What Do Moths Eat and Drink

What Do Moths Eat and Drink?

Most adult moths eat nectar or simply do not feed, and moth larvae feed on many types of foliage and clothing fibers. Adult male moths of the Calyptra genus are capable of feeding on blood.

Clothes moths are infamous household pests due to the ability of larvae to feed on keratinous materials, such as wool or fur. Over time, this causes serious damage to textiles. Damage occurs mostly beneath buttons, around seams and in pockets due to the moth’s habit of seeking out dark, recessed spaces. Adult clothes moths lack mouth parts and do not eat at all.

Gypsy moths are a significant pest species in parts of North America. Larval gypsy moths cause extensive damage to the foliage of trees, sometimes resulting in tree death and deforestation. Like clothes moths, adult gypsy moths do not feed.

Adults of the aptly named hummingbird clearwing hover at flowers to sip nectar, like the eponymous bird species. Hummingbird clearwings belong to a larger family, the sphinx moths. While adults are harmless nectar feeders, the larvae of some species are garden pests.

Moths of the genus Calyptra, native to Malaysia and southern Europe, have the nickname of vampire moths. Adult males of this genus possess a proboscis capable of piercing flesh and drawing blood for nourishment. While this behavior causes a sore or itchy spot for the moths prey, Calyptra carry no diseases and are not harmful.


What Do Moths Eat?

Apart from the butterfly’s resplendence, moths and butterflies are quite similar in their appearance. Both possess two wings, a pair of antennae and are known to feed on nectar. Scientists claim that butterflies essentially evolved from moths, yet they classify these insects separately in the order Lepidoptera, which translates to “scaly wings”.

However, unlike butterflies, moths are known to be nocturnal insects, which denies them the use of vision to locate food. Moths also have larger antennae than butterflies, which are devoid of knobs. The larger antennae give moths excellent olfactory senses, enabling them to feed on flowers that bloom at night. These flowers radiate an intense smell that is effortlessly picked up by floating moths.

(Photo Credit: Youtube)

Unfortunately, moths have acquired a nefarious reputation for ripping holes in your beloved sweaters. That being said, adult moths found reposing on fabrics are highly misunderstood creatures; they do not, as we’ll find out, feed on fabrics. In fact, some species of adult moths lack the apparatus to chew food itself – they don’t have mouthparts to feed on anything!

Yet, if adult moths seldom eat anything, how do larvae grow into sepia-winged adults? What do they eat?

What do larvae eat?

After a larva spurts into existence, it has only two indispensable aims: To gain weight in order to proceed into the next phase of their life cycle, and throughout its youth, to avoid being killed by a predator.

(Photo Credit: Pixabay)

The latter is achieved by camouflaging. To achieve the former, moths purposely lay their eggs in the vicinity of a host plant. For instance, a Cherry Dagger Moth only feeds on cherry trees and Common Oak Moths only feed on, as you might have guessed, oak trees.

However, their diet is not limited to just plants or nectar, which are the foods they are most often associated with. Larval moths are known to be voracious feeders. In their primal phase, they possess chewing organs that they use to chew just about anything in their proximity. This includes hair, fur, furniture, paper dust and materials near oil and wool. Thus, the contempt we feel for adults is misdirected and is actually deserved by the gluttonous larvae.

(Photo Credit: Flickr)

Between the larval and the adult stage is the pupal stage. To avoid being devoured by a predator, the pupa is designed to protect itself by means of camouflage or its solidity. Otherwise, the moth can undergo its pupal stage by remaining underground.

What do adult moths eat?

There exist at least 150,000 species of moths in the world, including the Giant Moth, Sphinx Moth and Owlet Moth. After the larvae have accomplished their primary survival tasks, they progress into the pupal stage and finally bloom into the final stage of their ephemeral lives.

A moth’s only aim throughout its adult life is to find a mate and procreate to facilitate the continuation of its species. An adult moth, therefore, does not require as much nourishment as a larval moth did.

The chewing apparatus is now transmuted into a tube-like apparatus called a proboscis. Similar to butterflies, this tube provides a moth with a fluid-pumping mechanism to suck on a flower’s nectar, which then flows into their digestive tract and is excreted through its anus.

Other than nectar, they also suck on honeydew, juices of decaying fruit, tree sap, and manure liquids or animal droppings or feces. Adult moths generally display a propensity to feed on food that is rich in sodium or minerals that enhance its virility; they are consumed to gain energy for reproductive purposes.

However, some adults, to our surprise, don’t feed at all! They utilize the energy they obtained as a young moth foraging through vegetations. This stored energy is utilized later for flying and reproducing.


What Do Caterpillars Eat?

Host Plants for Moth and Butterfly Caterpillars

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Caterpillars, the larvae of butterflies and moths, feed almost exclusively on plants. You will find most caterpillars munching happily on leaves, though some will feed on other plant parts, like seeds or flowers.

Generalist Feeders vs. Specialist Feeders

Herbivorous caterpillars fall into one of two categories: generalist feeders, or specialist feeders. Generalist caterpillars feed on a variety of plants. Mourning cloak caterpillars, for example, will feed on willow, elm, aspen, paper birch, cottonwood, and hackberry. Black swallowtail caterpillars will feed on any member of the parsley family: parsley, fennel, carrot, dill, or even Queen Anne’s lace. Specialist caterpillars restrict their feeding to smaller, related groups of plants. The monarch caterpillar feeds only on the foliage of milkweed plants.

A small number of caterpillars are carnivorous, usually feeding on small, soft-bodied insects like aphids. One rather unusual moth caterpillar (Ceratophaga vicinella) found in the southeastern U.S., feeds exclusively on the shells of dead gopher tortoises. Tortoise shells are made of keratin, which is tough for most scavengers to digest.

Determining What to Feed Your Caterpillar

Whether a caterpillar specializes on a specific type of plant or feeds on a variety of host plants, you will need to identify its food preferences if you’re going to raise it in captivity. You can’t put a caterpillar in a container with grass and expect it to adapt to eating something different than its usual diet.

So how do you know what to feed it, if you don’t know what kind of caterpillar it is? Look around the area where you found it. Was it ​on a plant? Collect some foliage from that plant and try feeding it that. Otherwise, gather samples of whatever plants were nearby, and watch to see if it chooses a certain one.

Also, keep in mind that we often find caterpillars when they’re wandering away from their host plants, looking for a place to pupate. So if the caterpillar you collected was crossing a sidewalk or trudging across your lawn when you picked it up, it might not be interested in food at all.

Oak Leaves: The (Nearly) Universal Caterpillar Food

If your caterpillar won’t eat anything you’ve offered it, try collecting some oak leaves. An incredible number of moth and butterfly species—well over 500—will feed on oak leaves,   so the odds are in your favor if you try Quercus leaves. Other foods that are preferred by many caterpillars are cherry, willow, or apple leaves. When all else fails, try leaves from one of the powerhouse perennials for caterpillars.

Host Plants for Caterpillars to Eat in Your Garden

If you want to plant a true butterfly garden, you need more than nectar plants. Caterpillars need food, too! Include caterpillar host plants, and you’ll attract a lot more butterflies as they visit your plants to lay eggs.

When you plan your butterfly garden, include some caterpillar host plants from this list. A well-designed butterfly garden supports not only this year’s butterflies but generations of butterflies to come!


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