracted to the lights in our houses when they are fluttering about. So, why do moths like the night-time? And if they like light, why don’t they just come out during the day?
Well, not all types of moths are active at night. But like other nocturnal animals, those that do have adapted to the darkness in order to avoid predators (things that want to eat them – like bats, owls and spiders) and to find food when other creatures that might eat the same things as them are asleep.
We think that moths find their way around in the dark either using the Earth’s magnetic field or using the light reflecting off the Moon as a guide. Moths are attracted to light and at night, the Moon is often the brightest object in the dark sky. But the lights in our houses and towns and cities can confuse moths and send them off course away from where they want to go.
Moths have a great sense of smell – in fact, the male silkmoth can smell a female silkmoth from six miles away! And some moths are pollinators, using their antennae to find flowers. So for plants with flowers that open at night, moths can play a very important role in their reproductive lifecycle.
Did you know that there are more than 2,500 moth species in the UK, and they live in a range of different habitats from gardens and woodlands, to marshes and mountains. And whilst you might think that moths are just boring, browny-grey insects, some species have bright, colourful wings – like the Madagascan moon moth in my photo.