35 Common MOTHS in the United States (2024)

What kinds of moths can you find in the United States?

Types of moths in the United States

Many people find moths creepy, but they’re also fascinating! These winged insects vary in size, color, shape, and behavior.

There are at least 160,000 species of moths in the world! Since it would be impossible to list all of the ones in the United States in this article, I chose the most common and exciting species to share with you today. 🙂

35 moths in the United States:

#1. Isabella Tiger Moth

  • Pyrrharctia Isabella

Types of moths in the United States

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults have a wingspan of 1.75-2.5 in (4-6 cm).
  • Their coloring is orange-yellow to yellowish-brown, with sparse black spotting on their wings, a line of black spots down their abdomen, bright orange forelegs, and small heads.
  • Females’ hindwings are often pinkish or more brightly orange than males.

These moths in the United States adapt to a wide range of habitats.

Isabella Tiger Moths moths have an interesting lifecycle that allows them to thrive even in some of the world’s coldest regions like the Arctic! As caterpillars, their hearts stop beating, and they produce a cryoprotectant in their tissues, which allows them to survive winter and thaw out in the spring when temperatures rise.

Then, they build their cocoons and pupate into adult moths. Adult Isabella Tiger Moths emerge after about one month, only to mate, lay eggs, and die within days. The eggs hatch in two weeks, and the cycle begins again.

Like other Tiger Moths, they have a tymbal organ on their thorax that they can vibrate to make ultrasonic, high-frequency clicks. While we humans can’t hear them, these clicks serve as an important warning that they’re toxic to predators. Incredibly, researchers believe the clicks may also interfere with bats’ echolocation, helping these little moths stay safe as they fly through the night.

While you may not recognize the adult stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, you probably know its caterpillar! They’re cute, fuzzy brown and black caterpillars, usually known as Wooly Bears. When they feel threatened, they roll into a ball to protect themselves.

According to urban legend, these caterpillars can predict the coming winter. Each of their 13 segments corresponds to the 13 weeks of winter. More orange bands mean a milder winter, while more black bands mean a snowier, harsher winter.

#2. Hickory Tussock Moth

  • Lophocampa caryae

Types of moths in the United States

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults have a wingspan of 1.46-2.17 in (3.7-5.5 cm).
  • Their forewings are yellowish-brown and marked with white splotches reminiscent of stained glass.
  • Their hindwings are mostly white, and they have hairy, pale brown bodies.

Like many moths in the United States, Hickory Tussock Moths don’t eat.

These fascinating insects don’t even have mouths! As caterpillars, they eat foliage from trees, but once they turn into moths, they spend all their time on mating and reproduction.

Female Hickory Tussock Moths lay batches of more than 100 eggs on the undersides of leaves in May or June. When these eggs hatch, the young caterpillars often remain in the same area for a while. You may see large groups of young caterpillars and some localized defoliation. Don’t worry, though; Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillars are a native species controlled by songbirds and other predators.

In the fall, they find a protected spot and spin a cocoon from plant debris and their own hairs. Like the caterpillars, the cocoons may irritate the skin, so it’s best to leave them where they are. In the spring, they emerge from their cocoons as moths.

#3. Giant Leopard Moth

  • Hypercompe scribonia

Types of moths in the United States

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 2.24-3.58 in (5.7-8.9 cm).
  • Their forewings are white with bluish-black spots, and the outer edges become translucent with wear.
  • The tops of their abdomens are dark blue with orange markings, and the undersides are white with solid black spots.

One look will tell you where the Giant Leopard Moth gets its name! This large tiger moth has stunning wings with a leopard-like pattern.

Though they’re hard to spot, these beautiful moths also have large ears immediately behind their hindwing bases. Scientists believe that these ears are probably capable of picking up the sonar of bats allowing the moths to take evasive action as they fly through the night! Like other members of the Tiger Moth family, they also have tymbal organs that enable them to make high-frequency clicks helping to warn away predators and to interfere with bats’ sonar.

Giant Leopard Moths may feign death and curl their abdomen to show off their bright colors if attacked. They will also release yellow, bitter fluid from their thoracic glands. While it isn’t dangerous, this liquid is foul-tasting, and most predators will drop it quickly!

#4. Virginian Tiger Moth

  • Spilosoma virginica

Types of moths in the United States

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1.25-2 in (3-5 cm).
  • They have pure white wings marked with a few black dots.
  • Their abdomens are white with stripes of yellow and rows of black dots, and males have large, feathery antennae.

You can find Virginian Tiger Moths in the United States in various habitats.

