Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gardening for Honorary Butterflies (Mint Moths)

Not all moths fly at night and not all are drab. Some deserve the name of honorary butterflies. In fact sometimes they are mistaken for them. Sorry I tricked you by using the word butterflies in the title (not really); but I was afraid that most would ignore this article if they just saw the word moths. The fact is that there are ten times more species of moths than of butterflies; that they are very important components of ecosystems and worth welcoming in our gardens. Some are very beautiful and can give visual enjoyment to the gardener. To me, most if not all are beautiful each in its own way. But I know people who dislike, fear or hate moths in general. I hope that at least they take time to look and learn to love the pretty ones.

I will save some of the most striking ones, such as hummingbird, imperial and Luna moths for later. I will start with some that many people are unaware of and amazed when they first see them.

The crambid snout moths represent a family (Crambidae) with more than 850 species in North America. They get their common name from the appendage that sticks out on front of their heads. Some of them, the members of the genus Pyrausta feed on plants of the mint family, so I will be calling them mint moths, although they don't really have a common name. Most of them are brightly colored and are seen during the day.
Pyrausta orphisalis (Orange Mint Moth) on mountain mint
©Beatriz Moisset

The larvae of the orange mint moth (Pyrausta orphisalis) feed on a variety of mints and sometimes you cans see signs of their feeding, especially at the buds and newer leaves. But the damage is not known to reach serious proportions. It is good to remember that caterpillars are bird food. So it is a good idea to have a few well behaved caterpillars such as these ones to attract birds to the garden. It is also a pleasure to spot this very attractive moth resting on a plant of mint.

Pyrausta signatalis (Raspberry Pyrausta) on mint
©Beatriz Moisset

The raspberry mint pyrausta (Pyrausta signatalis) is also richly colored and earns its name because of the raspberry color of its wings. The larvae feed primarily on spotted beebalm (a member of the mint family), they also feed on a few related plants such as wild bergamot and scarlet beebalm.

Pyrausta tyralis
  © Bob in swamp Flickr
 Another member of this genus, even more striking in its coloration is the Coffee-loving pyrausta (Pyrausta tyralis). This one breaks the mold with its feeding habits, a peculiar feat. It gets its name because it likes wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) found in Florida. It also feeds on some Asteraceae such as dahlia and bidens.

It is worth mentioning that there are many species of mint moths in Europe. Here is a gorgeous one: the golden mint moth (Pyrausta aurata).

Pyrausta aurata © Bramblejungle Flickr

In summary, if you want to attract these honorary butterflies to your garden plant a variety of mints including beebalm which by the way is also good at attracting hummingbird moths and hummingbirds.

Moth as Pollinators
List of articles
Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

© Beatriz Moisset. 2012 


  1. Beatriz,
    Thanks for this post, I photographed the Orange Mint Moth for the first time in the yard this year a couple of weeks ago and haven't had the time to ID it yet!! I did find it near the mountain mint.

  2. Hey Beatriz - great article and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. I'm definitely going to watch for a raspberry mint pyrausta on our Wild Bergamot. Our Polyphemus finally emerged the other day after two months of anxious waiting on our part. We released her the same night. I never knew how beautiful these creatures could be. Now we're waiting for two Lunas to emerge from their cocoons. Thanks again for the great info.

  3. I've got the wild bergamot, so I'll start looking for the Pyrausta signatalis! Nice post - thanks for the info.

  4. I need to plant some beebalm. Excellent article.

  5. we lots of gorgeous moths on the property. lots of coffee so we have many gorgeous ones. Sometimes we have many in the bathroom in the a.m. cause we have a hole in our screen and we keep small light on. There is also a gecko that hangs out till the morning to eat them!!!!