Vapourer Moths that cannot fly and do not eat

Many moths have no mouthparts and females with no wings

Although it is commonly thought that moths are flying insects and that they feed on nectar like butterflies, there are many species in which the adults cannot eat at all because they have no mouthparts, and others in which the females have no wings and it is only the males that can fly.

These moths do all their feeding in the caterpillar stage and the food they ate then has to sustain them through their pupal and adult states. Although this may seem very strange to our ways of thinking, it seems to work very well for many species of moth.

The Vapourer Moth is an unusual common moth

A species such as the Vapourer Moth (Orgyia antiqua ) has females that cannot eat and cannot fly and are basically a bag of eggs. They wait on the cocoon, in which their pupa was, for a male to find them and after mating they lay their eggs on the cocoon and die. The males have brown wings and fly about looking for females.

This species is also unusual because it flies by day. The caterpillars are pretty creatures with coloured tufts of fur and hairy bodies and feed on a variety of trees, bushes and other plants.

It is in the caterpillar stage that the insect must build up enough energy reserves from its food to last it in its adult phase. The closely-related Scarce Vapourer (Orgyia gonostigma ) also has females that are unable to fly.

Moth photos

Vapourer Moth female. Photo by Grmanners
Vapourer Moth female. Photo by Grmanners
Female Silk Moth (Bombyx mori)
Female Silk Moth (Bombyx mori)
Vapourer Moth caterpillar. Photo by Georg Slickers
Vapourer Moth caterpillar. Photo by Georg Slickers
Vapourer Moth male. Photo by Beentree
Vapourer Moth male. Photo by Beentree

Gypsy Moth and other moths that do not eat

The Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar ) has cream-coloured females that have wings but are unable to fly, and brownish winged males that can. In this species, which has often been a pest of fruit trees, the adults are unable to feed.

Winter Moth

In the Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata ) the females have stumps of wings but they are totally useless for flying purposes. In this species the females do crawl about but are otherwise similar to the form of the Vapourer Moth and they wait about for the flying males to find them and mate with them. After mating they lay their eggs on fruit trees and die.

Atlas Moth

Most species in the large Saturniidae silkmoth family are very colourful and some such as the Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas ) are some of the biggest types of moth in the world. Although most silkmoths can fly all species are unable to eat as adults but must feed up as caterpillars. The adults do not even have digestive systems.

Silk Moths

The very well-known Silk Moth (Bombyx mori ), which has caterpillars known as silk worms that feed on Mulberry leaves and that are farmed for their silk, has wings but is unable to fly, and the adults only have rudimentary mouthparts and are unable to eat.

The Silk Moth has become dependent on humans even though most of its individuals have a short life and are killed before they even reach adulthood. The Silk Moth has lost all fear of predators and also is unable to fly and would swiftly die out in the wild.

These moth species that are unable to eat or fly and have short lives that appear to only serve the purpose of reproducing their species. Moths that cannot eat usually live less than a week. There are other insect types that are like this with perhaps the Mayfly being the best-known because after a long life as a larva that lives underwater in rivers and streams, when it finally changes into the adult stage it cannot eat and only lives for a day.

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Comments 9 comments

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

Bard of Ely, that's an interesting concept: not having a mouth and never eating. So where does the energy for the next generation come from? If the females do not eat, do the males do enough eating for everybody? How exactly does that work?


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

The males do not eat too. Both males and females eat enough in the larval stage to take them through their pupal and adult stages. The caterpillar reaches a day on which it takes its last meal. All the large moths in the silk moth family are like this. The biggest moths in the world are unable to eat.


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia

Fascinating. Thank you.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

Interesting but kind of gross.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Why "gross"? Thanks for posting!


nathan 4 years ago

why dose silkmoths have wings


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

They have them to fly just like most other moths of course!


DDE profile image

DDE 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Most interesting to know, thanks for the well in detail Hub


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for your comments!

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