Some Insects are Fly-by-Nighters
Scientists like to divide things into groups. This process is called
classification. For instance, things on the earth could be grouped as
living or nonliving. Biologists divide living things into either plant
or animal. Animals can be further divided into vertebrates and invertebrates,
depending on the presence or absence of vertebrae. And so the process
This scientific activity has been going on for a long time. Even the
earliest humans probably classified things into groups. Certainly the
ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle developed classification schemes.
He based his system for animals on whether or not the creature produced
Living things can be grouped according to aspects of their biology. Plants
are called annual or perennial depending on how long they live. Animals
can be classified according to the times when they are active. Those active
during daylight hours are diurnal while the night-active ones are nocturnal.
Some are active only at twilight and are called crepuscular animals.
Humans are diurnal animals. We need light to function. But, unlike other
diurnal animals, humans have created artificial light to extend the time
when activity can occur. So, even though we call some people night owls,
it is in name only since human night owls need light.
Real owls, on the other hand, are adapted to life after dark. So are
many other animals, including bats, cats and rats. Many insects are also
active during the night.
Some of the best-known nocturnal insects are moths. In fact, most species
of moths are night active. As moths go about their nightly insect business,
finding food and mates mostly, they sometimes end up near lights. That
is the reason lighted windows and porch lights become moth gathering places.
Many of the moths that accumulate around lights are small and dull-colored.
But a few are more spectacular. Some are quite large and are known as
the giant silkworm moths. This includes the Promethea, Polyphemus and
Some of the moths that are found around lights have brightly colored
hind wings. The front wings of these moths are generally dull-colored
Because of the difference in color patterns of the wings these generally
known as underwing moths. When these moths are at rest the bright wings
are hidden by the dull-colored fore wings.
Underwing moths will use the bright colors of the hind wing to scare
predators. Sudden exposure of the bright hind wing serves to frighten
potential predators. Some moths have hind wings that are colored to look
like the eye of an animal, such as a snake or owl. The exposure of such
eyespots will startle an unsuspecting animal and might allow the moth
to escape becoming a meal.
Many beetles are also night flyers. We are all familiar with the fireflies.
Fireflies are soft-winged beetles and fly at night using their light to
attract a mate. Several species of beetles known as Junebugs also are
active night flyers. These are the insects that we hear crashing into
Some species of leafhoppers also fly around during the nighttime hours.
Leafhoppers are small insects. Some species are small enough to come through
the mesh of a window screen and end up in our light fixtures along with
numerous small beetles.
So next time you are removing those night-acquired bug splats from your
car windshield, remember this. Chances are good that the fly-by-night
insect was either a beetle or a moth.