Stippled cream moth
All images ©Sourendu Gupta

Urban Moths

This is a page on the moths of Mumbai. Even in this big city, moths can be seen all year round. But the two months between the end of the rainy season and the beginning of winter is when they swarm. I've been photographing the few which wander indoors for about a decade. While trying to identify them, I found that very little is actually known about them. So here is an attempt to put together some simple observations, in the hope that they will be useful. If you mail me new information, including corrections, possible, partial, or complete IDs, I'll be happy to acknowledge you here.

Some resources

This silhouette guide to identifying moth families is quite useful. Another useful resource is this guide. There are nice introductions to the anatomy of moths here and here. Wikipedia contains a glossary of entomological terms with illustrations which are quite useful. The shapes of antennae are often useful for identification.

There are few publicly available resources on Indian moths. The India Biodiversity Portal is one. Some help wih ID is also available in the Moths of India group on flickr. India Nature Watch is another useful site, although the number of butterfly sightings reported overwhelm the moths. The primary literature on Indian moths is hardly visible on the net. This report from Silent Valley is a rare exception.

Contact me

Urban Moths

You can visit a partial taxonomic tree which is organized according to the needs of amateur lepidopterists in Mumbai. There is also a dichotomous key for Mumbai's moths under development.

[#1] Spoladea recurvalis
commonly known as the beet webworm moth. superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae. ID provided by Ryan Brookes
size: 1-2 cm FC=10-30% (8 Oct 14) Recorded on Oct 10, 2006; 28 Sep-15 Oct, 2014.
[#2] Sameodes cancellalis,
commonly known as the banded pearl. superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae, subf Pyraustainae.
ID provided by Ryan Brookes
size: 1-2 cm FC=0-10% (8 Oct 14) more common a week earlier Recorded on Oct 17, 2006; 28 Sep-15 Oct, 2014
[#3] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm FC=10-30% (8 Oct 14) Recorded on 28 Sep-10 Oct, 2014
[#4] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm FC=10-50% (8 Oct 14) less common a week earlier Recorded on 7-15 Oct, 2014
[#5] f Crambidae, subf Spilomenilae, g Syllepte? Not to be confused with the leaf roller [#20]. ID help from R. C. Kendrick size: 1-2 cm A few specimens seen; more common in earlier years Recorded on Oct 10, 2006; Nov 2, 2010; 1-10 Oct, 2014
[#6] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm FC=0-20% (8 Oct 14) Recorded on 8 Oct, 2014
[#7] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm many seen Recorded on 8-15 Oct, 2014
[#8] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm A few specimens seen Recorded on 7-10 Oct, 2014
[#9] Superfamily Noctuoidea? size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded sporadically between 7-15 Oct
[#10] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae subf Plusiinae? Because of the tufted patch on the wings size: 2-4 cm a few specimens seen Recorded sporadically between 2-15 Oct
[#11] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae (formerly f Lymantriidae tribe Leucomini) commonly known as tussock moths. Because of the tufted patch on the wings, and the fuzzy legs. size: 1-2 cm two specimens observed Recorded on 8-9 Oct, 2014
[#12] Superfamily Geometroidea f Geometridae subf Geometrinae; emerald moth Note the four black spots on the wings size: 2-4 cm only one specimen seen Recorded on 4 Oct, 2014
[#13] Superfamily Geometroidea f Geometridae? Deep triangular forewings similar to uranids, but no tail size: 1-2 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 7 Oct, 2014
[#14] Superfamily Geometroidea, f Geometridae Deep triangular forewings and all four wings held flat out. size: 2-4 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 1 Oct, 2014
[#15] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae subf Catacolinae (underwing moth) The coloured hindwings help to identify this size: 4-8 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 17 Nov, 2007; 7 Oct, 2014
[#16] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 8 Oct, 2014
[#17] Superfamily Noctuoidea, possibly a fruit piercing moth, which would be f Erebidae, subf Calpinae, because of the protruding snout size: 0-1 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 8 Oct, 2014
[#18] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 8 Oct, 2014
[#19] Superfamily Geometroidea, f Geometridae Deep triangular forewings, all four wings held flat out. Different from [#13] only in colour. size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 8-9 Oct, 2014
[#20] Antigastra catalaunalis
commonly known as leaf roller or capsule borer. superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae, subf Spilomenilae
Not to be confused with [#5]
size: 0-1 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014 [ref]
[#21] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm a few specimen seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#22] Diaphania indica
commonly known as the cucumber moth superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae.
Note the protruding snout and the long antenna held back against the body
size: 1-2 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#23] Superfamily Noctuoidea? Although there seems to be a protruding snout, the antennae are held away from the body. size: 0-1 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#24] Superfamily Noctuoidea, fruit piercing moth? then f Erebidae, subf Calpinae, because of the long snout size: 0-1 cm a few seen; common in most years Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#25] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout. Tempted to call this Parotis marginata, but it is not, because it lacks the brown marginata in its wings. size: 2-4 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#26] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm a few seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#27] Pygospila tyres
superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae
Note the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout
size: 2-4 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#28] Maruca vitrata
commonly known as the legume-pod borer; superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae?
Note the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout
size: 1-2 cm a few seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#29] Superfamily Geometroidea, f Geometridae Because of the wing shape size: 1-2 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#30] Clear-winged moth superfamily cossoidea/sesioidea, f Sesiidae. Or could it be a Maruca? size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#31] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae? Only the forewings are visible, and the antennae are held away from the body. size: 1-2 cm several seen; common in most years Recorded on 9 Oct, 2014
