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.

Suggested Reading


  1. WhatDoMothsEat
  2. KidsButterfly
  3. Australian Museum
  4. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center – U.S. Geological Survey


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About the Author:

Akash Peshin is an Electronic Engineer from the University of Mumbai, India and a science writer at ScienceABC. Enamored with science ever since discovering a picture book about Saturn at the age of 7, he believes that what fundamentally fuels this passion is his curiosity and appetite for wonder.

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