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National Moth Week

National Moth Week is observed the last full week in July (July 20-28, 2024) to promote the significance of moths and encourage you to learn more about them. Moths are valuable pollinators of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. They are also important food sources for lizards, frogs, bats, birds and other insects.

Moths are in the insect order Lepidoptera, which also includes butterflies. While less popular than butterflies, moth species outnumber butterfly species by a factor of 9 to 1. Scientists estimate there are between 150,000-500,000 moth species worldwide, 12,000 moth species in the United States. There are nearly 3,000 species in Florida; peak numbers coincide with the emergence of spring flowering plants.

There are a few traits that differentiate moths from butterflies. Most moths are nocturnal (night flyers), while butterflies are diurnal (day flyers). Moth antennae are feathery, and butterflies have club-shaped antennae. Moth cocoons are wrapped in silk; butterflies form chrysalises that are smooth. Moths rest with wings open whereas butterflies fold their wings back to rest. Moth caterpillars tend to be fuzzy or hairy; butterfly caterpillars have smooth skin and may have spikes.

One well-known and beloved moth caterpillar, the wooly bear, is believed to be able to forecast a mild or harsh winter. According to legend, the more black hairs (setae) found on a woolly bear, the harsher the coming winter will be. Larger bands of red or brown on the caterpillar’s midsection denote a warmer winter.

Researchers have failed to find a scientific relationship to support this belief. Nonetheless, each time the caterpillar molts (six times before becoming a moth) it becomes more rusty in color and less black. Color patterns could indicate how early or late in the year the caterpillar last molted, which could potentially reflect trends in weather and temperature. Additionally, caterpillars with more black coloration absorb more sunshine, which would benefit the caterpillar in cooler weather. Wooly bears differ from other caterpillars in that they can survive freezing and thawing multiple times over the winter. They spin their cocoons when temperatures warm up then emerge as adult Isabella tiger moths (Pyrrharctia isabella). You can find tiger moths flying around during summer evenings.

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