[#32] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 0-1 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#33] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae? Only the forewings are visible. size: 0-1 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#34] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm a few seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#35] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 0-1 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#36] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae? The antennae are held outside the wing. size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 10 Oct
[#37] Spodoptera litura
commonly known as the cotton leafworm. Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae (formerly Noctuidae) subf Hadeninae
size: 2-4 cm several specimens seen Recorded on 10 Oct
[#38] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae? The antennae are held away from the body. size: 1-2 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct
[#39] Acherontia lachesis
commonly called Death's head hawk moth. Superfamily Bombycoidea, f Sphingidae,
One of the largest Indian moths, seems to prefer dark corners.
size: 8-16 cm only one specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct
[#40] Scopula imitaria?
(commonly known as the small blood-vein) Superfamily Geometroidea, f Geometridae Earlier ID Timandra griseata was wrong; vein not pink enough
size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 9-11 Oct, 2014
[#41] Superfamily Geometroidea, f Geometridae subf Geometrinae; emerald moth Note the four black spots on the wings. Differs from [#10] in shape. size: 2-4 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#42] Superfamily Bombycoidea, f Sphingidae; commonly called hawk moths. Too small to be the Levant hawk moth, although similar in colour and shape. size: 2-4 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#43] Trigonodes hyppasia
commonly known as the triangled moth, Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Noctuidae (now changed to Erebidae)
size: 2-4 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#44] Stemorrhages costata
commonly known as the white palpita moth. superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae
Note the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout
size: 1-2 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#45] Grammodes geometrica
Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae
size: 2-4 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#46] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae? Only the forewings are visible, and the antennae are held away from the body. size: 1-2 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#47] Superfamily Noctuoidea? size: 2-4 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#48] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#49] Superfamily Noctuoidea? size: 2-4 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 10 Oct, 2014
[#50] Superfamily Geometroidea, f Geometridae Because of the wing shape and placement of antennae size: 1-2 cm a few seen Recorded on 11 Oct, 2014
[#51] Superfamily Noctuoidae, f Euteliidae. Note the abdomen is bent upwards at rest size: 1-2 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 11 Oct, 2014
[#52] Superfamily Noctuoidea? size: 1-2 cm a single specimen seen Recorded on 11 Oct, 2014
[#53] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 28 Sep-10 Oct, 2014
[#54] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae (formerly Noctuidae), subf Plusiinae? Subfamily identification based on the furry thorax. size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 12 Oct
[#55] Superfamily Noctuoidea? The markings are not the same as [#9] size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 12 Oct
[#56] Superfamily Geometroidea, f Geometridae subf Geometrinae; emerald moth Differs from [#10] in having no black spots on the wings size: 2-4 cm one seen; more common in other years Recorded on 12 Oct
[#57] Probably Parotis marginata,
Superfamily Pyraloidea, family Crambidae. There is a brush at the end of the thorax, as in most photos. However, the marginata to the wings are white and not brown. Is this distinct from [#25]?
size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 12 Oct
[#58] Superfamily Noctuoidea? size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 12 Oct
[#59] Superfamily Noctuoidea? size: 0-1 cm one specimens seen Recorded on 12 Oct
[#60] Superfamily Noctuoidea, f Erebidae, subf Lymantriinae, commonly known as a Tussock moth. Subfamily categorization based on the shape of antennae, and the characteristic shapes of the legs. size: 0-1 cm one specimens seen Recorded on 12 Oct
[#61] Superfamily Geometroidea f Uraniidae? Are those hindwings tailed? size: 1-2 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 13 Oct, 2014
[#62] Superfamily Noctuoidea, possibly f Erebidae, subf Calpinae; the fruit piercing moths. The long snout looks like Marapana flaviscosta, and there are similar species in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. size: 0-1 cm one specimens seen Recorded on 12 Oct
[#63] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 0-1 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 14 Oct, 2014
[#64] Superfamily Geometroidea f Geometridae? Note the differences from [#50] size: 1-2 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 13 Oct, 2014
[#65] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 0-1 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 14 Oct, 2014
[#66] Superfamily Geometroidea f Geometridae? Are those hindwings tailed? size: 4-8 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 13 Oct, 2014
[#67] Superfamily Geometroidea f Geometridae? size: 2-4 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 14 Oct, 2014
[#68] Superfamily Geometroidea f Uraniidae? Are those hindwings tailed? size: 1-2 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 14 Oct, 2014
[#69] Superfamily Geometroidea f Uraniidae? Aren't those hindwings tailed? size: 1-2 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 14 Oct, 2014
[#70] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 0-1 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 14 Oct, 2014
[#71] Superfamily Geometroidea f Geometridae? size: 0-1 cm one specimen seen Recorded on 14 Oct, 2014
[#72] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout size: 2-4 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 14 Oct, 2014
[#73] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout. Not the same as [#4] size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 15 Oct, 2014
[#74] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout. Not the same as [#5]. size: 1-2 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 15 Oct, 2014
[#75] Superfamily Geometroidea f Geometridae? size: 4-8 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 15 Oct, 2014
[#76] superfamily Pyraloidea, f Crambidae/Pyralidae? Because of the placement of the antennae and the shape of the snout. Not the same as [#44], but there seems to be some confusion in the identification of the two. In various places moths which look like Stemorrhages costata are also called Palpita, for example, P. unionalis, etc. size: 2-4 cm a few specimens seen Recorded on 15 Oct, 2014
[#A1] Order Plecoptera? size: 1-2 cm a few seen Recorded on 7-9 Oct, 2014
[#A2] Order Plecoptera? size: 1-2 cm a few seen Recorded on 7-9 Oct, 2014

