When you think of moths, do you think of those boring, brown pests that beat against your screen at night or flutter around your porch lights? If so, you’re not alone.
Most of us regard moths as common pests, and while these mostly nocturnal insects have been around nearly 50 million years longer than their butterfly cousins, there is still very little the average person knows about them.
For example, did you know there are over 11,000 moth species in the United States alone? And not all moths look like or even behave like the common moths you may have come to know and despise.
Today, we are going to talk about the 10 most common types of moths in the United States and learn what’s good about them, what’s bad about them, and how you can keep them from “bugging” you in the future.
Let’s get started!
What Are Moths?
Moths are arthropods in the order of Lepidoptera, which is the same order as butterflies.
Moths are flying insects that belong to the order Lepidoptera. The only other members of this order are butterflies, and while scientists, historians, and biologets alike have battled over whether moths and butterflies are one in the same, moths have still managed to hold onto their unique standing.
Truth be told, there is a fine line between the moth and the butterfly that can be somewhat blurry. In fact, chances are you’ve even confused a moth for a butterfly at least once in your life, and vise versa.
After all, moths themselves have been known to be masters of mimicry. In fact, some species of moth have evolved to look like hornets and bees, while others resemble owls, and some even mirror hummingbirds.
Their numbers also greatly outnumber those of butterflies, and moths can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Many moths are also nocturnal, though not all of them are, so you can’t rely on this to tell you if you’re dealing with a moth versus a butterfly.
So, what are some of the key differences between types of moths and common butterflies? Well, let’s start with the wings. Moths tend to lay their wings flat when at rest, while butterflies hold their wings erect behind them.
Another telltale sign you’re dealing with a moth is by looking at the antennae. Moth antennae often look like feathers. They are usually smaller and more blunt, while butterfly antennas are long, graceful and curved.
The below video goes into more detail about why moths are different from butterflies.
But along with understanding the differences between types of moths and butterflies, it’s also important to understand that not all moths are pests and rarely are moths dangerous. Mostly, common moths are just a nuisance.
Keep reading to learn more.
Are Moths Dangerous To People Or Pets?
Though moths are not dangerous, they contribute to more severe allergies in people, contaminated foods, and chew through fabrics and paper.
Moths can certainly be annoying, but they’re rarely dangerous. The exception to this would be certain species of moths that are known to lay their eggs in pantry foods. When these eggs hatch into larvae, foods can be contaminated with feces and bacteria, which have the potential to cause foodborne illnesses if consumed by people.
Some moths have also been found to increase allergy issues in those who are sensitive, and one species of moth, the Southern Flannel Moth, begins its life as an adorable and deceivingly cuddly looking larvae known as the pus caterpillar.
This caterpillar, who looks like a crawling toupee, causes excruciating pain to anyone who dares to touch it. It’s toxic barbed hairs can also lead to a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. So steer clear.
Other species of moth larvae can be damaging in large numbers to crops or gardens, while some have been known to weave thick, unsightly silk webs through vegetation.
That said, most types of moths in the US are generally considered a nuisance pest. They are relatively harmless to people and pets, especially in their mature, winged stage. And though these flying insects may drive you nuts when they congregate around lights whenever the sun goes down, it’s important to remember that these insects play an important role in a healthy ecosystem.
This is because mature moths generally only feed on nectar, making them incredibly beneficial pollinators, just like butterflies. They are also very short lived, with most mature moths living only as long as a few months, at max.
Still, that doesn’t mean you want different types of moths flying around your head while you try to enjoy a glass of wine on your porch, and we get it. But before we talk about how to get rid of moths, let’s talk about the most common types of myths you might contend with.
10 Most Common Types of Moths In The United States
Not all moths are considered pests. In fact, many are considered vital pollinators in the United States.
There are roughly 11,000 different species of moths in the United States, with the largest of those moths being the Cecropia Moth, with a wingspan of 5 to 7 inches, and the smallest being Pigmy Moths, with a wingspan of just 3.5 to 10 millimeters.
Of course, there are thousands of moths in between, and many of them, as we discussed above, are commonly seen as pests. So, you may be surprised to learn that some of the most common types of moths in the United States are just as beautiful as butterflies and just as beneficial.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but we’ll talk more in detail about the nuisance moths further down. For now, let’s take a look at the 10 most common type of moths in North America.
