An Introduction to some common moth families

Family: Saturniidae, Subfamily: Saturniinae (Emperor Moths)

Emperor or Silk moths are large beautiful moths, which include the largest moth in the world (by wing area)-the Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas). This moth can be more than 12 inches in size! Emperor moths have very short life spans, living only a few weeks. The adult moths do not feed, and live off the energy reserves accumuluated during the caterpillar stage. Male moths have large feathery antennae, which they use to locate females from more than 2 kilometers away. They readily come to light.

Attacus atlas, the Atlas Moth    Actias selene

Family: Sphingidae (Hawkmoths)

Hawkmoths are large-bodied, mostly nocturnal moths with long, narrow forewings. They are powerful fliers. They have a long proboscis and are fond of feeding on flower nectar, hovering in front of the flower to feed. Some of these moths migrate long distances. The caterpillars of these moths are thick-bodied, hairless and have a short tail. Some hawkmoths such as the Death’s Head Hawkmoth (Acherontia lachesis) let out squeaks when caught.

Deilephila rivularis, SphingidaeHippotion_celerio

Family: Eupterotidae (Monkey Moths)

Large, dull brown or yellow nocturnal moths with a clumsy flight. Though superficially like the Saturniids, they do not have bright colours or markings. Male moths have large feathery antennae. They do not feed as adults. When handled, they act as though they are dead! They readily come to light.

 Eupterote bifasciata, EupterotidaeEupterote undated

Family: Cossidae (Leopard and Goat Moths)

Nocturnal moths that do not feed as adults, and readily come to lights. Goat moths are called so because their caterpillar droppings’ have a goat-like smell. Their larvae live in trees and take 3 to 5 years to pupate.

Zeuzera multistrigata, CossidaeXyleutes persona

Family: Geometridae (Geometers)

One of the largest moth families. Geometer moths are mostly nocturnal (though some are day flying), and readily attracted to light. They sit with their wings flat, with both fore and hind wings being visible, generally with their antennae aligned with the forewing margin. In Greek, the word “Geometer” means “earth measurer” and the family name of these moths is attributed to their caterpillar’s peculiar looping walk which makes them seem like they are measuring the distance they walk! The caterpillars are also called loopers or inchworms. 

Hyposidra talacaOrnithospila avicularia Geometridae,Geometrinae

Family: Uraniidae (Swallowtail moths)

These are either day- or night-flying moths. They can range from small to very large in size with broad wings. Many of them have tailed hindwings and appear to be similar to swallowtail butterflies; hence their common name. They have a functional proboscis and sit with their wings rolled or flat, but never in a roof-like arrangement.
A unique taxonomically important feature is the sexual dimorphism of the location and shape of the hearing (tympanal) organs. 

Micronia aculeata, Uraniidae Lyssa zampa

Family: Notodontidae (Prominent Moths)

These are nocturnal, non-feeding moths. Many of these moths have a prominent tuft on the inner edge of the forewing; hence they are called prominent moths. 

Syntypistis comatus, NotodontidaeNetria multispinae

Family: Erebidae Subfamily : Arctiinae (Tiger moths)

This moth subfamily includes tiger moths and footman moths, which are mostly nocturnal. Tiger moths are brightly coloured, and distasteful to predators. Some species produce a foul-smelling frothy secretion from glands near the head when threatened. Many tiger moths emit clicking sounds to confuse bats, their primary predators. Footman moths are generally smaller and sit with their wings folded over the body, in a somewhat cylindrical shape. 

Mangina argus Erebidae, Arctiinae, ArctiiniAreas galactina

Family: Erebidae Subfamily : Aganainae (Asotas and Neocheras) 

This moth subfamily has moderate-sized colourful moths and are often aposematic with toxic hostplants consisting of lactiferous plant families. They are nocturnal and diurnal species and can be seen at light traps. They have functional mouthparts and can be seen feeding on flowers or other sources of moisture.

Asota producta, Erebidae AganainaeAsota ficus

Family: Erebidae Subfamily:Erebinae, Tribe: Catocalini (Owl, Owlet and Fruit Piercing Moths)

This is a large group of largely nocturnal moths, many of which like to feed on rotting fruit. They are readily attracted to sugar syrup and wine-soaked ropes. Many of these moths have owl-like markings on their wings and hence are called Owl or Owlet moths. The fruit piercing moths have sharp spines on their proboscis that allow them to pierce both raw and ripe fruit. The larvae and adults of fruit piercing moths cause considerable damage to commercial fruit crops.

Erebus macrops, Erebidae, ErebinaeThyas coronata

Family: Erebidae Subfamily : Lymantriinae (Tussock Moths)  

Tussock moths are largely nocturnal moths that do not feed as adults. The moths, and their caterpillars have tufts like shaving brushes hence their common name. The word “lymantria” means “defiler” as the moths are defoliators of many tree species.

Lymantria mathura, Erebidae, LymantriinaeLymantria semicincta

Family: Pyralidae (Snout Moths)

Small-sized moths with a protruding snout, giving them their common name.

Vitessa suradeva, PyralidaeOrybina flaviplaga

Family: Crambidae (Grass moths)  

Small-sized moths whose larvae are typically stem-borers in many species of grass; hence they are called grass moths. They have antennae longer than the length of the forewing and often sit with the antennae folded behind the body.

 Endocrossis flavibasalis Crambidae, SpilomelinaeFilodes fulvidorsalis

Family: Lasiocampidae (Lappet, Egar and Snout moths)

These non-feeding moths have a typical resting posture wherein the hind wings are held flat on the sitting surface in front of the forewings. Many have a pointed snout. Their caterpillars are large and hairy.

Trabala vishnou, LasiocampidaeLebeda nobilis

Family: Zygaenidae (Burnet and Forester Moths)

Burnet and Forester moths are brightly coloured day-flying moths, often with clubbed antennae. Many species mimic butterflies and are distasteful to predators. 

Campylotes histrionicus, ZygaenidaeCyclosia midamia

Family: Limacodidae (Slug Moths)

The caterpillars of these moths have a slug-like appearance, hence their common name. Caterpillars of many species have spines that can cause itching. Many moths of this family sit with their abdomen raised at 90° angle to its wings.

Atosia himalayana LimacodidaeParasa lepida


Page citation

Sondhi, S 2024. An Introduction to some common moth families . In Sondhi, S., Y. Sondhi, R.P. Singh, P. Roy and K. Kunte (Chief Editors). Butterflies of India, v. 3.71. Indian Foundation for Butterflies.