There are around 160,000 species of moths, and these nocturnal, butterfly-like bugs are found almost everywhere on Earth. Like all other insects, moths have several natural predators that will feed on the adult bugs as well as their eggs, caterpillars, and pupae.
Common moth predators
Moths have many natural enemies and are a valuable food sources for many birds, mammalian, and insect predators.
Adult moths may be eaten by birds or captured by harvestmen spiders, while moth caterpillars are also a common target of insect-eating bird and spider species. Moth pupae are often eaten by beetles and shrews, and parasitic wasps (parasitoids) attack moths at all stages of their life cycle.
What eats Gypsy moths?
Gypsy moths can be a serious agricultural pest in North America. Their numbers can explode under favorable conditions, and the resultant caterpillar army causes devastating damage to surrounding plants.
Population explosions are made worse in North America because, as an invasive species, the Gypsy moth doesn’t have many natural predators in the country. This allows them to reproduce at a very rapid rate. Fortunately, there are still plenty of animals that do eat Gypsy moths, such as:
Several bird species, such as yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos, blue jays, and orioles, love to eat Gypsy moth caterpillars. Other bird species, like the black-capped chickadee, will also feed on Gypsy moth eggs.
Gypsy moth caterpillar and pupae are a food source for lots of small mammals, including shrews, mice, and voles. Chipmunks, skunks, raccoons, and squirrels are also known to eat Gypsy moth pupae.
Certain predatory beetles, such as the Calosoma beetle, feed almost entirely on Gypsy moth caterpillars and pupae. Other bugs that eat Gypsy moth larvae include stink bugs, ants, and certain spiders.
Parasitoids are tiny, parasitic wasps that are known to kill Gypsy moth caterpillars. The adults lay their eggs on or near the body of a host insect and, when the larvae hatch, they burrow inside to complete their development into adults. The larvae survive by feeding on the tissues of the host before emerging as adults, killing the host in the process.
There are also many fungal, bacterial, viral, and protozoan species that can kill Gypsy moths, including NPV (the virus disease) and Entomophaga maimaiga (the fungus disease).
What Eats Luna Moths?
The Luna moth is a large, pale green moth found only in North America. The adult moths don’t have mouths and so don’t eat at all, as they only live for around a week after leaving the cocoon. Their caterpillars, however, feed on the foliage of a wide range of plants including, walnut, persimmon, hickory, pecan, and sumacs.
Fortunately, Luna moth larvae populations don’t explode as Gypsy moth populations do, and their numbers rarely grow large enough to cause significant damage. The beauty of the adult moth is also widely admired, and no attempt is made to control their numbers.
However, Luna moths do have a number of natural predators, including:
Adult Luna moths are often targeted by bats. To defend themselves, the moths use the two, tail-like projections on their wingtips, which wave around as they fly. The movement of these ‘tails’ messes with the bats’ sonar navigation and disorients it, allowing the Luna moth to make a getaway.
Nocturnal bird species such as owls are also known to prey on Luna moth caterpillars and adults. The green coloring of the caterpillars helps them to blend in with their environment, however, and they may also adopt a defensive stance and regurgitate foul-tasting fluid to defend themselves.
A variety of insect species are known to attack Luna moth caterpillars, including Fiery Searcher ground beetles and bald-faced hornets.
Like Gypsy moths, Luna moths may also play host to parasitic wasp species, which can attack all stages of the Luna moth life cycle.
Can you use natural predators to control moths at home?
A wide range of animals eat moths, including birds, bats, rodents, amphibians, lizards, spiders, and other insects. The natural presence of other living things in your backyard should help to keep your outdoor moth population in check, and you’re unlikely to need to take significant control measures against them. Like butterflies, moths are actually pollinators and, as beneficial insect species, should be left to do their thing as much as possible.
If you find moths in your closet or pantry, however, you will need to take control measures straight away. Clothes moths and pantry moths are both common household pests and can cause extensive damage to fabrics and food stores if not dealt with swiftly.
What should you do if you find moths in your closet or pantry?
Natural predators won’t help you here, unfortunately. If you find moths in your closet or pantry, you need to take the following steps immediately to get rid of them
Clean everything out
Clear everything out of your infested closet, pantry, or cupboards and get cleaning. Wipe down every shelf and surface with disinfectant, and use a vacuum to clean the floor and corners to remove all larvae and eggs.
Throw away infested items
Any food or clothing that shows signs of infestation (eggs, larvae, droppings, wings) needs to be thrown away in the outside trash. Fabrics that are not too badly damaged can be salvaged if they are washed at a high temperature or kept in the freezer for 48 hours to kill the moth larvae and eggs.
Take preventative steps
All food and fabrics susceptible to infestation should be stored in sealed packaging. New items should also be inspected carefully for signs of infestation before being placed in your closet or pantry.
Moths have a wide range of mammalian, bird, reptile, insect, arachnid, and microscopic predators. In a healthy ecosystem, these natural enemies help to keep moth populations in check, and pest control against moths is rarely necessary.