Moths have been tremendously successful in the evolutionary arms race and have adapted well to the city life as well. Among the bustling life forms in and around the city, these seemingly drab creatures have largely remained unexplored. When we distance ourselves from the hullabaloo of the light-polluted city and venture into darker areas on the outskirts, their presence can be observed. It can also be felt by seeing the chewed up rose plants in your backyard or the mysteriously curved lines on the leaves of marigold – the job of a Leaf Mining Moth Caterpillar. We share a close connection with these creatures. From the silk sarees that we make to the food that we consume, they are an integral part of our lives.
Bangalore enjoys a salubrious climate and is home to rich biodiversity. The urban vegetation interspersed between the concrete structures is not just pleasing to the eye and helpful in producing fresh air, but also hosts many forms of life. Some strange creepy crawlies can be found around dung and on tree barks which are mostly the larvae of Amata species, one of the handmaiden moths. Castor (Ricinus communis), one of the most common weeds, is a hostplant of the Darth Maul Moth and Lymantria species. It is sightings like these, which we chance upon occasionally, that need to be documented and observed carefully to get a better idea of what is around us. Citizen science initiatives such as National Moth Week can be a great way to do that.
On a casual stroll, one can find various larvae of moths belonging to the family Geometridae and Erebidae on common trees such as English Tamarind, Wattles and Ficus. With the mind-boggling diversity and patterns that they possess, they definitely deserve more attention from us. In Bangalore, roughly 150+ species have been recorded but many areas remain unexplored and species, unknown. In terms of species diversity among different families, the grass moths and erebid moths are most frequently observed. But to get a concrete idea about the diversity, more studies are required. Being mindful of their presence around us and documenting the same to fill-in the void in the data, should be a good start.
Here are a dozen commonly found moths in and around Bangalore:
Spodoptera litura – Oriental Leafworm
This notorious moth is a pest on close to 87 species of plants that are of economic importance. It is found commonly in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia. The pattern on its wings helps in camouflage during the day.
Amata passalis – Crimson-banded Handmaiden
With their wasp-like appearance and colourful markings on the abdomen, the moths of this genus fly mostly during the daytime. They are unpalatable to predators like birds and hence are able to wander around freely.
Parotis species – Large Milkweed Snout
They belong to the grass moth family called Crambidae and are commonly found in urban areas and also seen flying around during daytime and at night as well. The caterpillars can be seen munching on Crape Jasmine (Tabernaemontana divaricata), in parks or in your own backyard.
Nepita conferta – Footman Moth
Larvae of this moth are often seen marching up a damp wall with algae on it, as they are algae feeders. For the same reason, they are very well adapted to city life. The adults are much more vibrant as compared to the drab hairy larvae.
Olepa ricini agg. – Darth Maul Moth
This is a member of the tiger moths’ family, Erebidae, and bears a Koala-like face pattern on the thorax. One of the very common inhabitants in Bangalore, it is usually seen in areas where Castors (Ricinus communis) are in plenty, and is a pest of various crops.
Eupterote mollifera – Molly Monkey Moth
One of the biggies among the city moths, it has a wingspan of around 8cm. Males sport beautiful feathery antennae and get their name because of the ‘furry’ region above the head. They fly clumsily and are attracted to light.
Acherontia styx – Lesser Death’s Head Hawkmoth
Fans of the movie ‘Silence of the Lambs’ will recognise this moth immediately. It is a heavy and large moth, famous for its squeaking sounds when disturbed. A bizarre skull-like pattern can be observed, which is characteristic of this genus.
Daphnis nerii – Oleander Hawkmoth
This moth is the key culprit behind the chewed-up Oleander (Kanagale in Kannada) shrubs in Bangalore. It is also known as Army Green Moth because of the camouflage pattern on the wings. The larvae have a trick up their sleeves to fend off predators; they display false eyespots!
Spirama species – Owlet Moth
Conspicuous eyespots on the wings of these moths help them in displaying the deimatic behaviour as a defensive adaptation. They are mostly found among shrubs during day time but are also attracted to light. They exist in two forms, the other is much darker with no hazel lines.
Eudocima materna – Dot Underwing
Ever found blotches on citrus fruits? These fruit-piercing moths are to be blamed for that. With their strong, serrated proboscis, they penetrate fruits which act as an entry point for fungi and bacteria. However, they help in pollination as well.
Spoladea recurvalis – Beet Webworm
This small critter is a menace to the farmers since the larvae defoliate various crops such as soybean, peanut and spinach. They are common visitors to light during the night, all over India. It has a cosmopolitan distribution which makes pest management more difficult.
Asota caricae – Tropical Tiger Moth
This species is found in the forest as well as agricultural areas. It has a long yellow proboscis and is seen nectaring on flowers sometimes. The larvae feed on Ficus trees and other members of the same family.