The top 10 most common different Types of Moths include:
- The Codling Moth
- The Luna Moth
- The Gypsy Moth
- The Indian Meal Moth
- The Peppered Moth
- The Common Clothes Moth
- The Fall Webworm Moth
- The Flannel Moth
- The Hummingbird Moth
- The Hawk Moth
1. The Codling Moth
The Codling Moth is a problematic pest in its larval stage, when larvae feast ravenously on fruit trees.
Scientific Name: Epiphyas Postvittana
Wingspan: 10 Millimeters
Color: Varying shades of brown ranging from pale yellow to dark with light patterns on the wings
Risks: A serious agricultural pest, especially on farms and orchards.
Overview of The Codling Moth:
We’ve all seen the adorable illustration of a worm in an apple, but did you know the most likely culprit of that worm is a codling moth larvae? These pests are an incredible nuisance to anyone attempting to cultivate fruit trees in North America, especially those who own orchards.
In their adult stage, codling moths are harmless. However, it’s in their larval stage that the real damage occurs. Adult codling moths lay their eggs on fruit trees (usually apple trees), specifically targeting the fruit or the leaves.
Once the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the fruit and begin devouring it from the inside out. Large infestations of codling moth larvae can be incredibly damaging.
The best method of control for these types of moths and their larvae, according to experts, is to work to thin fruits and trim back tree branches. You should also remove infested fruits you find as soon as possible, and use a seasonal pest control.
2. The Luna Moth
The Luna Moths are found only in North America and are becoming increasingly rare to see. Some even consider the Luna Moth to be endangered.
Scientific Name: Actias Luna
Size: 3 to 4 Inches
Color: Bright green
Risks: Luna Moths do not pose any risks to people or plants
Overview of The Luna Moth:
Renowned for its beauty and found exclusively in North America, the Luna Moth is a real American treasure. Unfortunately, this moth is becoming increasingly rare, and some even fear it will soon wind up on our endangered species list.
The Luna Moth is shy and only comes out at night, so it’s rarely seen. It’s larvae are large and green, and while they do feed on leaves from trees and shrubs, they do not cause any significant damage to landscaping that requires control methods to be taken.
If you do have a Luna Moth on your property, consider yourself lucky and enjoy it while you can. Sadly, a mature Luna Moth only lives for around a week.
3. The European Gypsy Moth
Gypsy moths can be white or brown, as the above diagram shows, and are around the size of a penny once mature.
Scientific Name: Lymantria Dispar Dispar
Size: Around 1.5 Inches
Color: White or brown with slight patterns on the wings
Risks: Some people are allergic to the thin, hair-like barbs on the Gypsy Moth. However, the largest risk is to agriculture and landscaping, especially during their larval stage.
Overview of The Gypsy Moth:
The Gypsy Moth is a common agricultural pest that can wreak havoc on gardens, landscaping, and even forests in large numbers. These moths are prolific reproducers and lay hundreds of eggs, which soon hatch into hungry larvae that devour over 300 species of plants and trees.
In large infestations, Gypsy Moth larvae have been responsible for taking out entire trees, as their ravenous appetites leave these trees vulnerable to other hungry pests and disease.
To best control the Gyspy Moth, experts suggest using a common insecticide or pesticide with an insect growth regulator to target eggs before they hatch. Treatment should begin early in the season to ensure you catch the larvae before they cause serious damage.
4. The Indian Meal Moth
Indian Meal Moths are generally responsible for invading pantries in kitchens.
Scientific Name: Plodia Interpunctella
Size: 18 – 20 Millimeters
Color: Beige, tan grey, white or bronze
Risks: Indian Meal Moths lay their eggs commonly in pantry foods, which can spread bacteria and cost hundreds of dollars in food waste.
Overview of The Indian Meal Moth:
The Indian Meal Moth is considered one of the most prolific pantry pests in North America, though you may not realize the pest you’re dealing with is a moth at the time. That’s because these adult moths are long gone by the time you notice the damage, and instead you’re left dealing with nasty looking larvae inside foods like breakfast cereals, rice, flour and certain spices.
