Most commonly referred to as dull, drab and brown, these winged visitors of the night are far from boring. Moths are extraordinarily diverse in color, shape and size; intricate patterns adorn their wings and they seem to live an exciting, busy life, maybe as much or more fascinating than the butterflies.
Within the order Lepidoptera, moth species outnumber butterflies. It’s an incredible number of over 1,42,000 moth species vs. 17,500 butterfly species found worldwide. India accounts to about more than 10,000 species of moths. It’s a misnomer that only butterflies are brightly colored while moths are drab. It is also a generalization that butterflies occupy the daylight hours and moths are confined to the night life. In-fact, there are incredibly bright colored and contrasting moth species and very drab looking butterflies too; there are exceptions of day flying moths and night-flying butterflies too.
Moths play a big role in the ecological set up. Moth caterpillars add to the rich nutritious diet of birds and adult winged moths make a good crunchy meal for birds, as well as bats too. A good majority of the plant world is dependent on moths for pollinating their flowers. However, owing to their more common nocturnal behavior and remarkable camouflage, it’s little that we know about the mysterious world of moths. Observations, study and research of moths have been low and inconsistent. Nevertheless, the recent years have seen a flurry of moth lovers and a buzz of observations are slowly flooding the internet.
With an entomologist for a father, it was in my early years I learnt that moths are not the same as butterflies. More than two decades ago, gracefully perched on a low branch, hardly 3 feet above the ground – which was perfect eye level for me then – was my first encounter with a moth – a Luna Moon Moth. Ever since, my fascination for the world of moths has triggered my curiosity and I have kept a vigilant eye out for moths.
Along with a background with the arts, I nurtured a practice of maintaining a nature field journal. Moths have crept into my pages and have considerably become one of my favorite subjects. Once a moth is spotted, they pose for you for a good indefinite amount of time. Forgotten night-lights that are left burning through the nights; and bright white-lights left switched on in the evenings attract a lot of moth activity. These make ideal opportunities to sit close, observe and sketch them as well. Entranced by their incredible patterns and forms, I made a few postcard sized illustrations of some of the big, most common moths.
Moth and Butterfly
Moths are typically known to be drab and brown and this allows them to use trees to effortlessly camouflage themselves. The Death’s Head Hawk Moth illustrated here derives its name from the skull-like form on its head. While butterflies are known for their bright contrasting colors, there are a good majority of them that are drab and brown. The Common Evening Brown, shown in the illustration, is considerably active at dusk, but is occasionally spotted during the day too.
Moths of Rakcham
It was a forgotten door light at night which had lured a wide variety of moths to my doorstep and while sitting in a faraway town in the wilderness, I filled my first sketchbook page with full of moths.
Moths from Chorla Ghat, Western Ghats
Bright light sources against a white wall do a brilliant job at amassing an assortment of moths from the surrounding woods. Standing behind the kitchen wall, on cold windy nights of December, I watched and sketched in the company of moths and a smart bat that came to hunt them down at the light.
Hawk Moth journal page
The moths in the Sphingidae family are commonly known as Hawk moths or Sphinx moths. Illustrated from life, here are a black and white sketch of a Oleander Hawk moth and the water color work of a Yam Hawk moth.
Owl Moth (Erebus macrops)
The Owl Moth is among the larger species of the Noctuid family. The large eye-like markings on the wings resemble the face of an owl, which is known to keep predators at bay.
Wingspan: 12 cm
Owlet Moth (Erebus ephesperis)
Yet another typical example of a drab brown moth. With partial eye-like markings to threaten predators away, they too make for a perfect camouflage in tree canopies and on tree barks.
Wingspan: 9 cm
Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas)
The Atlas Moth is considered the largest moth in the world. The female moth is known to be bigger than the male. The male Atlas Moth has a feathery antennae, and the purpose of this is to gather the pheromones released by the female even from as far as 7 kms away.
Wingspan: 25 cm
Tussar Silk Moth (Antheraea paphia)
Hidden behind the fine golden silk strands is a beautiful large moth, if only allowed to complete its metamorphosis stage. The silk cocoon built by the Tussar Silk Moth caterpillar, are used to obtain one of the finest silk produced – tussar silk. These caterpillars are reared commercially and India happens to be the world’s second largest producer of tussar silk.
Wingspan: 12 cm
Golden Emperor Moth (Loepa katinka)
This large and bright yellow Saturniid moth is more commonly seen during the monsoons. Their winged life span as an adult is just for a week or two.
Wingspan: 15 cm
Indian Moon moth (Actias selene)
With long trailing tails, the moon moths are among the prettiest of moths. The translucent eye-spots on the wing surface is characteristic to all moths belonging to the Saturniid family.
Wingspan: 12 cm
Oleander Hawk Moth (Daphnis nerii)
The Oleander Hawk Moth is considered one of the most widely distributed Sphingidae species in the world. Oleander is the main food plant the caterpillars feed on, hence the name. These plants are toxic and make these hawk moths unpalatable, thus, protecting them from predators.
Wingspan: 8 cm