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  • Writer's pictureBrice Claypoole

For the love of moths!

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

I couldn’t resist posting something for National Moth Week (though I’m a bit late since national moth week was July 18-26). You might be thinking, “Okay, wait! Moths are special enough to get their own week?”. Moths are often thought of as dull, brown and useless, but in fact they are extremely helpful and, in some cases absolutely beautiful.

Many moths such as this ornate bella moth sport stunning colors and patterns. One night in a seagrape thicket on the edge of the beach dunes, my sister Coco was surprised to have a bat fly at her head, then land in a seagrape next to us. On closer inspection, we found it was a ridiculously large moth, a black witch moth. It was a magical moment for us, standing in the dark thicket looking at this mysterious creature sometimes known as mariposa de la muerte or the butterfly of death (though it is completely harmless). (Photos by Brice Claypoole)

Not only can moths be beautiful and magical, but they are also super important. Without moths and other arthropods, we would lose 96% of terrestrial bird species in North America (Dickinson 1999). How can that be?! Birds are dependent on little insects like moths? Baby birds need energy packed and plentiful food in order to survive and it happens that insects, especially moth caterpillars fit that bill perfectly. Well, they did fit that bill perfectly, and they still fit the energy packed part of it, but moths are now in decline and are becoming less plentiful. With less and less moth caterpillars for them to eat, more baby birds will starve.

This mommy or daddy, or maybe even sibling, tufted

titmouse bird may need to collect hundreds of

caterpillars to feed this hungry baby. (Photo by Ali Claypoole)

So why are moth populations declining? There are many reasons, but two of the biggest ones are insecticides and non-native plants. Insecticides are chemicals designed to kill insects. As you can imagine, insecticides have severe impacts on the environment. It is never a good idea to use chemicals designed to kill living beings as widely as we have used insecticides. Insecticides have harmed bees, butterflies, moths and many other beneficial insects. If we want to stop baby birds from starving, then we must not use insecticides in our yards. Now, on to non-native plants, the vast majority of common garden plants are non-native. So, what’s the big deal? For millions of years our native moth species have evolved to eat native plants, but they cannot survive on non-native plants. So, we must grow more native plants in our gardens to support moths and baby birds.

I hope I will never see a world where there are no moths so big, beautiful and mysterious they have earned names like mariposa de la muerte. And I hope I will never see a world without birds. But I may see a world like this if we don’t respect moths.

For more information on how to save the moths and the birds go to

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1 comentario

31 ago 2020

I've never heard of a black witch moth!! How cool is that? Thanks for highlighting these underappreciated insects!

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