Look for them in hardwood forests, coastal rainforests, agricultural areas, grasslands, and urban areas. If you’re up late, you can probably find some flying around your porch light or another outdoor light source.

Finding mates can be tough, so Virginia Tiger Moths have developed unique communication methods. Females have a special organ that they use to emit a pheromone, and males are equipped with large, feather-like antennae that allow them to sense these chemicals.

The males spend their nights flying in zig-zag patterns in search of females until they pick up the pheromones. After mating, the male repeats the process, mating with as many females as possible. They tend to have multiple broods yearly, and the last brood will overwinter in the caterpillar stage.

#5. Milkweed Tussock Moth

  • Euchaetes egle

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspansare 1.25-1.7 in (3-4.3 cm).
  • They are mousy gray with a yellow abdomen with rows of black spots.
  • Most adults have unmarked wings, but individuals occasionally have a faint, dark line.

Milkweed Tussock Moths may appear a bit drab in their adult form, but their caterpillars are anything but! They sport tufts of black, white, orange, and sometimes yellow hairs, making them easy to find among leaves.

These moths in the United States are clever at avoiding predators.

Like most members of the tiger moth family, Milkweed Tussock Moths store chemicals from the plants they eat in their bodies to make them toxic to predators. In the case of these moths, the chemicals help to deter bats. They use a high-frequency clicking produced by their tymbal organ to warn bats and other predators that they are toxic. Males also use their tymbal organs to attract females.

You’ll often see Monarch butterflies coexisting with Milkweed Tussock Moths in areas with lots of milkweed plants. These two species are happy to share, despite their voracious appetites! As native pollinators, they don’t harm the milkweed plants and instead help them spread.

#6. Polyphemus Moth

  • Antheraea polyphemus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 4-6 in (10-15 cm).
  • The upper surface of the wings is reddish-brown, gray, light brown, or yellow-brown, and each hindwing has a large yellow eyespot ringed with blue.
  • They have hairy bodies, and the front wings have a smaller yellow spot.

Polyphemus Moths are easily recognized for their large, stunning eyespots. While we may find their pattern beautiful, predators find it frightening. The pattern on their upper wings resembles the face of a great horned owl. It helps to distract, confuse, and startle predators.

In the United States, you can find Polyphemus Moths in forests, orchards, wetlands, and urban areas. Even though they’re easily spotted, these beauties are short-lived. Polyphemus Moths have an extremely short lifespan as adults, living only about four days.

They emerge from the cocoon ready to mate, and females put out pheromones to attract males. The males use their large feathery antennae to smell the pheromones and locate females. They’re so intent on procreating that they don’t eat or even have a mouth!

#7. Banded Tussock Moth

  • Halysidota tessellaris

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1.57-1.77 in (3.8-4.3 cm).
  • They have yellow-tan to cream-colored wings with a distinctive checkered pattern.
  • Their bodies have a wide pale orange stripe running down the middle with a thinner turquoise stripe on each side.

You’ll most likely find Banded Tussock Moths in the United Statesin deciduous forests. However, you may occasionally see them around outdoor lights near forested areas. They’re active from May through August.

Also known as the Pale Tiger Moth, these can be tough to identify! Banded Tussock Moths are nearly identical to Sycamore Tussock Moths; even experts can only tell them apart through dissection or DNA analysis.

Adult moths eat nectar from flowers, but their caterpillars eat various plants. They store chemicals from the plants they eat and pass them on to their adult form to protect themselves from predation.

#8. Green Cloverworm Moth

  • Hypena scabra

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 0.98-1.38 in (2.5-3.5 cm).
  • Their narrow forewings may be yellow, tan, or orange, with a black line running along the middle of both wings.
  • They have thin antennae and long snouts.

Green Cloverworm Moths are unassuming, drab little moths that you’ll likely spot around outdoor lights. They inhabit gardens, fields, waste places, and woodland edges. Unfortunately, their larval form can cause quite a bit of damage to vegetables, so watch out for them if you’re a gardener!

They’re an incredibly prolific species that have multiple broods per year. You may find them flying year-round in warmer areas, but in northern climates, you’re most likely to find them between March and November. However, even in northern climates, you may spot a few adults flying on unusually warm days.

#9. American Dagger

  • Acronicta americana

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 2-2.6 in (5-6.6 cm).
  • Their wings and upper legs are covered in fine grayish-white hairs.
  • They are black and white, with intricate patterns, including zig-zags, checkerboards, and lines.

American Daggers are the largest dagger moths in the United States.

Their name refers to the dagger-shaped markings on their forewings, but you may have to look very closely and use your imagination to see it!

