Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Polyphemus Moth

Today’s blog was written by Jessica Stillman, School Outreach Coordinator at Bronte Creek Provincial Park.

Moths are wonderful!

While we may mock their desire to go toward the light, they lead interesting and diverse lives.

With over 2,800 moth species recorded in Ontario on iNaturalist, we wanted to shed some light on five moth facts we think you need to know this National Moth Week:

The alarm sounds

Eating is essential for a caterpillar’s growth and subsequent metamorphosis.

No one wants to be bothered or eaten worse, which is why some moth caterpillars have developed LOUD ways of protecting themselves during this important and constant part of their day.

Virginia Creeper Sphinx MothVirginia Creeper Sphinx Moth

Using their “teeth,” mouth, or spiracles (small holes in the exoskeleton used for “breathing”), some moth caterpillars can produce clicks, chirps, hisses, and vocalizations.

To make sounds, nut sphinx moth caterpillars hiss, expelling air from their abdominal spiracles.

This sound may not seem that scary or loud to us, but it is known to scare predators away from hunting!

Milkweed tussock mothMilkweed tussock moth

The sounds caterpillars make can also warn predators that they have a chemical or other defense mechanism, or even trick a predator by imitating another dangerous species.

Do not be rude; it’s just garbage

Frass is the word used to describe the poop of many insects, including moth caterpillars.

Because caterpillars eat almost constantly, they create a large amount of droppings, which predators can use to detect their location.

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A downy moth with red, orange and black striped wings, resting on a paper towel.painted lichen moth

To avoid this, some caterpillars, such as Lichen Moth caterpillars, will explosively expel their droppings as far as possible to conceal their true location.

They have been recorded projecting their excrement more than 1.5 times the length of their body.

That’s one way to hide evidence of the banquet venue!

All moths fly at night, not so fast!

Not all moths come out only at night.

Hummingbird moths, which get their name from the way they move and fly like hummingbirds, are active during the day.

A yellow and black moth with lacy brown wings perched on a wide blade of green grassSnowberry Clearwing Moth, another example of a day-flying moth

While it may seem strange to think of a moth being active during the day, it makes sense when you consider what it is imitating. Hummingbirds are active during the day, so to be fully engaged, this moth must also be active when the sun rises!

Sure, it makes you more visible to predators like birds, but there are fewer birds hunting other hummingbirds than there are predators hunting tasty moths.

A perfect costume.

Watch this amazing video to learn more about hummingbird moths and moth research in provincial parks!

eat or not eat, that is the question

Food is an important part of a growing and developing caterpillar’s life, but for some moths, once they reach their final stage of life (as a moth), food is not the most important thing on their minds.

Polyphemus MothPolyphemus Moth

Polyphemus moths only live four days as adults, so finding a mate and laying eggs is their priority.

With the end approaching, this moth has no need or time to eat, which means it doesn’t need a mouth either. Their mouthparts have become vestigial, meaning they are not functional. So the answer to some moths’ question is: don’t eat; partner instead.

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Long distance makes love grow

Living solitary lives, male moths may not know what love looks or sounds like, but they do know what it smells like.

For male Luna moths, finding a mate is based entirely on scent.

Polyphemus and the moon mothPolyphemus and the moon moth

Female lunar moths release sex-attracting pheromones that males detect using their bushy antennae. Once a male detects a scent trail, he must follow it, sometimes miles away, to find its mate.

Wind can alter the scent trail and other males may be able to locate the female lunar moth faster, making this no easy task! If the male is successful, it will be love at first sight, as adult lunar moths only live a week.

Stay off the menu

Some moths have developed ear-like organs to pick up the echolocation calls of bats.

This allows them to take evasive measures to avoid this important moth predator.

Polyphemus MothPolyphemus Moth

Once a bat is spotted, a sudden change of direction, aerial loops, spirals, and even stopping flight to fall to the ground are useful ways to avoid being on the dinner menu.

There are other tactics that moths use to avoid being eaten by bats.

Discover more by playing our free Kahoot! Online play before August 31!

We told you moths are wonderful!

Facts like this about moths are not possible without the research and observation of scientists and people like you.

Help park staff and the moth-loving community learn about the moths that call Ontario home by submitting your moth sightings on iNaturalist.

A hand resting on a page of an insect identification book next to the image of a lichen moth.  A live lichen moth rests on the first finger of the hand.

Have you seen a moth in a park and want to know more about it?

Talk to a Discovery staff member to learn more about your wonderful find.

We have experts in our parks who would love to share a mothMore data with you!