Magpie (Robert Thompson)

FAQs and myths

Breadcrumbs

Moths tend to be less popular with the public than their close cousins the butterflies. But much of this opinion is based on myths and misunderstandings about moths. This page explodes some of the myths about the differences between moths and butterflies, and about moths eating your clothes!

Swallow-tailed Moth (Robert Thompson)Myth: Moths are not as beautiful as butterflies
This is simply not true! Just look at the Swallow-tailed Moth on this page - a common moth found in many gardens and often seen alighting on the outside of windowpanes at night. Many other species are beautiful colours and some are almost gaudy, such as the members of the tiger moth family. Other moths have more subtle colouring, but many have beautiful intricate patterns that have evolved to aid camouflage. The image gallery in the What moth? section has many lovely examples.

Cinnabar (Les Hill)Myth: Moths only fly by night
Although most do fly at night, many species, like the colourful Cinnabar and Scarlet Tiger, fly during the day (and may be mistaken for butterflies). Some butterflies, such as the Red Admiral, are known to fly at night.

Myth: Only butterflies have clubbed antennae
Some moths have club-like antennae, for example the day-flying burnets.

Myth: Only butterflies rest with their wings closed upright over their backs
A few moths rest with their wings in this position, for example the Bordered White and the Dingy Shell, and a few butterflies do not, for example some skippers.

Myth: Moths are furrier and hairier than butterflies
Some moth species are less hairy than others, and some butterflies have very furry bodies.

The most consistent difference between butterflies and moths is that nearly all moths have a tiny hook-like structure joining the hind wing to the forewing, but butterflies do not. However, this is very small and difficult to see.

Myth: All moths eat clothes
Another widespread myth is that all moths eat clothing. In fact, of the 2,500 moths that live in Britain only a very few species will eat clothes. Clothes moths only eat fabrics derived from animal sources, such as wool, not synthetics or cotton; they normally attack items left in dark, undisturbed places; and they prefer dirty clothes to clean ones. Moths are often wrongly blamed for damage caused by the more common carpet beetle larvae (which look like small furry caterpillars) and many holes found in clothes are not made by insects at all but by washing, wear or accidental damage.