Get set to celebrate National Moth Week

You may not have it on your calendar, but National Moth Week begins July 23.

A New Jersey group — the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission — started the annual worldwide observance (nationalmothweek.org) in 2012 as a “citizens science” project to celebrate the beauty, benefits and habits of moths.

Moths belong to the same family — Lepidoptera — as butterflies. Nearly 200 butterfly species (of 765 in North America) inhabit at least a part of Georgia, but the state has more than 1,000 moth species (of 10,000 continentwide).

Many of us can identify at least a few butterfly species. Moths, though, are poorly known, perhaps because they generally fly at night and are not readily seen — except when they flit around windows and porch lights.

Twice as many moths may be flying at night as butterflies during the day. The daytime habits of butterflies may explain why they are much more brightly colored than moths, which often are drab.

(One exception is the lime-green luna moth, which glows in the dark. With a wing span of up to 4.5 inches, it is one of Georgia’s most spectacular insects. Another standout is the io moth, whose 2-inch wingspan sports big eyespots that resemble owl eyes to deter predators.)

Some other differences:

  • Butterflies have clubbed antennae; moths have threadlike antennae.
  • Butterflies are slender and smooth; moths are stout and fuzzy.
  • Butterfly caterpillars make chrysalises, which are hard, smooth and silkless; moth caterpillars generally make cocoons wrapped in silky coverings.
  • Some moth caterpillars, such as the saddleback caterpillar, can inflict a painful sting. On the other hand, one of the fiercest-looking of all moth caterpillars, the hickory horned devil, which can be as big as a hot dog, is harmless.

Despite their differences, butterflies and moths are second in importance only to bees and wasps as plant pollinators — although some moths are major pests that can destroy crops and make meals of woolens.

In the sky: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be full Tuesday — the “Ripe Corn Moon,” as the Cherokee peoples called it. Mercury and Venus are low in the west, Mars and Jupiter are in the southwest and Saturn is in the east around dusk.