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At first glance it would seem a normal butterfly but in reality it has very different characteristics and habits. We are talking about the moth, an insect that has been considered by many to be enigmatic since ancient times. An aura of mystery that largely derives from the fact that the moth, unlike the butterfly, is a lesser known animal.
Moths belong to the same insect order as butterflies, namely i lepidoptera. However, there are considerable differences between the two specimens. Most of the moths are in fact nocturnal, while butterflies are in the vast majority of cases day-flying insects.
One of the main differences that distinguishes moths from butterflies concerns the shape of the antennae. At the ends of the antennae, the butterflies have small swellings. The antennae of moths instead they can be of multiple forms. For example, they can be rod-shaped, thread-like, pinnate or bipinnate.
To differentiate the moths from the butterflies are also the colors. The latter are usually characterized by bright colors. Moths, on the other hand, are often characterized by dull colors, such as gray, brown, black or a combination of them.
The wings of the moths are equipped with very efficient camouflage characteristics, which make these insects almost invisible during the day. Generally, during the day they cling to a tree trunk or placed on the surface of a leaf. They also have the habit of resting on the walls of buildings, disguising themselves against backgrounds of a similar color to theirs.
Among the most interesting features of moths from a scientific point of view, it should be remembered that they are cold-blooded insects. That is, they absorb the heat they need from the surrounding environment. Being used to flying at night in order to escape from predation by birds, these insects cannot use the sun to warm themselves. To face the obstacle, moths vibrate their wings, thus generating the body heat they need.
As a defense system, moths also possess the ability to secrete liquids which are used as protection from potential predators such as ants and birds.
Moth - how long it lives
Just like in the case of butterflies, one of the biggest curiosities about moths concerns their life cycle. Many of the moths can live from a few days to a couple of weeks, up to a month.
An exceptional case is represented by the species Gynaephora groenlandica. As the name itself shows, it is a variety that lives in extreme conditions, in habitats such as the Arctic where temperatures can drop down to 70 degrees below zero.
To withstand the harsh temperatures, the Gynaephora groenlandica produces a special silk hibernacle which is able to protect it from the cold and from attack by parasitoid wasps. This process is estimated to last for around seven years and, in some cases, up to fourteen years. During this time, the caterpillar eats for one month a year, continuing to postpone the metamorphosis. This technique makes Gynaephora groenlandica the longest-lived moth known to date.
Moth: what it eats
The diet of moths is very varied and also includes elements that do not represent foods in the literal sense of the term. Among its main sources of nourishment, there is for example the keratin, a protein that these insects derive in large quantities from wool. Some moth species are parasites of plants and trees. In this case, the insects devour not only the bark but also trunk segments, even when the wood is particularly hard.
The list of food sources for moths also includes the liquid of decaying fruit and the nectar of flowers. It should not be forgotten that moths play an important role in the spread of pollen and seeds, just like butterflies and other pollinating insects.
How to keep moths away
Especially in the hottest months of the year, it happens quite frequently to see moths fluttering inside the houses. Their disordered flight, which often takes place near artificial light sources, can create a certain annoyance. However, by following simple natural remedies, it is possible drive away the moths, without killing or damaging them.
The simplest method is a preventive one. Simply place mosquito nets on doors and windows, useful to avoid not only the entry of moths but also that of other insects. Another effective stratagem is implemented by limiting the light sources inside the rooms. Just opt for a soft light or, if possible, stay completely in the dark.
Moths are also annoyed by the scent emitted by geraniums. Other unwelcome fragrances are orange, lavender or Tea Tree Oil. A pretty good remedy is to grate Marseille soap into a small bowl, place it on the windows and add a few tablespoons of baking soda. In fact, these are two types of perfumes that moths find repellent.
Unfortunately, a number of false beliefs circulate around moths. For example, it is mistakenly believed that these insects are poisonous to humans. In fact, the vast majority of known varieties do not secrete irritating or poisonous substances, nor do they sting i mammals. When moths settle on warm-blooded animals they do so exclusively to obtain salts from the sweat of the latter.
The only species of moth that feeds on blood is the one scientifically known as Calyptra thalictri. This variety, also called vampire moth, however, does not have the habit of attacking humans.
Moth in tradition: does it bring bad luck?
Tradition attributes a number of false negative beliefs about moths, which are still difficult to eradicate. A wholly imaginative belief is that this insect, when it enters a house, brings bad luck to the people who live there. Popular tradition also suggests that moths are restless souls of the dead who cannot find peace and therefore need a prayer.
The result of easy suggestions is then the belief concerning the dust that falls from the wings of the moths. According to tradition, this substance is accused of causing blindness or death. In fact, the powder performs a specific function on these moths, providing their wings with the rigidity and compactness necessary for flight.
Moth: spiritual meaning
Some traditions instead attribute one magical value to moths, as happens with others nocturnal animals such as owls and owls. In ancient Hispanic cultures, these insects were used to predict the progress of crops in the fields, the weather conditions and the marriage of the young women of the house. Native Americans, on the other hand, considered moths to be a totem animal, identifying them with the powers of transformation and regeneration.