Don’t Block My Light
iPhoneOgraphy – 22 Jul 2016 (Day 204/366)
Moths comprise a group of insects related to butterflies, belonging to the order Lepidoptera. Most lepidopterans are moths; and there are thought to be approximately 160,000 species of moth, many of which are yet to be described. Most species of moth are nocturnal, but there are also crepuscular and diurnal species.
The modern English word “moth” comes from Old English “moððe” (cf. Northumbrian “mohðe”) from Common Germanic (compare Old Norse “motti”, Dutch “mot”, and German “motte” all meaning “moth”). Its origins are possibly related to the Old English “maða” meaning “maggot” or from the root of “midge” which until the sixteenth century was used mostly to indicate the larva, usually in reference to devouring clothes.
Moths evolved long before butterflies, fossils having been found that may be 190 million years old. Both types of lepidoptera are thought to have evolved along with flowering plants, mainly because most modern species feed on flowering plants, both as adults and larvae. One of the earliest species thought to be a moth-ancestor is Archaeolepis mane, whose fossil fragments show scaled wings similar to caddisflies in their veining.
Moths frequently appear to circle artificial lights, although the reason for this behavior remains unknown. One hypothesis to explain this behavior is that moths use a technique of celestial navigation called transverse orientation. By maintaining a constant angular relationship to a bright celestial light, such as the moon, they can fly in a straight line. Celestial objects are so far away, that even after travelling great distances, the change in angle between the moth and the light source is negligible; further, the moon will always be in the upper part of the visual field, or on the horizon. When a moth encounters a much closer artificial light and uses it for navigation, the angle changes noticeably after only a short distance, in addition to being often below the horizon. The moth instinctively attempts to correct by turning toward the light, thereby causing airborne moths to come plummeting downward, and resulting in a spiral flight path that gets closer and closer to the light source.