They aren’t butterflies’ ugly stepsister: here’s why moths are just as beautiful

They aren’t butterflies’ ugly stepsister: here’s why moths are just as beautiful

We love butterflies and we dislike the poor moth - but here's why moths don't deserve the hate they get and why they are seriously under-appreciated


The io moth has two large eyespots to flash at predators.
Photo: Deborah Davis

There isn’t a big difference between a butterfly and a moth, but we all know which one out of the two gets more love in the world.

Butterflies are bright, colourful and pretty – you can get butterfly colouring books, butterfly costumes, butterfly-themed jewellery and so much more.

Moths are seen as pests, as ugly, and even a little scary – but they don’t deserve any of the hate that they get.

Most moths are harmless, and some can actually be very beautiful – like the Choristostigma, which is shaped like an arrowhead (like a triangle) and is yellow and purple. Or the chocolate moth, which is dark brown with light, coloured stripes and a delicate lacy pattern on the edges of its wings.

Check out our gallery to see more magical-looking moths!

Butterflies don’t tend to be furry, but moths are. Some big moth species have fat bodies, with powdery coats and antennae (the two stick-like things on their heads) that are shaped like big leaves, giving them a fuzzy, feathery appearance.

The big, pale green swallow-tailed luna moth is an example of all of these things, as is the cecropia moth, which can be 15cm across.

Another reason we dislike moths is that they normally come out at night, whereas butterflies are active in the day. While we sleep, dozens of species of moths fly around, attracted to light and looking for mates. If you live in or near lots of trees, your chances of getting more different kinds of moths increase because trees provide food and shelter for the caterpillars. It seems a shame to be scared of moths just because they come out at night.

Once you start studying moths closely, you begin to see the little brown things that many people fear as cute and colourful.

This is the Anna tiger moth; by painting the moths large, on 30-by-40-inch canvases, she brings out the beauty of their color and form. MUST CREDIT: Deborah Davis.

The banded tussock moth has a wing pattern that looks like a network, and its thorax (the scientific term for middle part of the body of an insect) has thin blue lines. The Habrosyne has a pattern like a Native American rug. The spiny oakworm moth is orange and pink.

Some moths share a similar feature with certain grasshoppers and beetles – hindwings, which are the bottom set of wings behind the bigger forewings at the top. These hindwings are often brighter and more colourful than the forewings. Examples include the Anna tiger moth, with creamy yellow hindwings under forewings patterned like broken glass, the ultronia’s red and black, and the Io moth’s huge, eye-like spots – which are probably meant to scare away predators.

Moths are as worth appreciating as butterflies, even if they aren’t as brightly coloured or as showy as their daytime cousins.

The next time you come across a moth, you should take a moment to really look at it.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Moths: they can be pretty too!


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