All About Moths

Age range: All Ages!

Noctuidae - Euchalcia variabilis


Moths are insects that are closely related to butterflies. They both belong to the order Lepidoptera. Moths are usually active at night and rest during the day. Moths drink the nectar from flowers — they have a proboscis (tonged) that they use to suck nectar or other fluids. Many moths are camouflaged so that they can avoid predators!


Erebid moth (Eulepidotis affinis)


Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus on Echinacea purpurea 2800px

Moths tend to hold their wings in a tent-like fashion that hides their abdomen. Butterflies tend to fold their wings vertically up over their backs.
Moths are typically smaller with drab-colored wings. Butterflies are typically larger and have more colorful patterns on their wings.
Moths fly during the night. Butterflies fly during the day
A moth makes a cocoon, which is wrapped in silk covering. Both butterflies and moths make protective coverings for the pupa (the intermediate stage between larva and adult).A butterfly makes a chrysalis, which is hard, smooth, and has no silk covering.

Fun facts about Moths

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Species of Moths

There are over 150,000 known species of moths.

There are many more species of moths than butterflies. Butterflies and skippers (hooked-shaped antennae) make up 6 to 11 percent of Lepidoptera order, while moths make up 89-94 percent of the Lepidoptera order.

Moths 89%

The moon and moths

Moths use the moon, stars and geomagnetic field to navigate during the flight.

Moths can be small as a pinhead or large as the hand of an adult man. Their wingspan ranges from 0.11 to 12 inches.

Moths are an important source of food for the birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and numerous invertebrates. Even people in some parts of the world consume moths as a valuable source of proteins and minerals.

Moth Lifespan

Adult moths live from 1 to 4 weeks. Males have longer lifespan than females.

Butterflies and moths hear sounds through their wings.

Moths, and particularly their caterpillars, are a major agricultural pest in many parts of the world.

Time Required:

≈ 5 minutes for set up; time is variable for moth visibility

Materials Needed:

  • A light-colored bed sheet (white preferably)
  • A flashlight
  • Space to hang a bed sheet

Optional Materials: Camera

Activity Breakdown:

This is a super fun observational activity that lets students “become” scientists in the field! The activity goes as follows:

  1. Using the information provided, give students some background and “fun facts” about moths.
  2. Around dusk, go to any nature area (front yard, back yard, etc) with a light-colored bed sheet and a flashlight.
  3. Hang your bed sheet lengthwise, so it’s stretched tight.
  4. Shine your flashlight behind the sheet, so it illuminates the entire backdrop
  5. Wait for moths to start appearing!
  6. Once moths show up, students will be able to see them clearly against the sheet. They can take pictures if they wish, but make sure to tell them not to touch the moths’ wings!