Moths are more than a nuisance, often drawn to the lights in your home before they meet their untimely death. There are more than 2,500 different species of moths throughout the world. They play a massive role in our ecosystem, helping to pollinate flowers, serving as a food source, and giving us hints about the environment around us.
That's just the beginning of why you should skip swatting a moth the next time you see one. Let's explore 13 of the most common moths, broken down by those who are harmful (pests) and those who are friends.
Pest moths will eat you out of house and home if given a chance, so it's essential to deal with them before they ruin your hard work. Be careful. Some have developed immunity to certain pesticides over time, so they won't be easy to get rid of.
Keep Codling Moths away from your crops, especially if you grow fruits like pears and apples. Codling Moths attack fruits as their primary food source because they can't feed on leaves. Once they infiltrate your crops, Codling Moths will ripen prematurely and render them unusable. They are a small, grey patterned moth with a brownish back tip that was native to Europe before being spread worldwide. They only grow up to 0.4 in (10 mm) long with a wingspan of 0.8 in (20 mm).
Diamondback Moths were indigenous to Europe, but they are now found worldwide. Another moth that's considered a pest, they feed primarily on cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, arugula, collards, watercress, Brussels sprouts, and radishes.
Diamondback Moths developed a resistance to pesticides over time, so they are a hearty stock committed to infesting crops. They feature a grey-brown color with a cream, diamond-shaped band. This distinctive marking is how they get their name and how you'll know you have trouble if you find them in your crops or garden. They are small, only about 6 mm (0.24 in) long, with a wingspan of 15 mm (0.6 in).
Fall Webworm Moths
The Fall Webworm Moths are a type of pest that feed on various crops, trees, and shrubs, including mulberry, willow, pecan, sweetgum, and oak. Where these trees are, Fall Webworm Moths will follow. They are white with dark markings on their bodies and a wingspan of 1.2 in (30 mm). Fall Webworm Moths are native to North America, though they've moved to Europe and Asia. They are often confused with eastern tent caterpillars because they look similar.
Greater Wax Moth
Greater Wax Moths are pests, but not in the traditional sense. Instead of harming crops and trees, they attack honeybees and their hives, which is economically and ecologically devastating. Much work is being done to help control the Greater Wax Moths, also called the Honeycomb Moth. They are found on nearly every continent, featuring a brown and white coloring that helps them camouflage.
Indian Meal Moth
The Indian Meal Moth is a pest that feeds primarily on corn or maize, though they can also be called the pantry moth, flour moth, grain moth, and weevil moth. It's highly motivated by food, so take extra care to keep these moths out of your crops. While indigenous to the United States, they've since migrated to all continents except Antarctica. They feature reddish-brown wings with spots of bronze and grey. They grow between 0.3-0.39 in (8-10 mm) long and have a 0.63-0.79 in (16-20 mm) wingspan.
Light Brown Apple Moth
Light Brown Apple Moths are another moth that attacks fruits, and apples are their preferred diet. While the population is being controlled in the United States, they are still highly destructive and pose significant threats to ecological and agricultural systems because of their voracious appetite. In fact, they are known to feed on up to 123 different types of plants.
Light Brown Apple Moths are typically light brown, though the females can have darker tips with markings. The females are larger than the males, and Light Brown Apple Moths can grow between 0.24 – 0.51 in (6-13 mm) in length. They are often confused with other types of moths because of their general appearance.
Not all moths are pests, so if you find any of the below near your home and garden, don't rush for the pesticide. They will not harm your crops or vegetables; instead, they play a critical role in promoting a healthy ecosystem.
The Atlas Moth is a stunning moth that looks like a giant butterfly. It has a wingspan of 9.8-11.8 in (24.89-29.97 cm) wide, making it one of the world's largest moths based on the incredible surface area of its beautifully patterned wings. The wings feature a mixture of copper and brown with white, pink, and purple markings.
That's not the only feature that sets Atlas Moths apart from other species in Asia and around the world. The female moths typically weigh more than the males, ranging between 25-28 grams (0.05-0.06 pounds). They also don't have a mouth, which means they cannot eat. Instead, Atlas Moths live off the energy they had as caterpillars and have an average lifespan of 5-7 days.
Giant Leopard Moth
The Giant Leopard Moth is another big moth with a wingspan of up to 3 in (76 mm). The males are typically larger than the females and can grow between 1.2 – 2 in (30-51 mm). Native to North America, the Giant Leopard Moth has a white body with black spots throughout its frame. They can also feature navy blue, orange, black, and white markings all over their bodies and legs. Giant Leopard Moths mate for 24 hours or more at a time.
The Gypsy moth comes in different varieties, including those indigenous to Europe, Asia, and North America. While they're similar, each has distinctive characteristics. For example, female European Gypsy Moths cannot fly, while female Asian Gypsy Moths can. Japanese Gypsy Moths are distinguished by their large, dark brown males. Regardless of the subspecies, typically, the males are smaller than the females, with wingspans between 3-6.7 cm (1.18-2.63 in).
Isabella Tiger Moth
As larvae, the Isabella Tiger Moth has a wool-like black and white body that's very distinctive, earning it the name wooly worm, wooly bear, or the banded wooly bear. Once they become adults, the Isabella Tiger Moth turns yellow-orange with thick, scaly thorices. They are found throughout North America and the Arctic. Isabella Tiger Moths have a 1.8-2.6 in (4.5-6.5 cm) wingspan. They eat whatever plants are available, but they are not considered a pest species.
Japanese Silk Moth
Native to East Asia, the Japanese Silk Moth produces white silk that has been exported throughout Europe because it's stretchy and strong. While their silk is expensive and rare, the Japanese Silk Moth has a long history. These beautiful moths come in different colors, including brown, grey, bronze, yellow, and tan. They often have a black eyespot on their hind wings that help distinguish them from other moths. Japanese silk moths have a wingspan of 4.3 - 5.9 in (110-150 cm).
Luna moths are among the biggest moths found in North America. Also called the American moon moth, it features distinctive lime-green wings with a white body. It has a large wingspan, extending between 4.5 to 7 in (114 to 178 mm) wide. Luna Moth's back wings have spots fashioned to look like eyes, confusing predators into thinking they've been spotted. These eyespots can feature red, blue, black, green, or yellow. An adult Luna Moth does not have a mouth, so it can't eat to sustain itself. Its sole purpose is to reproduce, so Luna Moths will only live about seven days – long enough to reproduce sexually or asexually.
The Peppered Moth gets its name from its black and white spotted body and wings, which is stout with long, narrow wings. You'll often find these resting on lichen-covered trees because their features help camouflage them to protect these moths from predators. Peppered Moths are often called Darwin's Moths because they are a great example of natural selection and population genetics. Peppered Moths are nocturnal and have a wingspan of 2.17 in (55 cm). While they're most commonly found in the United Kingdom, peppered moths have migrated to other parts of Asia and Europe.
The Final Word on Moths
Not all moths will harm your ecosystem, but some can have devastating and lasting ecological effects. If you have any questions on what type of moths you may have, use this list to identify and deal with them accordingly. Don't just kill moths for killing's sake; instead, take the time to learn if it is helpful or harmful before you reach for the bug spray.