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Facts about moths
The word "moth" may conjure up images of drab brown insects sticking to your screen door on a summer night. But there's much more to these mostly-nocturnal fliers than meets the eye.
Not only are moths extraordinarily diverse in color, shape and size, said David Moskowitz, a New Jersey entomologist and organizer of the first annual National Moth Week (July 23-29), they also offer a huge array of ecological benefits, from pollinating plants to feeding birds, bats and even people around the globe.
Here, OurAmazingPlanet has rounded up seven fascinating facts about these misunderstood insects:
There are more than 11,000 species of moths in the U.S. alone.Slide 2 of 15
There are more than 11,000 species of moths in the U.S. alone.
Moths outnumber butterflies, their nearest relative, by more than 10 to 1, said Matthew Shepherd, communications director and senior conservation associate at the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization focused on insect conservation in Portland, Ore. There are upward of 11,000 moth species in the United States alone — that's more than all the bird and mammal species in North America combined.
Moths can range in size from smaller than a pencil tip to bigger than a songbird. The Atlas Moth, of Southeast Asia, considered the largest in the world, has a wingspan of nearly a foot (30 centimeters) — more than that of a Baltimore oriole. The Royal Walnut Moth, one of the biggest North American species, has a wingspan of about 4.5 inches (11 cm). [Images: Ancient Moth Colors]Slide 3 of 15
Moths make great mimics.Slide 4 of 15
Moths make great mimics.
Some moths are notorious for their ability to impersonate other animals. To avoid being eaten, some moths have evolved to look like less palatable insects, such as wasps, tarantulas and the praying mantis. Some moths even mimic bird droppings.Slide 5 of 15
Moths are important pollinators.Slide 6 of 15
Moths are important pollinators.
While some moths, particularly caterpillars such as the corn earworm, are major agricultural pests, many others are important pollinators. "Their hairy bodies make moths great pollinators — they pick up pollen from any flower they land on," Moskowitz said.
Moth-pollinated flowers tend to be fragrant and white, such as the yucca plant. Plants with these features allow nocturnal moths to easily find flowers after dark.
Some moths pollinate by day. Hummingbird moths hover in front of flowers and unfurl their long tongues to sip nectar; they feed on a variety of flowers, including bee balm, honeysuckle and verbena.Slide 7 of 15
Many adult moths don't eat.Slide 8 of 15