Given their preference for deciduous trees, you’re most likely to find American Daggers and their caterpillars where their favorite foods are abundant, like deciduous forests, swampy areas, parks, backyards, and playgrounds.

In northern areas, American Daggers generally only have one brood per year. However, they may have two or three in southern regions. Look for the adult moths to be active between April and September and the caterpillar stage to be present between July and October.

#10. Ailanthus Webworm Moth

  • Atteva aurea

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 0.5-1.18 in (1.3-3 cm).
  • They have orange forewings with four bands of yellow spots outlined in black.
  • Their hindwings are a solid smoky gray.

Ailanthus Webworm Moths in the United States vary by location.

For example, you may spot individuals with smaller yellow spots in southern areas. Until recently, these moths were considered a separate species.

Ailanthus Webworm Moths move through life quickly, going from egg to adult in as little as four weeks! They eat leafy material as caterpillars and then metamorphose into moths quickly. The final brood of a season overwinters in the egg stage, where it can remain unharmed from the cold. Then, in spring, these are the first generation of adults to start breeding.

As adults, these moths pollinate by feeding on nectar from flowers. Ailanthus Webworms also feed on tree-of-heaven nectar, which allows them to store chemicals in their body that are dangerous to predators. Their bright coloring helps warn predators that they don’t make a good meal.

#11. Fall Webworm Moth

  • Hyphantria cunea

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1.4-1.7 in (3.5-4.3 cm).
  • Their forewings may be completely white or have varying gray or black rectangular or wedge-shaped spots.
  • They have a bright white hairy body and may have some orange markings on the body and legs.

The caterpillars of Fall Webworms are generalists known to feed on over 100 species of hardwood trees! They construct tents around the leaves at the tips of branches so that they remain sheltered while they eat. It also conserves heat and helps them avoid predators!

Depending on where you live, you may see these moths in the United States between April and September. In northern areas, Fall Webworm Moths have one brood per year but may have two or three broods in southern climates. Females deposit enormous egg masses, up to 1,500 iridescent green eggs, on the underside of the leaves. They die immediately after laying their eggs.

In the fall, the last brood overwinters in the pupa stage as a hard brown cocoon. This tough shell is made of woven silk and detritus, hidden in the leaf litter at the base of a tree. Once spring arrives, the metamorphosis into a moth continues.

#12. Hummingbird Clearwing

  • Hemaris thysbe

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults have a wingspan of 1.6-2.2 in (4-5.6 cm).
  • Their wings are transparent with a reddish-brown border.
  • Their upper body is olive green with burgundy towards the rear, and their undersides are white or yellow.
  • They have thick fur, long proboscises, thick antennae, and light-colored legs.

At first glance, it is easy to mistake these moths in the United States for tiny hummingbirds!

Like hummingbirds, they can keep their bodies still while hovering to feed from flowers. Their transparent wings beat so fast that they’re nearly invisible, and they create a faint buzzing noise. Unlike most other moths, this species is most active during the daytime.

You can find these fascinating moths in forests, open areas, gardens, and suburban yards. The adult moths feed on nectar from a variety of flowers. Researchers have found that most Hummingbird Clearwings prefer pink or purple flowers. They’re a great species to consider if you’re planning a pollinator garden!

In northern climates, Hummingbird Clearwings generally only have one brood, but they may have two broods per season in warmer areas. The adult female moths lay green eggs on the underside of plant leaves which take about one week to hatch. The caterpillars spend about four weeks feeding before spinning a cocoon under the leaf litter. The last brood overwinters in this stage before emerging in the spring.

#13. North American Luna Moth

  • Actias luna

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are usually about 4.5 in (11 cm) but sometimes grow to 7 in (18 cm).
  • Their wings are lime green with a thick, dark-colored front edge that ranges from maroon to brown and decreases in thickness toward the wing tip.
  • They have white hairy bodies, long tails, and eyespots on their fore and hindwings.

This is one of the most recognizable moths in the United States!

Few species are as showy as the American Luna Moth. This is a memorable species with its large lime-green wings, maroon border, and beautiful eyespots! The males can be distinguished by their large feathery antennae, while the females have smaller antennae and larger abdomens filled with eggs.

In addition to their flashy appearance, they’re also notable for some of their incredible defense mechanisms. For example, their eyespots serve to startle and distract predators. Researchers also believe the long tails on their wings confuse bats’ echolocation.

Luna Moths are usually active during their breeding period in the spring and summer months. However, in the warmer climates of the deep south, you may spot adults any time of year. Incredibly, females release volatile pheromones that males, equipped with their large feathery antennae, can detect from several miles away.

