Life Cycle of a Moth: How Long Do They Live?
Moths are tiny insects that are close relatives of the butterfly. The fascinating life cycle of a moth shares many similarities to those of a butterfly as well.
Moths belong to the order Lepidoptera with more than 200,000 different species discovered up until now. However, scientists believe there are actually five times more moths than those already discovered. Moths are interesting creatures to study, and their life cycle is equally impressive. Read on to learn some basic knowledge about them.
· The Life Cycle of a Moth ·
The life cycle of a moth is comprised of four unique stages. All species of moths generally pass through the same four stages. Each stage is vital for a moth in becoming a fully developed adult. The four stages of a moths life cycle include:
- Larva (caterpillar)
After mating eggs are fertilized inside the female moth, and embryos develop inside the eggs. Then, after the complete development of the eggs, female moths look for places to lay them.
They prefer areas with an abundance of food so that when the larvae hatch they’ll have plenty of food to feed on. Mostly they lay eggs around plant matter because it is their favorite food, and adequately fulfills the nourishment needs of caterpillars.
- Eggs are usually 0.5 mm in length and are almost invisible to the naked eye.
- The average gestation period around 4-10 days.
- Larvae hatch within 10 days, but sometimes sooner if outside conditions are favorable.
- Hot and damp conditions are needed for proper gestation, so embryos can fully absorb the required nutrients.
- A single female moth can lay 50-400 eggs depending on the species.
- Females sometimes lay up to 50 eggs in a 2-week time span.
- Female moths die shortly after laying eggs.
Once the eggs hatch the larva stage begins. Larva, or more commonly known as caterpillars, usually hatch within 10 days of being laid. The very first meal they take in is their own shells that they have just hatched out from. The shells are full of nutrients, proteins, vitamins, and other minerals which are essential for their survival and growth.
Usually, caterpillars are creamy white colored with a brown head, but their appearance varies with the species, and there isn’t one single explanation for all.
- Moth larva passes through numerous developmental stages known as instars.
- A larva is considered to be in their first instar upon hatching.
- They go through a series of molting and shedding of outer skin/shell to grow.
- Their outer skin/shell is called cuticle which they shed according to their developing body’s size.
- The larva eats away the cuticle for its’ high nutritional value, and mineral content to help them grow faster.
- Their appearance changes after every instar depending on the species. Some remain the same, but all get bigger in size.
- There is no fixed number of instars a caterpillar has to go through as it depends on the species, and outside conditions.
- On average caterpillars eat around 2700 times their body weight by the time they reach their final instar.
- The final instar means caterpillars are ready to enter the pupa stage.
Before entering the pupa stage caterpillars search for a place which provides them shelter, and appropriate climate.
Once they have found a suitable place they shed their last cuticle, and begin to transform into pupa.
In the pupa stage caterpillars spin a cocoon around themselves which they eventually develop into fully grown wings. The cocoons are made of a silk-like material consisting of proteins. This material also provides protection from predators while the pupa is transforming. This transformation of pupa into adults is referred to as metamorphosis.
Pupa remains still during this stage in order to conserve energy for metamorphosis. Even they don’t eat in this stage either, they make use of all the food they consumed during the larval stage, and take energy from it.
The length of pupal stage varies with the species, but on average takes around 5-12 days to transform from cocoon spinning caterpillars to fully-grown adult moths. Environmental factors and internal signals tell them transformation is complete, and now is the right time to emerge out of the cocoon.
Adulthood is the final stage in the life cycle of a moth. Initially, adult moths are very fragile and weak so they take some time to emerge from their cocoon. Upon emerging, adult moths have shriveled wings, heavily bloated abdomens, and weak bodies making them unable to fly.
After emerging from their cocoons adult moths take a couple of hours to gain the strength to start flying.
During that time moths pump hemolymph (an equivalent to blood in mammals) to their wings and other parts of their body. The blood flow through their body and wings helps them reach full-size, and the strength to fly. Also, when they emerge from their cocoon their wings are wet so this time is spent drying off their wings in order to fly later.
The lifespan of adult moths is quite short, but like all stages, in its lifecycle, it also varies with the species. Some moths are so short-lived they live only a few weeks. While some adult moths are known for living up to 10 months. Female moths usually die after laying eggs, meanwhile, males often become victims of bad weather and predators.
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