Do Moths Come From Caterpillars? (Answer Inside)

Are you aware that there are more than 160,000 species of moths in the world? Moths are pretty interesting, even if they may not be as visually appealing as their cousins, the butterflies. More people appear to be more familiar with the history of the butterfly than the moth. But did you know that the moth and butterfly may have a similar life cycle? So, do moths come from caterpillars?

That is a good question if you want to know more about moths. We respond to it and a few other questions. Learn the relationship between a moth, a butterfly, and a caterpillar and if all moths are descended from caterpillars. We also explain the differences between caterpillars and moths.

Do All Moths Come From Caterpillars?

All moths originate from caterpillars. A moth’s life cycle begins when the female moth woos the male moth. The female releases pheromones to entice the male to mate. The males recognize the scent and start the mating process.

After mating, the female begins searching for a suitable place to lay her eggs. The place ought to contain sufficient food for the larvae.

When a mature female moth finds a suitable spot, she will lay her eggs there. Depending on the species, female moths may deposit a few eggs up to hundreds or even thousands. Caterpillars will then hatch from the eggs. Moth larvae resemble worms in appearance because of how lengthy they are. They primarily eat the nearby plants for food.

Moths don’t spend much time as caterpillars. However, they can stay as caterpillars for several weeks or months, depending on the species. When they reach the pupation stage, they stop eating altogether.

They remain hidden in their cocoons during this phase. Pupation can occur in the dirt, lying against plants, or among a mass of vegetation. Eventually, they emerge from the cocoon as full adult moths. 

What Do Moths Turn Into?

You now have adult moths after the pupation period is over. The sizes, colors, and forms of adult moths vary. Even though most are nocturnal, some species are more active during the day. The moth’s adult stage does not last very long. For some moths, it will only last a few weeks or months. The moth’s primary objectives at this stage are feeding and mating.

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The adult moth survives on a liquid diet. They use their mouth(proboscis) to suck liquids. Their primary sources of nutrition are decaying fruit, sap, honeydew, and nectar from flowers. Adult moths have also been consuming nutrients from animal waste or bird droppings.

Moths are generally feared and thought to be dangerous. However, adult moths don’t bite. Except for vampire moths, their mouthparts are so tiny that they cannot bite you. A moth can only leave a small amount of dust behind when they fly away.

Moths can be found everywhere on Earth, apart from Antarctica. Most moths will live outdoors, but a small number will enter your house. The main reasons they’ll come into your house are to seek food and shelter, particularly if they want to lay eggs. Their larvae will feed on paper, fur, and fabrics.

Do Caterpillars Turn Into Moths?

Caterpillars will either turn into moths or butterflies.  A moth caterpillar spins a cocoon, which sets it apart from butterfly caterpillars. A butterfly’s caterpillar develops into a chrysalis at the same time. The life cycle for both is very similar.

  • Moth(butterfly)- eggs- caterpillar- cocoon or chrysalis-moth or butterfly

The caterpillar must eat a lot of food to form a cocoon. The moth caterpillar will have to store a lot of food in the cocoon. Once they have a cocoon covering it, they don’t eat or move inside a cocoon. The food must be enough to last through the whole stage of the cocoon. 

The caterpillars weave the cocoon using silk that they form themselves. 

See how a caterpillar turns into a moth:

When the caterpillar finishes altering their bodies and is now ready to become adult moths. The adult moths break out of the cocoon. 

Do Moths Become Caterpillars?

Only by beginning their life cycle can moths turn into caterpillars. However, that is only possible for the female moth. Depending on the species, adult moths can survive from one week to a whole year. Male moths do not turn into caterpillars because they die shortly after mating. The female moth lays eggs after mating.  

Eventually, the eggs of a female moth will hatch into caterpillars. Female moths die soon after laying their fertilized eggs. 

Why Do Some Caterpillars Turn Into Moths?

Why some caterpillars develop into moths and others into butterflies is challenging to explain. Predicting whether a caterpillar will develop into a moth or a butterfly is difficult. Some caterpillars will spin cocoons and emerge as moths with a dark color.

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The most colorful butterflies will emerge from chrysalises made by the caterpillars simultaneously. Whichever the case, a complete metamorphosis will have occurred.