#14. Yellow-collared Scape Moth

  • Cisseps fulvicollis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1-1.5 in (2.53.8 cm).
  • They have black forewings and black or bluish-black bodies with an orange or yellow collar.

Yellow-collared Scape Moths are fairly common in the United States.

You can find them in wet meadows, parks, prairies, gardens, and forest edges. Adult moths are active during the day, so you have a very good chance of seeing them out and about!

These moths are well-known for being excellent pollinators. They visit and drink nectar from various flowers, including milkweed, asters, and goldenrod. Occasionally, they’re also active at night, and you may spot them around outdoor lights.

Their intense coloring is a defense mechanism known as wasp-mimicry. This threatening appearance helps scare off predators while they visit flowers during the day. It’s a clever way of saying, “Leave me alone!”

Adults are usually active between April and October. Depending on the regional climate, they might have one or up to three generations per breeding season. The last brood will overwinter in the larval stage as immature caterpillars in cocoons made primarily from their own body hairs.

#15. Io Moth

  • Automeris io

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 2.5-3.5 in (6-8.9 cm).
  • Males have bright yellow bodies and wings and large feathery antennae.
  • Females have reddish-brown or purple bodies and forewings.
  • Both sexes have one large black eyespot with a white center on each hindwing.

Io Moths are the most striking species in the United States!

When threatened, these large moths open their wings to expose their intense eyespots to distract and startle predators. This defense is often effective on people, too!

In northern areas, Io Moths are active in May and June. They have two to three broods in warm, southern areas, and you may see the adults between February and September. The adult moths are nocturnal, so you’re most likely to see them around outdoor lights at night. They have only vestigial mouthparts and don’t eat during their adult phase.

Io Moth caterpillars appear beautiful, but you should never handle them. At every stage, their body is surrounded by venomous, black-tipped spines that sting at the slightest touch. Young caterpillars are usually orange or yellowish but mature to a vibrant green with red and white stripes down each side. You can recognize them by their distinctive habit of moving in “trains,” one after the other.

#16. Imperial Moth

  • Eacles imperialis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 3.13-6.88 in (8-17.4 cm).
  • Their wings are primarily yellow with red, brown, or purple blotching.
  • They are highly variable in color, with both light and dark morphs common.

Imperial Moths are among the largest moths in the United States.

These moths are also well-known for their beauty and highly variable patterning. Imperial Moths are common throughout their range, and you might find them in rural, suburban, or forested habitats.

The caterpillars of this species are also fun to look at. Young caterpillars are orange with black bands and spines. As they mature, their body color varies, and they turn brown, burgundy, or green with light yellow or white spots down their sides, long hairs, and shorter spines. While they are cool to look at, Imperial Moth caterpillars have stinging hairs and spines to protect them from predators. These can cause rashes in humans, so it’s best to give them their space.

Adult Imperial Moths only have one brood per year. They are active between June and August in northern areas, but you may spot them between April and October in southern regions.

Sadly, Imperial Moths are now uncommon or absent from parts of their former range. There may be multiple reasons for this decline, including light pollution, pesticide usage, and the parasitic Tachinid Fly, introduced in 1906 to control Gypsy Moths.

#17. Salt Marsh Moth

  • Estigmene acrea

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1.75-2.69 in (4.4-6.8 cm).
  • Their forewings are white with black spots, and their hindwings are orange in males and white in females.
  • They have a white head and thorax, and their abdomen is orange with a row of black spots.

Salt Marsh Moths have a terrible reputation in the United States!

Despite their pretty appearance, their caterpillars are agricultural pests that feed on several important crops. Farmers must protect corn, tomatoes, tobacco, cotton, cabbage, peas, carrots, beets, onions, beans, and apple, walnut, and cherry tree leaves. Keeping these moths away can be a full-time job!

Adults are active between May and August, though you might spot them year-round in the deep south. Salt Marsh Moths have one brood per year in the northern part of their range and up to four in the southern regions. Their caterpillars hatch from eggs and have the incredible ability to “windsurf!” If they sense a threat, they expel a strand of silk that acts as a parachute, and the wind propels them away from danger.

#18. Southern Flannel Moth

  • Megalopyge opercularis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1-1.5 in (2.5-3.8 cm).
  • Their forewings are yellow with black along the inner margins, while the hind wings are uniformly creamy-yellow.
  • They have a thick fur-like coating on the body and are predominantly orange on the thorax.

It’s easy to see why this species is called the Flannel Moth with its thick furry coat. Although the moths are striking, it’s the caterpillars you should pay special attention to.