To protect your foods from Indian Meal Moths and their larvae, experts suggest storing food properly in air tight containers made of glass or thick plastic, throwing out old or expired pantry foods, and keeping cupboards and cabinets wiped down and clean.
5. The Peppered Moth
The pepper moth doesn’t get its name because it’s body and wings look to be doused in pepper. Instead, it gets its name due to its preferred diet.
Scientific Name: Boston Betularia
Wingspan: 19 – 21 Millimeters
Color: White with black markings or black with a slight pattern
Risks: The peppered moth is an invasive species in the US, and has become a major agriculture pests due to its diet of strawberries, peppers, and a number of ornamental plants.
Overview of The Peppered Moth:
Though lovely and incredibly interesting, the peppered moth has now become one of the most serious agriculture pests in the United States since its introduction in 2010. This is a sleeper pest that is difficult to detect in gardens until it’s numbers are already out of control.
This is because the peppered moth’s eggs are difficult to locate, and larvae are difficult to detect because they tend to cause damage to plants from the root up.
The best way to control the peppered moth is to prevent it using seasonal pest control that includes bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which we’ll talk more about further down.
6. The Giant Leopard Moth
The Giant Leopard Moth is famous for its leopard-like wings, though this shy, nocturnal moth is rarely seen during the day.
Scientific Name: Hypercompe Scribonia
Wingspan: 3 Inches
Color: Black and white with black spots
Risks: The Giant Leopard Moth is not considered a pest, even in its larval stage. Instead, it is a shy nocturnal insect that only produces one generation a year.
Overview of The Giant Leopard Moth:
The Giant Leopard Moth, named for its black and white spotted body and wings, is as beautiful as it is interesting. A native to the United States, the Giant Leopard Moth is a reclusive, nocturnal moth that is rarely seen. In its larval stage, it feeds on certain species of trees, but as this moth only produces one generation a year, control methods are not required nor desired. Instead, many people enjoy catching a glimpse of this gorgeous moth.
Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about the Giant Leopard Moth? It takes 24 hours for it to properly mate.
7. The Fall Webworm Moth
Fall webworm moths are considered pests in their larval stage, when they spin silk-like webs on vegetation.
Scientific Name: Hyphantria Cunea
Wingspan: 1 to 1.5 Inches
Color: White, and occasionally white with black spots.
Risks: The Fall Webworm is known for creating dense, weblike nests on a number of trees during the summer and fall. However, these webs are only temporary and do not cause damage.
Overview of The Fall Webworm Moth:
Named for the incredible webs in spins during its larval stage, the Webworm Moth is more of a nuisance pest than anything else. In the summer and fall, this moth’s larvae create incredible, thick webs on tree limbs, which can be an unwelcome sight for proud gardeners.
That said, these webs are only temporary and leave no lasting damage. Plus, once fully mature, the webworm moth is quite beautiful.
If you wish to control this moth, begin early in the season and use a year-round pest control product like an insecticide or natural insect repellent.
8. The Flannel Moth
The flannel moth may look soft and cuddly, but many people are allergic to this moth both in its adult and larvae form.
Scientific Name: Hyphantria Cunea
Wingspan: 1 to 1.5 Inches
Color: A range of colors from brown to gold, yellow, tan, grey and reddish brown.
Risks: The flannel moth and the puss caterpillar are covered in long hairs that, though appearing soft, are actually venomous spines that can cause serious allergic reactions in some people.
Overview of The Flannel Moth:
The Flannel Moth is a relatively harmless moth to agriculture, though we can’t say the same for people. Most common in the southern United State, the Flannel Moth can be dangerous in its larval state, and sometimes even in its adult stage.
The long, soft looking hairs covering the flannel looking moth and the puss caterpillar (it’s offspring) are venomous barbs that can cause excruciating pain comparable to that of a bee sting but that can last for up to 12 hours. In some cases, stinging can turn to vomiting and even a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Because these insects are otherwise harmless to vegetation, it’s best to just leave them alone and refrain from touching them if you come across them. If you wish to keep them from your property altogether, start in early spring and use a broad spectrum pest control in your yard and garden.
9. The Hummingbird Moth
It looks just like a humming bird and flies like a hummingbird, but it’s actually a moth.
