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Butterflies and Moths

Last Updated: 9/29/16

Butterflies and Moths
Aquatic Moth Larvae

Butterflies and Moths

Lepidoptera include butterflies and moths. These insects begin their lives as eggs that hatch into caterpillars. Most caterpillars live on land and eat plants while a few moth larvae live under the water. Once the time comes, they form a chrysalis and pupate. The pupae usually hang from plant material and hatch a few weeks or months later in to the adult butterflies and moths which fly and predominantly feed on nectar.

Having butterflies visit the plants in and around the pond is an added bonus of a water garden. Aquatic plants that butterflies especially like include water lilies, pickerel weed, water celery, and almost any other flowering aquatic plant. Terrestrial plants that butterflies enjoy most in my gardens include milkweed and butterfly bush (the best!). Milkweed has been thought of as a weed but it has beautiful flowers that attract butterflies and bees and provides the only feeding ground for the monarch butterfly caterpillars. Extensive spraying to kill milkweed has led to a drastic drop in monarch populations (from less milkweed and eating sprayed milkweed). Even the most utilitarian, beautiful, and wildlife-beneficial plants are considered weeds simply because most people do not want them. Dandelion is another plant that has gotten a bad reputation. They provide nectar for butterflies and bees, and both animals and people can eat the flowers and leaves. Many food products can be made from them. My neighbors' lawns are a brown swath of monotonous grass devoid of all life (due to pesticides and herbicides) while our un-poisoned lawns are green and bloom with dandelions, clover, and hundreds of wildflowers covered with wildlife. Please do not use pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides unless absolutely necessary. Especially avoid using them near ponds where they can get in the water and kill life.

The green frogs and bullfrogs in my ponds loved to eat butterflies unfortunately for the butterflies!

I was walking down the road on 8/14/15 when I saw a bug like no other. The body was yellow and fuzzy like a teddy bear. On the sides were two pathetic wings that were pink and yellow! I knew enough to know that this was probably a moth that had just come out of its chrysalis. I gently touched it with a stick as it was running across the road, and it let out a poop seemingly way too large for its little body. It did that twice. I had to do research to discover that this was a rosy maple moth, Dryocampa rubicunda, and that other moths also poop in defense. If you were a predator though, you would think the moth would be more appetizing after it evacuated its digestive tract! Look up that moth. It is absolutely stunning!

Aquatic Moth Larvae

Moths include a few species whose larvae are aquatic. The larvae are about 0.8 inches long and dull colored. Some make silk cases with plants incorporated. An example is Nymphula maculalis who builds a leaf case as a 0.8 inch larvae before becoming a 0.9 inch adult. Larvae look like land caterpillars.

Some aquatic moth larvae use pieces of leaves to make a blanket or home over top of the leaf they are eating (often lily leaves). Removing dry vegetation in and around the pond will deter them.

The China Mark Moth, Nymphuliella daeckealis, can become a real pest in some ponds. In small numbers, it is hardly noticed. In large numbers, it can eat its way through an entire pond full of water lilies, water hyacinth, and other plants. They are also called the "sandwich man" because they make a home from two pieces of water lily leaves and "sandwich" themselves into it for protection. The moth larvae may travel from plant to plant by floating around in the pond in their little sandwich boats. Their sandwiches/boats should be removed from the pond when found. If you look inside, there should be a moth caterpillar. Mosquito dunks may kill them but usually hand removal is the best method to control them. At least one research group is looking into safe methods of controlling the China Mark Moth. The adult moth is brown and white. Avoiding lighting near the pond at night may reduce the quantity of adults coming in to lay eggs.

For more information on aquatic moths as pests, see this section on my web site:
Plant Pests:

  • Aquatic Moths
  • Water Lettuce and Water Hyacinth Weevils and Moths


    Photos are listed from oldest to newest.

    A tiger swallowtail butterfly feeding on one of our butterfly bushes on 9/21/02.

    I found a caterpillar in my pond on 2/13/05. Here is a photo.

    Here are two photos of milkweed tussock moth caterpillars, Euchaetes egle, feeding on milkweed that I took on 7/25/06. They were just too neat looking!
    Milkweed tussock moth caterpillars
    Milkweed tussock moth caterpillars - close- up

    Here is a photo of buck moth caterpillars that stung me. You can read about it in the September 2006 pond newsletter.
    Buck moth caterpillars

    My mother had me buy some painted lady butterfly caterpillars for release. Here are photos of a few of the butterflies when released on 6/10/10.
    Painted lady butterfly on the ground.
    Painted lady butterfly on my mother's hand.
    Painted lady butterfly on the butterfly bush flowers.

    I was told to remove this tomato hornworm caterpillar from my mother's tomato plant on 7/11/10:
    Tomato Hornworm - side view.
    Tomato Hornworm - top view.

    Butterfly - on snowball plant flowers in my pond on 8/26/12.

    I found this super pretty caterpillar on my goldenrod on 7/28/13. It is a brown-hooded owlet, Cucullia convexipennis, which is a species of moth.
    Brown-hooded owlet caterpillar
    Brown-hooded owlet caterpillar

    On 9/7/14, I turned over some leaves on my canna to find a pile of stinging caterpillars! There were three saddlebacks and a couple of white, fuzzy caterpillars. All were poisonous.
    Saddleback and white caterpillars

    From 6/20/15:
    Milkweed in flower with a butterfly.
    Milkweed in flower with butterflies (hard to see).

    On 8/27/16, I found a huge moth stuck on the front screen in a spider web. I did research and found that he/she was a giant silk moth, a Cecropia moth to be exact. I freed the moth that then flew to the porch and away.
    Cecropia moth stuck in the screen
    Cecropia moth in the daylight on the porch
    Cecropia moth in the daylight on the porch


    Check out the North American Butterfly Association to learn more about butterflies including their preferred plants for nectar and caterpillars.

    Monarch Watch


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    Return to the main insect page.
    See the master index for the insect pages.

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