They’re furry looking in their caterpillar stage, but don’t mistake them for cuddly animals. Also called the Puss Caterpillar, its hair contains spines that cause painful reactions when they come into contact with human skin. Unlike some caterpillars that just cause a mild rash, victims sometimes describe the pain from these caterpillars as “white hot” or similar to a broken bone or blunt force trauma.

You’ll likely encounter these fuzzy creatures in deciduous forests or adjacent areas like backyards, playgrounds, and parks. Be especially careful while clearing brush or cleaning up your yard in the spring. And, of course, if you see adult Southern Flannel Moths, watch out for their caterpillars!

#19. White-lined Sphinx

  • Hyles lineata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 2-3 in (5-7.6 cm).
  • They have a large, stout, furry brown body with six white stripes.
  • Their forewings are olive-brown with thick tan stripes intersected by thin white stripes, while their hindwings are black and bright reddish-pink in the middle.

White-lined Sphinx Moths in the United States are sometimes mistaken for hummingbirds. They can rapidly beat their wings to hover at flowers and reach in to sip nectar with their long proboscis. Their favorite flowers include Cardinal Vine, Jimsonweed, Petunia, Phlox, Lilac, Hostas, Honeysuckles, Evening Primroses, and Penstemon.

In the spring, the females lay hundreds of eggs on host plants. Occasionally, explosive outbreaks of this species occur, and during these times, you might see large groups of caterpillars moving together. They have even been reported to cover entire sections of roadways!

These caterpillar migrations aren’t well understood, but they usually occur right before metamorphosis. Researchers believe that the caterpillars may be seeking looser soil or a better food selection.

The caterpillars pupate in burrows underground. Pupation takes about two to three weeks, and when they’re close to finished, they wiggle up closer to the surface of the soil before emerging as adult moths.

#20. Carolina Sphinx

  • Manduca sexta

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 3.75-4.75 in (9.5-12 cm).
  • Their large forewings have indistinct black, brown, and white markings, while their hindwings are banded with black and white.
  • They have six pairs of yellow bands on their abdomens.

These relatively large moths are often called hawk moths. They’re known for their large forewings and ability to hover in front of flowers to feed on nectar. Carolina Sphinx Moths visit various flowers and prefer tubular blossoms that produce a lot of nectar.

While the adult moths are excellent pollinators, their caterpillars are a common pest. Gardeners and farmers will recognize them as Tobacco Hornworms, which feed on crops like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tobacco. And they have a big appetite! Tobacco Hornworms can quickly defoliate plants and ruin crops.

In the warm, far southern parts of their range, Carolina Sphinx Moths may have several broods, and you can see adults throughout the year. In the cool parts of their range, you’ll only see adults between May and October, and they generally have just two broods.

Once the caterpillars are mature, they select a site to pupate and burrow into the leaf litter or soil. Depending on the time of year and brood, they may overwinter in their pupal stage. The adult moths are active at night and breed soon after emerging. The females can produce up to 1,000 eggs in their several weeks of life.

#21. Large Yellow Underwing

  • Noctua pronuba

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1.57-2.36 in (4-6 cm).
  • They have light or dark brown forewings with darker markings across them.
  • Their hindwings are yellow-orange with a black band near the bottom edge.

These moths in the United States might not have the most creative name, but it’s certainly accurate! At rest, their brown forewings usually cover their brightly colored hindwings, but you’ll see a flash of color when they take off! This flash helps to confuse and startle would-be predators.

You’re most likely to find Large Yellow Underwings in open or shrubby areas, but they are habitat generalists that can adapt to various conditions. For example, they’re happy in urban and suburban areas, fields, agricultural areas, yards, and parks. They’re mostly nocturnal and are attracted to outdoor lights. You may occasionally spot large groups of these moths around bright lights.

Large Yellow Underwings have a longer lifespan than many other moth species. In captivity, males live an average of 55 days, and females live about 75 days. Despite their long lifespan, they only have one new generation per year.

#22. Ceanothus Silk Moth

  • Hyalophora euryalus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 3.5-5 in (9-12.7 cm).
  • They have bulbous orange bodies with white stripes, and their wings are reddish brown with a white and black stripe on each wing.
  • The forewings have black eyespots near the outer edge and elongated white spots near their body, while the hindwings feature white comma-shaped markings.

This species may be the most beautiful moth in the United States!

Ceanothus Moths vary widely in appearance across their range, but their beautiful coloring and patterns are always a sight to behold. The easiest way to identify this species is the comma-shaped marking on their wings, sometimes likened to the “Nike Swoosh.”

