what animals eat peppered moths

What Animals Eat Peppered Moths?

Written by: Annemarie Dutton

Nocturnal animals and even birds love munching on peppered moths. But who are these peppered moths, and which animals eat them?

Peppered Moths: Who are They?

Peppered moths are insects found in Europe, England, and North America. They are small, from 1.5 to 2.5 inches long. They fly only at night.

Peppered moths have small dark spots like peppers, hence the appellation “pepper.” 

They usually hatch in mid-summer. At first, they look like the larvae of caterpillars. It is part of their developmental stage. The larvae would just stick to a branch and wait to become pupae.

The transition happens during cold seasons. Insects are weak during the colder month, so larvae protect themselves by becoming pupae. After that, wait for April and May so they can open themselves and become new adult moths.

They lay their eggs and then die when summer ends. The lifespan of peppered moths is very short, less than a year. So their predators need to act quickly if they want to taste a new adult moth before it dies. 

This will bring us back to our question, “what animals eat peppered moths?”.

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List of Animals That Eat Peppered Moths

There are only three countries where peppered moths live. 

Bats

Moths are scared of nocturnal predators such as bats which crave peppered moths at night. Bats know that insects are not active during darkness. 

Insects fly at night. Moths can be hard to find because they are dark. As moth predators, bats use sonar to find their targets. 

Birds

Birds are also a common predator of peppered moths. They hunt moths in daylight and at night. But peppered moths also disguise and confuse birds.

Peppered moths disguise the color of the tree where they reside. They will change their color to match the tree’s bark where they are resting, which is their way of hiding and surviving from predators like the birds.

A peppered moth that fails to match the tree shade where it is in, has a high chance of getting eaten by birds. Birds have sharp vision, so peppered moths must take an extra effort to disguise their whereabouts.

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Flycatchers

Flycatchers are another bird species. Like ordinary birds, they love insects in flight and are active at night.

Flycatchers are the small singing birds you hear in the forest. Different flycatcher species have different appearances and shapes. But they all hunt peppered moths.

Flycatchers are also good at targeting peppered moths in trees. They can easily detect a disguised moth and will immediately attack it on notice. They should be called moth catchers instead of flycatchers.

Nuthatches

Nuthatches are a type of bird that lives in North America and Canada. Its four species are white-breasted, red-breasted, pygmy, and brown-headed. Only the latter lives in Canada. 

They have the same food source. They hunt and eat insects resting on tree trunks, barks, branches, and leaves. This is why peppered moths are one of their favorite feasts.

peppered moths can only settle on trees and some rocks. Their poor camouflaging skills cause them to be easy prey for these birds.

From Light to Dark Moths: How Did They Change?

Peppered moths’ melanin is related to their predators and chances of living.

Most moth collectors from England claim that peppered moths in the early 1800s were all light gray with black bits. After a number of years,  the moths they collected became all black.

Curious, scientists found out that there are different genres between light-colored and dark-colored peppered moths. A DNA mutation in the light-colored moths turns them into dark ones.

Industrial Revolution and the Moths

Coal burning and factory operations were prominent during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. The resulting pollution affected the trees, leaving them with black soot on their barks, trunks, and branches.

This process affected peppered moths. Due to the added black layer on the trees, the light-colored peppered moths had a hard time hiding. They were easily eaten by birds and bats because they failed to integrate with the dark color of the tree. 

This is a “win-win” situation for dark-colored peppered moths. They do not need to exert extra effort to camouflage themselves.  Light-colored moths are rare because of continuous industrialization.

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