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How to Photograph Moths

Updated on September 8, 2014

Emperor Gum Moth/Opodiphthera eucalypti

CC BY-SA 3.0
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

"A moth is an insect related to the butterfly, both being of the order Lepidoptera. Most of this order are moths; there are thought to be approximately 160,000 species of moth (nearly ten times the number of species of butterfly),[1] with thousands of species yet to be described. Most species of moth are nocturnal, but there are crepuscular and diurnal specie....Moths are not easily differentiated from butterflies. Sometimes the name "Heterocera" is used for moths while the term "Rhopalocera" is used for butterflies to formalize the popular distinction; these, however, have no taxonomic validity. Many attempts have been made to subdivide the Lepidoptera into groups such as the Microlepidoptera and Macrolepidoptera, Frenatae and Jugatae, or Monotrysia and Ditrysia. Failure of these names to persist in modern classifications is because none of them represents a pair of monophyletic groups. Butterflies can be classified within the "moths" (being considered as part of Ditrysia of the Neolepidoptera).[2] There is thus no way to group all of the remaining taxa in a monophyletic group, as it will always exclude that one descendant lineage."Wikipedia

As several scientific research have concluded, although moths may be a close relatives of the butterfly, many of its habits are different as well as their general physical characteristics. Most notably their antennae which typically resemble leaves instead of a short stubby "stick".

Most moths are nocturnal and probably guide or navigate by the moonlight. This is why many scientist believe that moths have a great attraction to light and can often be found near artificial light sources.

Photographing these interesting creatures is much like photographing butterflies. You need a good zoom lens in order to get close .

With most butterfly photography the photographs are taken during the day and no flash is usually needed unless to add some highlights or bring the subjects out of the shadows when it is intermingled with heavy foliage.

When photographing moths you will more than likely need to use flash since the majority of them can be found at dusk or night and even if you locate them near an artificial light source, most regular light bulbs will distort the image quality since this type of light is not ideal for photography.

Moths are believe to outnumber butterflies by something like 10 to 1. There are upward of 11,000 moth species in the United States and that is considerably more than all of the bird species and mammals found in the continental United States alone.

Moths like butterflies, can range in size from very small to very large. The largest moth on record is thought to be the Atlas moth found in parts of Asia with a wingspan of nearly one foot.

Moths carry with with them a bad reputation. This is because several species of moths will feed on thread and thus damage clothing if left unattended and unchecked. There are also several species of moth whose caterpillars are considered to be agricultural pest that destroy or damage several crops.

Green luna moth/Actias luna


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Like many butterflies adult moths feed on nectar but unlike the vast majority of butterflies there are several varieties that do not feed at all as adults.

For example the luna moths does not even have mouth and since it lives for about a week its sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs.

Like many of its butterflies relatives, some moths have adapted in order to fend off predators and many have mimic techniques and shapes of other less desirable insects and even bird droppings in order to escape being eaten.

Speaking of being eaten. Many moths serve as food for many nocturnal animals like bats, owls and some birds. There are quite a number of nocturnal mammals that also find moths to be delectable. But moths also play an important role in nature.

Like the butterflies they also pollinate many plants, mainly night blooming varieties. These flowers have even adapted to have their blooms emit fragrant smells which in turn makes it easier for these moths to locate them at night.

Cecropia moth/Hyalophora cecropia

public domain
public domain | Source

Did you also know that in some parts of the world moths are considered to be a delicacy?

In some parts of the world, moths are a major food source for people.moths and their caterpillars are packed with proteins and minerals such calcium. it is even thought that for some families moths and their caterpillars along with other insects provide a high percentage of their daily nutritional requirement.The same cannot be said about the more colorful butterflies.

However,even though many moths varieties come in a rather dull brownish or grayish coloration there are also many varieties that rival the most beautiful of butterflies.

Although a good zoom lens is standard for moth photography, a good prime macro lens can be invaluable.

Many moths will remain very still if undisturbed by your touch and getting physically close is not that difficult, something that is almost impossible with butterflies.

Perhaps it is the coolness of the night or that they do not see us as predators, many moths are easily photographed from up close and here is where your macro lens can render great photographs.

Elephant hawkmoth/Deilephila elpenor

(CC BY-ND 2.0
(CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

More moth facts

  • Many females of the Tussock family of moths don't have wings

  • The Hawk moth (Sphinx) is the worlds fastest flying insect attaining speed of over 50 kph

  • Moth antennae are either feather like or a hair like filament.

  • The Cecropia moth is North America's largest insect.

  • Moths have hairy bodies to help retain internal body temperature necessary for flight.

  • Quite a few moths fly during the day, such as the Hummingbird Clearwing, Virginia Ctenucha and the Spear-Marked Black.

  • In colder climates some moths can have a two year life cycle.

  • Some moth caterpillars, such as the "Io" are covered with stinging hairs.

  • Moths make up 80 percent of the order lepidoptera.

  • Moths navigate by two methods. They use the moon and stars when available and geomagnetic clues when light sources are obscured.

  • Cloth Moths eat such things as wool, fur and other animal products. It is their ability to digest Keratin ....... a protien found in these foods.

  • Some moths pupate under ground. Such as many of the Sphinx moths.

  • Moths heat up their flight muscles by vibrating their wings, since they don't have the radiant energy of the sun at their disposal to serve that purpose.

You've noticed that I have included the scientific name as well as the common name of each moth .

Most of the publications that can end up using your images will require that the scientific name for each subject is included since the common names can vary from location to location.

It is always advisable to also include information that describes each subject's location and other territorial habits as well as other interesting information.

This makes it easier to distinguish each subject no matter who is reading the article or looking at the photograph.

Plus if the viewer wants to find out more information and details about a subject it can be easily researched by looking for the scientific name instead of the common local name.

CC BY-ND 2.0
CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

Rosy maple moth/Dryocampa rubicunda

CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

© 2013 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      moonlake: Thank you

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      We had some beautiful moths this year so I was out with my camera taking pictures. I plan on putting them on a hub but I'm waiting for views to go up. Voted up and shared.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Pamela99: Thank you

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      I didn't realize that moths could be so beautiful. The pictures are great. Very interesting hub as well.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Jackie Lynnley: Thank you. Glad you liked it

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Moths really are so beautiful. I wish I had been into photography when I lived places that had the biggest most beautiful moths imaginable. These are beautiful you show here to. So very interesting. ^


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