These large moths occupy a variety of habitats at high and low elevations. You may spot them in coastal forests, montane woodlands, mixed hardwood forests, and hilly brushland. They have just one brood per year between January and July. The timing varies greatly with their location, elevation, and seasonal variation.

Once mature, the caterpillars spin their cocoons on an outer part of a host plant, attaching it to a twig by half its length. They overwinter in this stage and emerge in spring as adult moths.

#23. Spotted Tussock Moth

  • Lophocampa maculata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1.38-1.69 in (3.5-4.3 cm).
  • They have yellow or tan forewings with brown stripes and veins, while their hindwings are plain pale cream or yellow.
  • They have a cream or tan furry body and legs.

Spotted Tussock Moths are in the tiger moth family, named for their patterns of alternating dark and light colors. These moths and their caterpillars are what’s known as polymorphic, meaning that they come in many color variations.

You’re most likely to find Spotted Tussock Moths in the United States in deciduous forests with plenty of food for their caterpillars. Researchers have found that Spotted Tussock Moths have a regional taste for cuisine, just like people! Caterpillars from certain regions often prefer specific tree species.

After about two months of feeding, the caterpillars pupate. They spin brown silk cocoons attached to leaves where they will overwinter, emerging as adults the following spring.

#24. Alfalfa Looper

  • Autographa californica

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1.42-1.65 in (3.6-4.2 cm).
  • Their forewings are mottled pale gray with a dark middle and a silvery white fish-hook-shaped spot. Their hindwings are pale gray by their body and fade to a darker, sooty gray or black.
  • They have hairy bodies with a silvery sheen, and young individuals are sometimes purplish.

This moth can be tough to spot in the United States!

Despite their shiny appearance, the Alfalfa Looper is an expert at hiding in open habitats. Their intricate patterns and grayish coloring help them blend with flowers, grasses, and trees. These moths are active day and night, feeding on the nectar from various low-growing plants. At night you may spot them around outdoor lights.

In southern areas, it’s common to see adult Alfalfa Loopers from February to November, but in northern regions, they’re generally only active between May and October. Alfalfa Loopers have several broods per year, depending on how long the warm season is.

Alfalfa Loopers have an incredibly short lifecycle. Newly laid eggs hatch in just three to five days. The caterpillars feed for about two weeks before creating cocoons and then emerge as adults in about seven days. They begin mating quickly after emerging, and females usually deposit eggs within three days. The entire brood can go from birth to death in as little as 30 days!

#25. Pandora Pinemoth

  • Coloradia pandora

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 3.25-3.88 in (8.3-9.9 cm).
  • Their forewings are brownish gray, and their hindwings are light pinkish gray. Each wing is marked with a black spot near the center above a wavy line.
  • They have heavy, thick bodies.

The Pandora Pinemoth is one of the pickiest in the United States!

As their name suggests, their caterpillars feed almost exclusively on pine trees. They will occasionally feed on Douglas Fir if their preferred food is scarce. Most of the time, you’ll find these moths in Ponderosa Pine forests. However, during years of population booms, they move into surrounding forest areas with other types of pine trees.

Unlike many moths that reproduce quickly, the Pandora Pine Moth needs at least two years to complete their life cycle! Adult female moths emerge and let the males come to them, waiting to fly until after mating. Then they lay about 80 eggs on the needles or bark of pine trees.

The eggs take 40 to 50 days to hatch, and the young caterpillars feed through autumn before overwintering at the base of a clump of needles amongst some strands of silk. The caterpillars resume moving and feeding when the weather warms in the spring. At this stage, they grow rapidly.

When they mature in July or August, the caterpillars crawl down the tree and burrow into the soil near the base to pupate. The pupae are dark reddish or purplish-brown. Generally, pupation lasts about one year, but a portion will remain in the soil for two to five years.

Due to their unique lifecycle, Pandora Pinemoths have population booms every 20 to 30 years which may last for six to eight years. Outside of these outbreaks, it’s rare to spot one of these moths in the wild.

#26. Cinnabar Moth

  • Tyria jacobaeae

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1.3-1.7 in (3.3-4.3 cm).
  • They have a black body and black forewings with red stripes down the top of them and two red spots near the bottom.
  • Their hindwings are red or pinkish-red with a black border.

These stunning red and black moths get their name from the mineral Cinnabar. Occasionally, individuals may display different colors, including completely black forewings, predominantly red coloring, or yellow color rather than red.

Their bright colors warn predators that these moths are toxic! Cinnabar Moths store toxic alkaloids from the plants they eat, then pass them on to predators.

Cinnabar Moths were introduced to control ragwort in the United States.