The easiest way to spot moths in a city is to keep a light on at night. Some of the larger moths can only be seen at night. Many of these are drab in colour. If they are seen during the day, then they may look like bird droppings on a leaf, or a piece of dry leaf stuck on a branch. Such desperate camouflage could mean that they make tasty morsels for birds. You can occassionally see them in your house, hiding in the folds of a curtain, or wedged into a dark corner. Then there are the moths, usually smaller, which remain on your walls through the day. These are often interestingly patterned. The fact that they do not bother to hide, and are not eaten up by birds and lizards may mean that they are unpalatable and secrete toxins.

Is this just a neat story? The larger nocturnal moths which disappear during the day are usually from the Noctuoidea superfamily. Many of these moths eat plants which are full of toxins. Often insects which are seen to be unpalatable to predators are known to feed on such toxic plants. So that could make many of these cryptic moths toxic, and without need of camouflage. So the situation may be more complex than it first seems.

Moths are of economic importance partly because of the damage they can do to crops.                   A Geometrid caterpillar exhibits its characteristic looping movement as it gobbles the leaves off a methi plant.             The dark mess on the leaves of a methi plant could be the eggs of a Geometrid moth.

In any case, find it interesting to count the number of each species I can identify. You see only a few specimens of most species. The rest are abundant, and one can do statistics with them. Generally the number of moths attracted to a light seems to vary with the temperature and humidity: the hotter and more uncomfortable you feel, the more moths you can see. In the first week of October in 2014, most of the moths seemed to belong to superfamily Pyraloidea. In the second week they seemed to be outnumbered by Noctuoidea.

FC is a frequency count. An external light is kept on all night, and clusters of 10 moths are counted in the morning. FC for any species in a cluster is the fractional count for that species in that cluster. Since the spread in counts can be large, at least four clusters are counted to give a spread in the FC. Since Noctuoidea disappear by morning, FC counts only the distribution of Pyraloidea.