It’s also important to remember that many eggs don’t develop into caterpillars. Additionally, a lot of caterpillars die before reaching the pupation stage.

Do Moths and Butterflies Come From Caterpillars?

Yes, both moths and butterflies come from caterpillars. The difference will become apparent when the caterpillar stage has passed. Depending on the species, a caterpillar will seek out a safe location and take one of the following actions:

  • Enclose itself in a tight cocoon of silk.
  • Enclose itself into a tough, glittering chrysalis.

The adult moth or butterfly begins to develop inside the cocoon or chrysalis. You cannot predict with any degree of certainty whether a caterpillar will develop into a moth or a butterfly by simply looking at it.

What Turns Into a Moth?

The caterpillar that uses silk to create its cocoon will have a higher chance of becoming a moth. Before wrapping itself inside the cocoon, the caterpillar will ensure it has eaten enough. Some moth caterpillar species’ eat just one kind of plant, while others consume a wide variety. Once the caterpillar reaches full size, it pupates to form a pupa. 

It is at the pupa stage that the caterpillar first builds a cocoon. The cocoon is made from silk which the caterpillar produces from the plant material it consumes. Some species, like the puss moth, use bits of chewed bark. 

The caterpillar transforms into a moth inside the cocoon. The pupal stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year, depending on the species. The caterpillar emerges from the pupa after completing its change. Some species, such as the belted beauty, don’t have wings and can’t fly very far. Others will make long journeys.

Difference Between Moth and Butterfly

Moths and butterflies belong to the same group called Lepidoptera. Both follow the same four-stage life cycle. However, their structure and behavior differ. Let us look at the features you can use to differentiate the butterfly and the moth: 

1. Physical structure

Butterfly: Land with their wings folded back and closed at rest. They have long, thin antennae, club-shaped with a bulb and shaft at the end. Butterfly bodies are skinnier and longer compared to the moth. Their wings have vibrant colors.

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Moth:  Land with wings spread and rest with their wings open. Their antennae are feathery with a sawed edge. Moths have a shorter, fatter body shape with thicker hair. Their wings come in shades of white, gray, and brown. 

2. Behavior

Butterfly: They rely on heat from external sources. Butterflies need their bodies to be 85 degrees for them to fly. Hence they rely on the sun on that.

Moth: They prefer to rest during the day, specifically in dark places. They don’t mind producing their heat by flapping their wings. 

3. Larvae stage

Butterfly: The butterfly caterpillar’s main job is to eat. It can shed its skin up to four times to accommodate its growth. 

Moth: Moth caterpillars prefer dark places where they can easily access food. They will make themselves comfortable in clothes or cereals. 

4. Feeding

Butterfly: They love to feed on nectar from flowers, pollen, dung, or slat from muddied areas. 

Moth: Their caterpillars feed on fabrics made from natural fibers such as wool, silk, and cotton. The adults feed on liquid diets. 

5. Flight patterns

Butterfly: They have two wings on each side of their body. The wings move independently. 

Moth: Their wings are scaled. The scales trap air inside them, enabling them to lift. 

6. Reproduction

Butterfly: A female butterfly flies great distances to lay her eggs. 

Moth: A female moth lays its eggs in batches or a single egg. Female moths lay eggs in plant tissues, drop them, or stick them on objects.  

While it’s not possible to mistake butterflies for moths, it’s easy to mistake moths for butterflies. The following four moth species can be mistaken for butterflies due to their resemblance.

  • Promethea silkmoth: Male silkmoths are active during the day like butterflies. Their appearance looks exactly like that of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.
  • Madagascar sunset moth: Unlike most moths, the sunset moth has vivid colors and flies during the day. Its wings also rest upwards like that of the butterfly. 
  • Tetragonus: It holds its wings upright like a butterfly. 
  • Paysandisia archon: The moth flies during the day and has clubbed antennae.

Conclusion

The moth is a very interesting insect. Who knew they shared a nearly identical life cycle and were related to butterflies?  So next time you see a caterpillar, don’t assume it will transform into a butterfly!

About Stephanie

Stephanie is fond of doing all backyard-related work at her home. She loves to take sunbathe and do a barbecue in her free time. She often shares practical tips and friendly expert advice on everything relating to home and yard on this blog. When she is not writing, she goes camping with her husband and little kids.