This fast-growing weed is a host plant for Cinnabar caterpillars. Look for the moths anywhere ragwort grows, particularly in open and grassy habitats, gardens, and mature dunes. Unlike many moths, Cinnabar Moths are active during the night and day.

#27. Police Car Moth

  • Gnophaela vermiculata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are about 2 in. (5 cm) on average.
  • They have black wings with large white patches outlined with black veins.
  • Their black bodies and heads have white spots and bright orange around their wing bases and forelegs.

Police Car Moths in the United States are strikingly beautiful.

Their distinctive coloring isn’t just for show; it serves an important purpose. The bright, bold pattern and colors tell predators that these moths should be avoided.

In addition to the alkaloids they eat and store, Police Car Moths synthesize toxic chemicals called biogenic acids. Both of these compounds are toxic to many predators.

Like some other Tiger Moths, Police Car Moths also have a unique feature called a tymbal organ. It’s used to make ultrasonic clicks to interfere with bats’ echolocation. These defenses are tough to get past and allow this species to safely move about during the day or night.

Police Car Moths have just one brood per year. The females deposit eggs on leaves and hatch in as little as seven days. They overwinter in their caterpillar phase before pupating the following season.

#28. Western Tent Caterpillar Moth

  • Malacosoma californica

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm).
  • Their wings are brown, tan, yellow, or gray, with two lines across their forewings.
  • They have furry bodies.

Western Tent Caterpillar Moths in the United States have just one generation per year. In the fall, the females lay about 150 to 250 eggs in oval-shaped masses. They cover the eggs with spumaline, which helps hold in heat and absorbs rainwater to prevent the eggs from drying out. It also protects the eggs from parasitoid wasps.

Even though it only takes three to four weeks for the caterpillars to mature, they must overwinter in this stage before pupating into moths. Their name comes from the silken tent they create to protect themselves from extreme cold during this time.

These caterpillars have a voracious appetite and can quickly defoliate trees during a population outbreak. While it may be unsightly, the trees usually recover just fine. Interestingly, these caterpillars have regional tastes, and the specific trees they prefer are highly dependent on their location.

#29. Forest Tent Caterpillar Moth

  • Malacosoma disstria

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1-1.75 in (2.5-4.4 cm).
  • Their wings are yellow, tan, or buff-brown, with two darker lines running parallel across their forewings, sometimes appearing to form a single dark band.
  • They have stout, furry bodies.

The Forest Tent Caterpillar Moth is the most widely distributed tent caterpillar in the United States. Their populations fluctuate in cycles, so you may go years without seeing any and then see multiple in one season. Their populations reach outbreak proportions every 6-16 years and remain high for 4-6 years.

Adult Forest Tent Caterpillar Moths are active in July, don’t feed, and live for ten days. Especially in outbreak years, you might spot large groups clustered around outdoor lights.

Unlike other tent caterpillars, Forest Tent Caterpillars don’t spin true tents. Instead, they spin silk mats on the tree’s trunk or branches where they rest when they’re not feeding.

#30. Polka-Dot Wasp Moth

  • Syntomeida epilais

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 1.65-2.05 in (4.2-5 cm).
  • They have an iridescent blue/green body and wings.
  • Their body, wings, legs, and antennae have small white dots, and the tips of their abdomens are red or orange.

Unbelievably, these moths are native to the United States, but their favorite food isn’t!

Polka-dot Wasp Moths are also called Oleander Moths because the oleander plant is their main host. However, it’s a Mediterranean ornamental plant brought to North America during the 17th century. Researchers believe that before its introduction, Polka-Dot Wasp Moths probably primarily fed on a now-rare flowering vine called Devil’s Potato (Echites umbellata). These moths would not still be around if they hadn’t adapted to a new food source!

Besides their adaptive nature, they have a good reason to stock up on oleander. This plant contains highly toxic compounds that are stored in their bodies, helping them avoid predation. The coloration of the adult moths mimics dangerous wasps, which advertises to predators that they should stay away. Despite their dangerous appearance, they’re completely harmless.

#31. Tersa Sphinx

  • Xylophanes tersa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults’ wingspans are 2.38-3.13 in (6-8 cm).
  • Their large forewings are grayish-brown, while their hindwings have large black patches with contrasting pale spots.
  • They have brown to cinnamon-colored abdomens with barely darker lines on the back and a paler line along the side.

Adult Tersa Sphinx Moths are helpful pollinators that feed on nectar from various flowers. They begin feeding around sunset, and you may spot males of this species around your outdoor lights, though females are rarely attracted to them.