Scientific Name: Hemaris Spp
Wingspan: 1 to 3 Inches
Risks: In their larval stage, the hummingbird moth (aka the hornworm) can cause damage to ornamental flowers and plants in large numbers. However, this is rare as these larvae are easy to spot and control.
Overview of The Hummingbird Moth:
Like most moths, hummingbird moths are not problematic in their adult stage. As hornworms, they can cause damage to certain plants and ornamental flowers, though they are not likely to get out of control in your yard or garden.
Furthermore, adult hummingbird moths are incredible pollinators. They closely mirror hummingbirds in their amazing ability to hover in midair while feeding, and are strong flyers able to fly even during rainstorms.
Active during the day, you have a good chance of seeing an adult hummingbird moth if you keep your eyes peeled.
10. The Hawk Moth
Hawk Moths are commonly found resting near lights or lamp posts at night.
Scientific Name: Sphingidae
Size: 2 to 8 Inches
Color: Varying shades of brown with colorful markings on their bottom wings.
Risks: In their larval stage, hawk moths are considered minor pests to gardens and crops.
Overview of The Hawk Moth:
One of the largest moths in the United States, the hawk moth is a sight to behold. Its wingspan stretches up to 8 inches, and it’s beautiful markings resemble haunting eyes.
However, in its larval stage, the Hawk Moth can cause some problems. Also known as the green hornworm or tobacco worm, the hawk moth larvae likes to eat tomatoes and other garden goodies. To keep this moth’s offspring from gobbling up all your hard work, simply use a common pest control method early in the season.
How To Get Rid of Moths – Products We Recommend
There are plenty of quality products you can use to get rid of different flies.
We spoke a lot about different types of moths above, and while not all of them are considered pests, many of them are. If you’re wondering how to get rid of some of the common types of moths we discussed, you’re in luck. We have listed some of the best products to protect your garden from these problematic pests and their larvae below.
Lavender and Cedar Bags
Moths are sensitive insects and can be deterred naturally using strong scents. Some of the best ways to get rid of certain types of moths is to use lavender and cedar. The above bags are specifically designed to repel moths, especially the kinds of moths that get into your home like clothes moths and pantry moths.
The above order includes dried lavender and cedar chips that smell great to people but are repelling to pests. You can place these bags anywhere in your home you wish to repel moths, including in cupboard cabinets.
Best of all, these products are safe to use around people and pets, and in areas where food is stored and prepared.
FEIT LED Bug Light
We’ll be honest – one of the most annoying things about moths is that they are so attracted to light. Moths can be especially infuriating if you enjoy being outside on your porch on a warm summer evening.
Luckily, there are now lightbulbs you can use to replace common bulbs that moths (and other flying pests) are attracted to. The above light bulb is specifically designed to repel moths using a soft yellow glow as opposed to the white glow most moths are drawn to. Plus, this light is also energy saving, quiet, and completely chemical free.
Monterey Bacillus Thuringiensis
We mentioned Monterey Bacillus Thuringiensis earlier when discussing which products would best help control problematic moth larva. The reason this is so effective is because it is specifically designed to protect your garden and yard from damaging worms and caterpillars.
It is designed to be used on edible vegetation and ornamental plants, and while it is a strong insecticide, it is still all natural and organic. Of course, it is still an insecticide and should be used only as directed and kept out of reach of children and pets.
Wondercide Outdoor Pest Control
Because a number of moth larvae can cause damage to garden plants, we suggest investing in a quality pest control spray to use beginning in early spring to keep moths from choosing your garden as a nursery. An all natural alternative to chemical insecticides is Wondercide, which uses essential oils and other plant-based ingredients to protect your yard from pests.
Not only will this spray protect garden plants from moth larva, but it will also protect your yard from fleas, ticks, spiders, and more. It is perfectly safe to use around children and pets, and will not harm beneficial insects or the environment.
And that’s all we have for you today, folks.
Now we want to hear from you. What is the most surprising thing you learned about the different types of moths listed above? Leave us your thoughts in the comment section below.
Thanks for reading!
Jack founded our blog after two decades of working in the pest control industry. His vast experience dealing with a wide array of pests allows him to diagnose issues quickly and get to the heart of pest problems quickly and effectively. He has serviced more than 2,000 homes over his career and there is hardly any pest situation that he has not seen before.