What do Moths Eat and Drink?
Moths, the insects that we don’t really care about or know anything about, save for their appetite for clothes. But do they eat clothes or is that just a myth? It remains to be seen!
Whether you know something about moths or not, at the end of this article, you’ll be a walking encyclopedia of moth-related trivia. A question – do you know how much caterpillars eat? Or whether moths can bite you or not?
If you don’t, then you’re fortunate because you’re about to find out. All in all, moths are quite an intriguing species, considering they literally drink feces. But that’s a story for another time (a couple of paragraphs down below, in other words). For now, we’ll start by asking this question…
What do Caterpillars Eat?
Most caterpillars are vegan, meaning they’ll eat anything that’s green and smells of grass. But when hungry, caterpillars become voracious eaters that go beyond their natural predilections. These guys will eat anything, including:
- Honeycomb – If you thought caterpillars don’t enjoy sweet things, think again. They do, especially if it comes in the form of hexagonal bits. Wax Moths will invade bee nests, lay their eggs there, and then the caterpillars will eat all the honeycombs until they destroy the nest. Talk about destructive hunger!
- Flowers – Grazing isn’t only for cows. Caterpillars do it too. When they’re especially hungry, these guys will eat the leaves, blooms, buds, and even the seeds of flowers. They leave nothing behind as they savagely gorge on any flower in their vicinity.
- Grass – What’s the easiest thing to eat if not grass? Well, that’s what Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown caterpillars eat. They’re lazy bums that aren’t going to make a lot of effort to find out food sources. Grass is everywhere, so they’ve adapted to eat it.
- Bark and Twigs – Lunar Hornet Moth caterpillars regularly bore into trees and eat away the wood for two years. They don’t damage the tree too much but they make little holes inside. The tree doesn’t like that, though. Hopefully, we won’t be seeing a tree invasion in the next couple of years.
- Animal Waste – Woah, there, really? Unfortunately, yeah. Skin Moth caterpillars are nature’s cleaners, eating away carcasses of dead animals like it was caviar. Perhaps it is, for them. It’s just one of the things we’ll never know, and I’m happier for it!
- Ants – Caterpillars of Large Blue moths have a peculiar appetite for red ants. But these guys are stealthy bastards because they don’t go for the kill right away. First, they feed on the flowers of Marjoram and Wild Thyme, then they come to the ground and release a special scent. This scent makes red ants carry the caterpillars back to the ant colony. Once there, the caterpillars will eat all the ant pupae underground.
- Hair – There aren’t too many moth species that feed on clothes (only 2 species). The rest feed on what I just told you above and what I’m about to tell you below. But the Common Clothes Moth caterpillars will eat dirty wool, feathers, hair, and fur. It’s their kink, what can you do!
- Moss and Lichen – Several moth species eat moss and lichen during their caterpillar stage. You’ll see them near old walls, tree trunks, or other places where it’s likely for mosses to grow. One particular species, the Brussels Lace caterpillar, will mimic the color of the lichen it wants to eat, so it can safely hide away unnoticed. Predators won’t even see this little bugger feeding.
- Themselves – We talked about necrophage caterpillars so why not cannibals as well? Dun-bar caterpillars (fitting name) will casually eat other caterpillars if they’re lucky enough to meet some. Generally herbivorous and opportunistically carnivorous, these caterpillars are truly based.
- Anything – We’ve reached rock-bottom, the top level of hunger for caterpillars. Rosy Marbled moth caterpillars eat flower petals, moldy flowers, live insects, and even dead ones. This one does not make a difference between its food sources!
But the question remains…
How Much Do Caterpillars Eat?
Caterpillars eat 200 times their body weight. To put this into perspective, imagine your five-pound Chihuahua eating 1000 pounds worth of dog food in two weeks. Yeah, that’s a lot, and even this is an understatement.
Caterpillars eat one large leaf every day, at least. They eat this much because they need all the extra nutrients when they go into the chrysalis and turn into a moth. The metamorphosis process is draining!
Milkweed is a favorite of caterpillars, especially. They’ll eat the entire plant without leaving anything behind, relatively speaking. And they’ll do it pretty fast, so don’t even think you have enough milkweed for a couple of caterpillars. If you want to raise moths, then you better prepare to satisfy the insane hunger urges of the caterpillars.
What do Adult Moths Eat?
What if I were to say that many moth species don’t eat anything in their adulthood? That’s because they ate a village’s worth of food during their caterpillar life stage. It’s just enough to last their entire lives as moths. Most other species will drink fruit juices, tree sap, and fluids from manure and poop. Then, there are the moths that will eat your flannel and favorite blouse, if you let them.
