Flutterly Fascinating

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 14, 2010

enough to reproduce is critical to an animal’s success. Many moths have evolved unique markings and coloration to help them blend into the background, look like an object nothing wants to eat or warn a predator that it is inedible.

The orange wing moth is often seen flying through the woods in early spring. While only the hind wings are orange, it looks bright orange in flight so a bird in pursuit forms a search image of an orange moth. When the moth lands, the bird’s target disappears as the brown forewings conceal the orange.

Bird-dropping moths rest on the top side of leaves, their scales a mixture of white, gray, and brown, looking just as their name suggests, which is a great way to avoid being eaten. Other moths have brown, gray, and black scales to help them blend into tree bark, where they rest virtually invisible throughout the day.

Some tiger moth caterpillars absorb chemicals from plants that make animals that eat them sick. Those chemicals are retained in the bodies of the adult moths. Some moths also have tough bodies that can survive the first bite; red, black, white and yellow scales that warn predators not to eat them; and the ability to make high-pitched noises in flight to warn bats.

The black and brown woolly bear seen crawling over the ground in the fall is a tiger moth. It’s edible, but it makes the warning sounds made by the inedible tiger moths. It’s a mimic, gaining protection by imitating another species.

Luring Moths

To attract more moths to your yard for easy observation, you can plant flowers that produce nectar, you can smear moth bait on tree trunks, or you can leave a light on. Not all species are attracted by all three methods, but by trying all of them, you should see a wide variety of moths.

Most adult moths feed on nectar, fruit or sap, just like butterflies. A variety of day-flying moths visit the same flowers as butterflies. Watch for bright orange, white, and black ailanthus webworm moths at dogbane; snowberry clearwing moths at bee balm. Spotted Beet webworm moths, along with a variety of other moths and butterflies, are attracted to sedum and catmint.

Most moths are active at night. Flowers that rely on moth pollination are often white, heavily scented or both. Their fragrance is released once the sun sets and

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