moth (Gynnidomorpha Alisman) is a nocturnal insect closely related to butterflies. Both belong to the order of the Lepidoptera. The differences between butterflies and moths is more than just taxonomy. Scientists have identified some 200.000 species of moths worldwide and suspect that there may be as many as five times that number.

The moth is a calm insect.

The moth is a calm insect.

Features

The moth often has feather-like antennae without a stick at the end. When perched, their wings are flat. They tend to have thick, furry bodies and more earthy colored wings. They are generally active at night and rest during the day in a preferred wooded habitat.

They have a very long proboscis (tongues) that they use to suck nectar or other fluids. These proboscis roll up when not in use, like a hose. When used, the proboscis unwinds to its full length and in some species, that length is remarkably long.

Not all moths have long tongues. In some, the proboscis is very short, an adaptation that allows easy and effective drilling of the fruit.

In some, there is no feeding mechanism. There are adults of some species that do not eat any food. Their short lives as adults are spent reproducing and are able to acquire all the energy necessary for this from the fat stored in the body by the caterpillar.

The antennae of moths, palps, legs, and many other parts of the body are studded with sensory receptors that are used for smelling. The sense of smell is used to find food (usually flower nectar) and to find a mate (the female smelling the male's pheromones). Pheromones can be dispersed through the tibia segment of the leg, scales on the wings, or from the abdomen. Pheromones released by females can be detected by males up to 8 kilometers away.

Camouflage and defense

Camouflage is a great defense to avoid being detected by a hungry predator. Some moths look like lichens, others look exactly like the bark of trees native to their habitat. It has even been noted that in urban areas where smoke pollution is strong, some moths have developed a darker coloration than the same species that live in less polluted areas.

Another effective form of camouflage is coloration, which can confuse a predator into hitting a non-vital part of the moth's body or losing it entirely.

Another form of defense is when the moth takes on the appearance of a larger or more threatening creature. This amazing ability is called "mimicry." This form of defense ranges from caterpillars with tails that look like a large poisonous snake head, to moths and butterflies whose markings make them look like large birds.

Vision

The moth (like many other adult insects) has compound eyes and simple eyes. These eyes are made up of many lenses or hexagonal corneas that focus light from every part of the insect's field of vision onto a rhabdom (the equivalent of our retina). An optic nerve then carries this information to the insect's brain. They see very different from us. They can see ultraviolet rays (which are invisible to us).

Vision changes radically at different stages of life.

Moth caterpillars can barely see. They have simple eyes (ocelli) that can only tell darkness from light. They cannot form an image. They are made up of photoreceptors (cells sensitive to light) and pigments. Most caterpillars have a semicircular ring of six ocelli on each side of the head.

Senses

Caterpillars feel touch using long hairs (called tactile setae) that grow through holes throughout their tough exoskeleton. These hairs adhere to nerve cells and transmit information about touch to the brain of insects.

The setae (sensory hairs) on the entire body of insects (including antennae) help them sense the environment. They also give the insect information about the wind as it flies.

Orientation

The moth navigates and orients itself by two methods. They use the moon and stars when available and geomagnetic clues when light sources are obscured.

Behavior

Moths warm up their flight muscles by vibrating their wings, as they do not have the radiant energy of the sun (being nocturnal) at their disposal to serve that purpose.

The famous luna moth, one of the most beautiful moths that we can find.

The famous luna moth, one of the most beautiful moths that we can find.

Habitat

Moths prefer open scrub habitat in heaths, moorlands, swamps, along the margins and hedges of the field, through forests and sand dunes. Although they can be lost in residential areas due to their orientation by the moon and stars, they can be lost in homes due to light bulbs and other artificial lights that they think can orient them.

Distribution

We can find this insect practically all over the world, it has developed to survive in any habitat except the deadly cold of the South Pole.

Food

They feed mainly on nectar from flowers, but they also eat tree sap, bird droppings, animal manure, pollen, or rotten fruit. They are attracted to the sodium found in salt and sweat. This is why butterflies sometimes land on people in parks. Sodium and many other minerals are vital for its reproduction.

Predators

There are many thousands of species of moths and they live all over the world, from the Arctic to the rainforests at the earth's equator. The only place they don't live is Antarctica. This is why they have many predators.

Most moths are nocturnal, meaning they only fly at night, and their nocturnal predators include everyone's favorite flying nocturnal animal, owls, and many members of that predatory class of web-weaving creatures known as arachnids.

When the sun is out, many species of birds spend a lot of time hunting and eating butterflies and moths and their larvae. Other predators of butterflies and moths are lizards and a number of small omnivores like this one.

Reproduction

Most people think that those little caterpillars they see every spring will turn into beautiful butterflies when they grow up. However, this is not the case. The fact is, most caterpillars turn into moths and it's not by a small margin either. The ratio of moths to butterflies is 95% to 5%. Both butterflies and moths share a similar reproductive cycle.

Attraction

Moths use their sense of smell to find a mate. This is because they usually come out at night and are quite drab and gray to begin with, making them difficult to see, even each other. The female moth produces pheromones that the male moth collects. Once the male discovers the scent with his antennae, he flies towards its source and finally locates the female.

Mating

The male and female meet at the abdomen, and the male uses his 'clasps', which are short appendages that resemble hands on the anus, to hold onto the female (this way they can continue to mate even if they have to move to another branch of the tree to escape a predator).

Then passes a sack, known as the spermatophore, through his penis. The spermatophore not only contains sperm, but also nutrients to help the developing larvae. The female stores the sac in the reproductive center of her abdomen, called bursa copulatrix. She can mate with several males in succession before laying her eggs. There is no sense of monogamy in the world of moths.

Laying eggs

The females have eggs stored in their bodies. Soon after the male's sperm fertilizes these eggs, he will lay them. Some species, like the cecropia, can lay more than 100 eggs at a time. In most cases, they are responsible for depositing them near a food source for their young, such as a leaf. The eggs hatch between a couple of days and a couple of months later, depending on the moth species and environmental conditions. For example, if it is too cold outside to keep the young, the eggs may not hatch until the weather warms up.

Growth

Moth caterpillars feed and grow until they are ready to form cocoons. They must go through a metamorphosis and become adults before looking for a mate.

The evolution of the moth.

The evolution of the moth.

State of conservation

It is an animal that is in danger of extinction due to the high growth of cities and artificial lights that we produce so that they cannot continue a normal development.

Popular culture

Mothman u Hompre-Moth is a popular folklore character or urban legend that originated in a small town in Virginia. Its origin dates back to the end of November 1966 where four teenagers were driving on the back roads of Point Pleasant. As they passed an old munitions plant, they witnessed what appeared to be a tall man standing on the side of the road. It had no visible head, large wings folded over its back. As they passed, the man began to spread his wings and chase the car.

Graphic representation of Mothman, or moth-man.

Graphic representation of Mothman, or moth-man.

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