In our excitement over butterflies, we sometimes forget about the great diversity of other Lepidoptera - the moths that may frequent our yards and gardens. Some of my more interesting experiences with this order of insects have been with the raising of luna moths, cecropia moths, imperial moths and sphinx moths.
Did you know that a mated female luna moth will lay approximately 150 eggs, usually high up on the leaves of sweetgum, hickory or pecan? Of those 150 caterpillars who hatch, only about 2 to 3 individuals live long enough to metamorphose into a moth and lay eggs. The other 147 or so become an important part of the food chain. Birds, spiders, wasps and others dine on their valuable protein.
Moth populations have suffered with habitat loss and through the use of pesticides. One thing that we can all do to help is to plant native plants, especially trees, in our yards, school grounds and parks. Why native? Each species of moth is adapted to break down and utilize the chemicals within the leaves of trees with which they have evolved. Luna moths need sweetgum or hickory, regal moths (hickory horn devil caterpillar) need hickory or walnut, rosy maple moths need maple trees and so on. I am not suggesting you plant a sweetgum, but now you can appreciate the one that is growing in your yard! But do plant native oak trees, sassafras, maples, birch, fringe tree, hickory........
Our yards and parks can be an important component of natural, healthy habitat to counteract loss of natural habitat, if we plant a diversity of native plants. We can also remove invasive plants that have invaded our urban and suburban green spaces and replace them with native species. This is such an important ecological issue that the last full week in July has been designated National Moth Week, this year July 23 - 31. It celebrates the beauty, life cycles and habitats of moths.
Visit nationalmothweek.org for more information. Please stop by Native Nurseries to pick up our information sheet, Moths and Their Larval Food Plants.