Living Columns & Blogs

A moth is much more than a flame-lover

The Luna Moth, as a winged adult, can live up to a week before it mates, lays eggs and the life cycle begins again. Like most moths it is is mostly seen at night. It's wingspan can be up to 4 1/2 inches, making it one of North America's largest moths.
The Luna Moth, as a winged adult, can live up to a week before it mates, lays eggs and the life cycle begins again. Like most moths it is is mostly seen at night. It's wingspan can be up to 4 1/2 inches, making it one of North America's largest moths.

Use the expression “Like a moth to a flame!” and you are describing someone who is irresistibly and dangerously attracted to someone or something, no matter how potentially bad the association. The phrase, an allusion to the moth's natural attraction to bright light, is oft repeated in song, poetry and every-day lingo.

The poor maligned moth. What did it ever do to deserve such a reputation?

Self-incinerating on a too-hot light bulb or candle flame might qualify, but the fascinating life of this creature is so much more than death by light.

Did you know that some urban species of moths, those in cities awash with nighttime light, are evolving and are not as attracted to light as their ancestors of William Shakespeare's time. Surely in English lit you read the words of Portia in “Merchant of Venice”:

“Thus hath the candle singed the moth. Oh these deliberate fools! When they do choose, they have the wisdom by their wit to lose.”

Why am I writing about moths? I walked out the patio door this morning, unto the deck and spied two winged beauties. A Rosy Maple Moth clung to the screen and a Luna rested on the wall near the outdoor light figure.

Wow! I double checked with an identification booklet I have for Virginia moths.

Interestingly, these two species are found in Mississippi, but I didn't pay much attention to our Coast moths. Perhaps as a kid and later as an adult, I sought out showier butterflies, as most of us do.

I suspect moths aren't as plentiful, or at least as visible, on the Coast as they are in the Virginia Piedmont where I also hang my hat on a small wooded hill. Moths abound here, big and small, colorful and drab.

This hill gives me a new perspective on the natural world, and I am attracted to it like, well, a moth to a flame. Instead of being detrimental, however, my newfound attraction makes me contemplative.

I've noticed that in the spring, before the butterflies arrive en masse, moths are plentiful. The large, green Lunas, made popular by a TV advertisement for a sleep aide, are a treat to find, as is the odd but much smaller yellow and pink, fuzzy-headed Rosy Maple.

Seeing them this morning made me contemplate the differences between a moth and a butterfly, so I did some quick research. They both belong to the insect order Lepidoptera, which means “scale winged,” a reference to the powdery, often colorful, scales that come off when touched.

BTW, it is myth that if you rub off some of those scales when you touch a butterfly or moth wing that they can no longer fly and might even die. Although they weigh in at mere 500 milligrams, they are hardier than that. The scales are shed naturally in their lifetimes.

In the United States, there are a lot more species of moths than flutter-bys, Here's a bit of what I learned about their differences:

Behavior – Moths are nocturnal and butterflies are diurnal. That means moths tend to fly at night and butterflies in the daytime, although exceptions exist.

Wings: Moths tend to fold their wings, much like a tent, which protects their abdomen. Butterflies tend to fold their wings like praying hands on their backs.

Antennae: The antennae is the easiest way to tell a moth from a butterfly. Butterfly antennae are thin and often have tiny club-shaped tips. Moth antennae are feathery or comb-like.

Stages: The pupa, (the inactive, immature stage between larva and winged adult) needs a protective covering. A moth makes a cocoon, which is wrapped in silk. A butterfly makes a chrysalis, which is hard and smooth.

Coloration: Butterflies have the reputation of being more colorful and showy but moths, too, can be beautiful. I am just as delighted to be visited by a Luna Moth as I am a Swallowtail Butterfly.

Consider obtaining a good reference book or digital app to look up identifications as your new moth-tuned eyes spot them. It's nice to put a name to a wing.

Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville, VA 22923.

  Comments