Greenspace: Moths may bug us, but most are harmless

Jim Hillibish

I  feel sorry for moths. By the time they are flying around bugging us, most are harmless.

Case in point: the gum moth. This one cannot be ignored. They have a 6-inch wingspan and are mistaken for baby bats. The males are stunningly beautiful creatures with circular “eyes” on their wings and feathers for feelers. Some people collect them as art.

Moths seem furtive for good reason: Their clock is ticking. They may have less than two weeks to live.

It’s not the moths deserving our disdain. It’s their progeny, the larvae and caterpillars. These are the ones that eat leaves, and woolen and silk clothing.

By the time they are moths, some have stopped eating. Mature moths are interested in one thing: laying their eggs before they die.

In the short period of their life, they do us some good. Moths are frequent pollinators of spring flowers. If you see moths in an outside light, do not panic and reach for the insecticide fogger. Light is an attractant for moths. It gets them into trouble when they follow it into our houses.

Moth predators such as bats know this and check lighted zones at night for a snack. Some of the best moth hunting is under our streetlights.

White flowers and strong scents such as hydrangea, dogwood and daisies naturally attract moths. All of the huge nightshade family of plants are moth-pollinated. Included are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant. Pollinating moths are critical to vegetable production.

Moths lay their eggs in food sources, mostly leaves. The larvae convert to caterpillars in spring and then become moths to complete the life cycle in less than a year. Larvae and caterpillars cause considerable plant damage.

This desire to lay eggs results in damaged clothing. Natural fibers in woolens and silks contain a protein the larvae will eat. This causes the small holes in garments hung in closets undisturbed for months.

The traditional way of dealing with these eaters is mothballs. They “melt” in air giving off a toxic gas that kills larvae. To be effective, mothballs must be used in sealed containers that trap the gas and allow it to build up to lethality.

Dry cleaning before storage is the best way to ensured a stored woolen or silk garment will not be moth-damaged.

Modern, synthetic fabrics do not contain the protein so do not attract moths.

Contact Jim HIllibish at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com