There are two species of clothes-eating moths in the world – the casemaking clothes moth and the webbing clothes moth. Both species will eat cotton, wool, silk, and other natural fibers, including those in your favorite winter clothing. They especially love that type of fiber. If you finish eating all the natural fibers, they’ll eat synthetic materials just to get to that sweet natural fiber.
Other species of moths will drink juices, sap, and poop essence. They’ll actively look for flowers, fruits, and various food sources that look juicy. With the organs on their feet, they’ll touch and taste at the same time, giving them a weird sensation. Somehow, it helps them find good food.
Moths have a long proboscis that they use to suck everything dry. When not used, the proboscis is rolled up in the front of the head. When food is in sight, the moth will unroll it like a carpet, and the straw-like tube will insert itself in the food source. I bet you’re thinking that this is where the sucking action begins, and you’d be wrong.
You see, moths don’t “suck” food through their proboscis. At least not in the beginning. That’s because their food is thicker than water, and they don’t have enough strength to suck it. Instead, the proboscis slowly pulls the food in the mouth, where it mixes with saliva. The food goes down the esophagus in the crop, which releases small bits of food into the gizzard, which releases digestive enzymes to break the food down.
When everything is broken down nicely, all the food goes into the midgut where it breaks down again thanks to other digestive juices. The moth’s hindgut absorbs all the remaining nutrients and what is unusable goes out as feces. That’s about it when it comes to the eating process of adult moths.
Do Moths Eat Clothes?
Some moth species do eat clothes, yes. Only two species, to be more exact, the webbing clothes moth and the casemaking clothes moth. The larvae have to eat something and coincidentally, you have all those tasty sweaters lying around. Naturally, they’re going to chomp on your clothes unless you do something about it. Interestingly enough, adult moths don’t eat clothes but only the larvae do.
Moths don’t have mouths to eat with. They have proboscises with which they suck the juice out of things. But is there a particular reason why these moths breed inside your closet? Yes, there is. These two moth species prefer dark conditions, and your closet is a perfect breeding ground. And then there’s the fact that the larvae need keratin to continually develop and become adult moths.
Keratin is a protein most often found in fingernails, hair, and skin. But these larvae can’t exactly chomp down humans, thankfully. However, there’s one more thing that contains keratin – natural fibers like wool. They also enjoy eating silk, leather, fur, and feathers. Your clothes aren’t safe anymore with the moth larvae running rampant in your closet, in other words.
Aside from the casemaking clothes moths and the webbing clothes moths, no other species eats clothes. The larvae of these two species have special camouflage techniques that they employ when feeding.
Casemaking clothes larvae carry along portable cases that take the color of the fabrics the larvae are eating. Webbing larvae, on the other hand, spin tunnels through clothes (the holes you see) that are colored the same way as the fabric.
Do Moths Eat Leaves?
Yes and no. Adult moths don’t eat leaves because they physically can’t do that. They don’t have a mouth to chew with. Instead, they have a proboscis that helps them suck the juices and nectar from flowers. They can feed on feces and mud when they require minerals and protein, as well. But there is a time when moths feed only on leaves – when they are larvae.
Moth larvae will eat the leaves of various plants, depending on their species. That’s their main source of food until they turn into adult moths. But just as they eat leaves, they can instantly turn to eating your wardrobe if they ever get there. Hopefully, they won’t reach your favorite clothes!
Can Moths Bite You?
Moths can be pesky bastards when it comes to pissing you off and shredding your clothes. But besides that, can they harm you in other ways? Can they bite your head off? No, you’re thinking of Mothman here. But for real, can moths bite you, and do you need any treatment for moth bites?
The great news is moths are physically unable to bite you. You see, they don’t have a mouth or teeth or anything else to harm you. All they have is a long, straw-like proboscis that’s only good at sucking liquid food from the environment. Moreover, they don’t care about biting people because they wouldn’t get any nutrients by doing it.
But moths can cause allergic reactions through their wings. The tiny scales on their wings occasionally shed off and become airborne, at which point they turn into allergens. You could get a rash, swelling, red bumps on your skin, or itchiness. These red spots look a lot like bites, hence the misconception that moths can bite you. But they’re not bites!
Moths are a pain in the butt, indeed, but they’re also fluffy and may eat your clothes if you’re not careful. Most moth species only ever eat leaves as larvae, and they suck nectar from flowers as adults.
Only two moth species eat clothes, and that’s when they’re larvae. Moth adults can’t “eat” anything because they lack a mouth. They can only drink juices.