They get part of their name, sphinx, from their interesting behavior as caterpillars. If threatened, they can rear up slightly and retract their head and thorax into their abdomen, assuming a position resembling a sphinx.

Tersa Sphinx Moths in the United States are active during warm weather.

In northern areas, you may spot them between May and October, and in southern regions, you can find them from February through November or year-round in tropical climates.

The pupa is as distinct as the caterpillar and moth stage, with a tan surface and black eyespots. Incredibly, they’re easiest to find at night because they fluoresce brightly under UV light.

#32. Ornate Bella Moth

  • Utetheisa ornatrix

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adult wingspans are 1.18-1.73 in (3-4.4 cm).
  • They have pink, orange, yellow, or red forewings marked with rows of white-ringed black spots, and their hindwings are pink with an uneven black border.
  • They have a white abdomen, a white thorax with black spots, and black legs with white markings.

These incredibly beautiful moths definitely deserve their name! Their stunning color patterns will help you easily identify them, but they also serve as a warning for predators. Like many other moths, this species eats plants with highly toxic compounds. These toxins remain in their bodies into their adult stage, helping them avoid predators.

Ornate Bella Moths in the United States have surprisingly complex mating rituals. In courtship, the female moths release pheromones that can attract the males from a long distance. Then, they mate with up to 13 males. Biological selection determines which of the males’ genetic material is passed to the offspring.

Researchers have also discovered that Ornate Bella Moths can recognize their kin! Siblings rarely intrude on each other’s seedpods but may try to eat those of non-related caterpillars.

Occasionally, cannibalism is observed in Ornate Bella Moths. The caterpillars may consume the same species’ eggs, pupae, or caterpillars. The cause is usually linked to a nutrient deficiency rather than true starvation.

#33. Orange-spotted Flower Moth

  • Syngamia florella

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adult wingspans average 0.6 in (1.5 cm).
  • Their fore and hindwings are dark brown with yellow patches.
  • They have a yellow head and thorax with a dark stripe down the center
  • Their orange abdomens have a black tip in females and a black and white tip in males.

These colorful little moths are common in the United States.

You may spot adults from July through December in most of their range. They fly day and night and are efficient pollinators that feed on nectar from various flower species.

You will most likely find Orange-spotted Flower Moths in weedy or brushy areas. Despite their showy colors, getting a good look at these moths can be tricky. When disturbed, they often fly a short distance and settle themselves on the underside of leaves.

The caterpillars of the Orange-spotted Flower Moth are green with dark brown spots. They usually feed on low-growing plants, eating small windows in their leaves. When they’re mature, the caterpillars pupate in rolled leaves.

#34. Rosy Maple Moth

  • Dryocampa rubicunda

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults have a wingspan of 1.25-2 in (3.2-5 cm).
  • They have pink forewings with a triangular yellow band across the center and yellow hindwings.
  • They have reddish-to-pink legs, antennae, and fuzzy, yellow bodies.

Rosy Maple Moths are undoubtedly the cutest moths in the United States!

Even those uninterested insects will love them. They’re common and fairly easy to find, too. These bright insects spend time in deciduous forests and suburban and urban areas.

In northern areas, you’ll see Rosy Maple Moths from May to August, while in the south, you may spot them from April to September. Depending on their location, they may have one to three generations per year.

As their name suggests, Rosy Maple Moth caterpillars primarily feed on maple trees. They are especially fond of red, silver, and sugar maples. The coloration of the adult moths helps them blend in with maple seed cases as they reproduce and lay eggs.

After about a month, when the caterpillars are fully mature, they crawl down the tree and burrow into shallow underground chambers to pupate. Adults may emerge in as little as two weeks, but the pupae will overwinter in colder weather, and the adult moths emerge in the spring.

#35. Pale Beauty

  • Campaea perlata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adult wingspans are 1.1-2 in (2.8-5 cm).
  • Their wings and body are pale green to grayish white but may fade to yellow as they age.
  • The wings have faint, dark grayish lines accented with white.

These little moths may seem small and unassuming. However, their luster and pale green coloration set them apart from other moths in the United States.

You’re most likely to spot Pale Beauties from late spring to early autumn, though they may only be active for a few weeks in cool weather. They’re readily attracted to outdoor lights. They inhabit deciduous woodlands and surrounding areas with plenty of available host plants.

Pale Beauties have one generation per year in the northern parts of their range and two in the south. They overwinter as caterpillars on their host trees. Once they mature, the caterpillars pupate. The pupae are reddish brown to black and easy to spot on bare winter trees.

Which of these moths have you seen in the United States?

Leave a comment below!

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out these other guides!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *