As scary as they may seem, especially at night in the dim moonlight (well they are nocturnal) moths are still a part of the natural world.
In this natural world, there are a lot of creatures with a natural instinct to bite – and that includes humans, whether to kill or as a tasty snack from an unsuspecting victim. But are Moths able to bite?
Here’s the quick answer, then we’ll discuss it in a bit more details, then look at the exceptions. So…
Do Moths bite? Moths eat nectar, the vast majority of Moths do not bite. Moths do not possess biting mouthparts that are able to bite into any prey. Their mouthparts are called proboscis, they are long and tubular, and designed for sucking nectar from flowers. There are exceptions to this rule – more on that soon.
So let’s explore this a little further…
Have moths ever been able to bite?
As far as we know, no is the short answer to this. Since they evolved, Moths have always fed on nectar. Their mouthparts have always either been the same or at least similar to what they have today and have operated in the same manner.
In fact, along with Butterflies, Moths are one of the oldest types of insects in existence. Millions of years ago moths, like many insects would have probably been much more sizeable than they are now.
What mouthparts do moths have?
A moth possesses a long curled ‘snout’ known as a proboscis, this proboscis acts almost like a sucking tube and is a particular length so as to allow the moth to reach down into deep flowers in order to reach the nectar.
They then draw the nectar up through this proboscis, very much like a drinking straw, and consume the nectar. In fact, they do not possess teeth, mandibles, palps or any other eating mechanism.
Here’s a front-facing image of a moth with the proboscis clearly marked, hopefully, you can now see why moths cannot bite!
Here’s the front view of a moths head, showing the outline of their mouthparts
What are the exceptions?
As I mentioned earlier, and as with many creatures in nature, there are exceptions to this rule. There are a few varieties of moths that do possess mouthparts capable of piercing human skin.
The ‘Calyptra’ moth, also known as the vampire Moth (see image) specializes in piercing the skin of fruits, and its proboscis is designed with more strength in order to accomplish this.
They do generally feed on fruit but have been observed drawing blood from the skin of mammals and will bite humans.
Image By Hsu Hong Lin
But do not be alarmed, this moth is not a threat if you are bitten by one, it does not possess an anticoagulant agent the same as mosquitos, and does not cause any known disease or infection. The net result is almost always a sore spot on the skin for a few hours with no long term itching or severe swelling.
Here is a list of the calyptra species of moth – or vampire moth. Along with a map showing the current spread of this type of moth geographically.
Moth species that can bite
- Calyptra albivirgata Hampson, 1926
- Calyptra bicolor Moore, 1883
- Calyptra canadensis Bethune, 1865 – Canadian owlet moth
- Calyptra eustrigata Hampson, 1926
- Calyptra fasciata Moore, 1882
- Calyptra fletcheri Berio, 1956
- Calyptra gruesa Draudt, 1950
- Calyptra hokkaida Wileman, 1922
- Calyptra imperialis Grünberg, 1910
- Calyptra lata Butler, 1881
- Calyptra minuticornis Guenée, 1852
- Calyptra nyei Bänziger, 1979
- Calyptra ophideroides Guenée, 1852
- Calyptra orthograpta Butler, 1886
- Calyptra parva Bänziger, 1979
- Calyptra pseudobicolor Bänziger, 1979
- Calyptra subnubila Prout, 1928
- Calyptra thalictri Borkhausen, 1790)
Here’s a global map showing the approximate distribution of the calyptra moth which is able to bite humans, if you’re not in the area, then it quite possibly wasn’t a moth that bit you.
Are Moths dangerous?
In terms of biting, generally no, not at all. But like many insects, they do have other factors they bring with them. If you see a moth in your house you might think it’s harmless, but there are issues to be aware of – such as Moth feces which can contaminate food, as do moth cocoons which when consumed can cause illness.
What do Moths eat?
Moths generally eat nectar. People mistakenly think that moths must be able to bite because they seem to chew their way through clothing in their wardrobes. But actually, as we’ve mentioned, moths do not have mouthparts for biting with.
In fact, moths will often lay their eggs in and near to natural fabrics, where this happens the moth larvae will chew their way through the fabric on their way to adulthood, which is what can cause the damage.
What to do if you get bitten by a moth
What might feel like a moth biting you, might actually just be a result of its feet racking across your skin as they can have a firm grip on most surfaces But if on closer examination you discover a bite, then firstly, are you sure it was a moth?
If you’re sure it was a moth, then, in truth, there’s little that needs to be done in terms of treatment. You will likely be left with a slight bump and an itchy spot for a number of hours, but this will wear off soon after.
If you really want to treat the bite, then use remedies that you would normally be recommended to use for insect bites.
Emedicinehealth recommends consulting your doctor straight away if you have any concerning symptoms.
I’m the same as most people, see a moth and instantly think it may try to bite me in my sleep! At least now, if a moth lands on you, then you’ll know there’s nothing at all to be afraid of. Just be sure if it’s in your house that you move it outside as soon as possible!
I hope this has helped you understand a little more about moths and whether they can bite you or not. If you want to know even more about, then don’t forget to check out the learning resources above for fieldwork, or for home or classroom use learning.