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Moths are a paraphyletic group of insects that contains all non-butterfly members of the order Lepidoptera, with moths accounting for the great bulk of the order’s members. There are an estimated 160,000 different species of moths, many of which have yet to be named. The majority of moth species are nocturnal, however some are crepuscular or diurnal.
The moths, which make up the rest of the Lepidoptera, do not form a monophyletic group like the butterflies. Many attempts have been made to group the Lepidoptera superfamilies into natural groups, but most of them have failed because one of the two groups is not monophyletic: Microlepidoptera and Macrolepidoptera, Heterocera and Rhopalocera, Jugatae and Frenatae, Monotrysia and Ditrysia, and Monotrysia and Ditrysia.
Although there are no well-established guidelines for identifying moths from butterflies, one excellent guiding concept is that butterflies have slender antennae and little balls or clubs at the end of their antennae (with the exception of the family Hedylidae). The antennae of moths are normally feathery and do not have a ball at the end. This approach is used to identify the divisions: “club-antennae” (Rhopalocera) or “varied-antennae” (Rhopalocera) (Heterocera). Lepidoptera differs from other species because, in the Middle Triassic, they evolved a tube-like proboscis that allowed them to obtain nectar from blooming plants.
The current English term moth is derived from Old English moe (Northumbrian mohe), which is derived from Common Germanic (see Old Norse motti, Dutch mot, and German Motte, all of which mean’moth’). Its roots are said to be linked to the Old English word maa, which means’maggot,’ or to the root of the word midge, which was generally used to refer to the larva until the 16th century, usually in connection to consuming garments.
Moth larvae, often known as caterpillars, spin cocoons from which fully formed moths with wings emerge. Some caterpillars of moths excavate burrows in the earth to reside in until they are ready to transform into adult moths.
Moths predate butterflies by millions of years; moth fossils dating back 190 million years have been discovered. Both types of Lepidoptera are assumed to have co-evolved with blooming plants, owing to the fact that most current species feed on flowering plants as adults and larvae. Archaeolepis mane is one of the oldest known species presumed to be a moth ancestor. Its fossil remains display scaled wings with veining that resembles that of caddisflies.
In many regions of the world, certain moths, particularly their caterpillars, may be severe agricultural pests. Corn borers and bollworms are two examples. In the northeastern United States, where it is an invasive species, the gypsy moth caterpillar (Lymantria dispar) does serious damage to forests. The codling moth causes substantial damage in temperate climes, particularly to fruit crops. The diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) is the most devastating pest of brassicaceous crops in tropical and subtropical climes. The African sugarcane borer is a serious pest of sugarcane, maize, and sorghum in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Because their larvae devour fabric manufactured from natural proteinaceous fibers such as wool or silk, some moths in the Tineidae family are usually regarded as pests. Mixed materials including some artificial fibers are less likely to be eaten by them. They may be repelled by the aroma of wood from juniper and cedar, lavender, or other natural oils, according to some sources; nevertheless, many experts believe this is unlikely to prevent infection. Although naphthalene (the chemical found in mothballs) is thought to be more effective, its effects on human health are a worry.
Moth larvae can be destroyed by freezing the materials they infest for many days at temperatures below 8 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit).
While moths are known for devouring clothing, the majority of species do not, and some adult moths do not consume at all. Some huge moths, such as the Luna, Polyphemus, Atlas, Promethea, cecropia, and others, lack mouth parts. This is feasible because they rely on the food reserves they built up as caterpillars and only live for a brief period as adults (roughly a week for some species). Adult moths, on the other hand, devour a variety of things, including nectar.
Moths are farmed for their economic worth in some cases. The silkworm, the caterpillar of the domesticated moth Bombyx mori, is the most well-known of them. It is raised for the silk that it uses to construct its cocoon. The silk business generates more than 130 million kg of raw silk per year, valued around $250 million in the United States, as of 2002.