Fun Peppered Moth Facts For Kids

Moumita Dutta
Nov 02, 2022 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Jacob Fitzbright
Fact-checked by Shikha Sharma
Peppered moth facts give an insight into evolution.

The peppered moth (Biston betularia) is a species of nocturnal moth famous for its evolution story. With speckled black and white wings that look like a salt and pepper mixture, these peppered moths are widespread in the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, in Europe, North America, and Asia.

This species of moths is the perfect example of natural selection, Darwin's famous theory of evolutionary change, which postulates that populations of all living organisms adapt and change with the changing environment, and only those individuals survive which possess beneficial traits suited to the new environment.

The peppered moths have two morphs, or forms, the dark moths or the melanic morph (Biston betularia f. carbonaria) and the light-colored morph (Biston betularia f. typica). Interestingly, before 1848 the light-colored form of the peppered moths was predominant.

However, in 1848, one of the first dark moths was spotted in Manchester, England, and soon, the dark form of the peppered moths outnumbered the light-colored moths. Strange, right?

If you're interested in knowing why was there was a sudden appearance of the melanic or black form of moths in place of the light-colored ones, then read on to find out!

You can learn more about moths like the gypsy moth and the luna moth.

Peppered Moth Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a peppered moth?

The peppered moth, Biston betularia, is an insect.

What class of animal does a peppered moth belong to?

Peppered moths belong to the phylum Arthropoda of class Insecta.

How many peppered moths are there in the world?

While it is impractical to determine the exact population size of these moths, it is known that they are not extinct and are present in abundance.

Where does a peppered moth live?

These moths with peppered wings mostly live in woodlands, gardens, and parks. They are active during the night, and during the day, they are mostly found camouflaged against tree trunks. The light-colored morph is better camouflaged against the white bark of birch trees.

What is a peppered moth habitat?

Both the melanic and the light-colored forms of peppered moths inhabit the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. They are found in Europe, North America, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Nepal, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Russia, and China.

Their wings are patterned in a way that they are perfectly camouflaged against lichen-covered tree trunks in the countryside and soot-covered tree trunks in the city.

Who do peppered moths live with?

These moths with peppered wings are found either as solitary individuals resting on tree trunks or as mating pairs.

How long does a peppered moth live?

These moths live for a maximum of one year.

How do they reproduce?

Every night of the lives of the male moths is spent flying in search of a mating partner. The females release pheromones to attract the males. The pheromones are carried by air, and consequently, the males travel to the females.

The females lay about 2,000 eggs that hatch during the summer. The caterpillars, larvae, that are born look like sticks or branches of trees.

Since the insects are intolerant towards the cold weather, the larvae change into cocoons, pupae, for the winter. The pupae open in the months of April and May, and a new adult moth emerges from it. These new moths again enter the life cycle, lay eggs, and die by the end of the summer.

What is their conservation status?

Since the population of both the black form and the pale form of these moths are abundant, they do not have any conservation status in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Peppered Moth Fun Facts

What do peppered moths look like?

The peppered moth has a stout body with elongated wings. The wings are white with black patterns.

Each wing also has somewhat distinct black cross lines. The peppered pattern or spotting can also be a combination of brown, black, and gray. The intensity of the black pattern varies; the pale-colored form has very light black spotting, whereas the melanic or dark form has heavy black spotting.

In some melanic forms, the black spotting is so intense that the wing appears to be dark and sprinkled with white. In contrast to the adult moths, the caterpillars are twig mimics and can change color between green and brown to camouflage against tree branches.

How cute are they?

These moths that are a prime example of natural selection are not particularly cute. However, they have quite a striking appearance with the mosaic of dark and white colors on their body and wings.

How do they communicate?

Not much is known about how these moths communicate. Given that they are active during the night looking for mating partners, it can be said that their vision is well-developed and adapted to see in the dark of the night.

Besides, this moth species is not particularly showy or conspicuous. The peppered wing of both the light (Biston betularia f. typica) and the dark (Biston betularia f. carbonaria) forms perfectly blend with lichen-covered trees in the countryside and soot-covered trees in urban areas, protecting the insects from predators.

How big is a peppered moth?

The pepper moth's wingspan ranges between 1.7-2.4 in (4.5-6.2 cm) with a median wingspan of 2.2 in (5.5 cm). Individuals of this moth species are slightly smaller than the common clothes moth.

How fast can a peppered moth fly?

No data is available regarding the flight speed of this moth species.

How much does a peppered moth weigh?

No data is available regarding how much a peppered moth weighs.

What are their male and female names of the species?

The male and female members of these insects do not have distinct names.

What would you call a baby peppered moth?

A baby peppered moth is known as a caterpillar or larvae.

What do they eat?

The moth larvae feed on the leaves of oak, willow, and birch trees. The adults mostly consume leaves, the pulp of fruits, flower nectars, and sometimes seeds.

Are they poisonous?

These moths are not known to be poisonous.

Would they make a good pet?

It is not advisable to keep a peppered moth as a pet due to the sheer fact that they have a very short lifespan.

Did you know...

The scientific name of the peppered moth can also be written as Biston betularia, or B. betularia.

Lichens do not grow in areas where the air is heavily polluted. Hence, the absence of lichen on tree trunks in industrialized England helped in identifying the phenomenon of natural selection in these moths.

These moths have ample predators in nature, such as bats, flycatchers, nuthatches, and robins.

Is the peppered moth a good example of evolution?

The peppered moths are a good example of evolution, particularly natural selection, as well as industrial melanism. So, here's the evolutionary story behind its unique coloration.

Before the Industrial Revolution hit England, these moths primarily existed as a white form. They blended well with the lichen-covered trunks of trees and were able to protect themselves from predators such as birds.

However, in the year 1848, a new dark form was spotted in Manchester, England, and since then, numbers of this dark form increased manifold. Scientists explained this phenomenon to be a case of genetic mutation, brought about with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in England.

After rigorous lab experiments, scientists then went on to explain the reason behind such a mutation.

They attributed the phenomenon to natural selection, whereby the moths' DNA mutated over time to assume a body coloration that would camouflage them against the soot and dust covering the trees. Factories emitted dark smoke by burning coal and the soot settled on the trees, inhibiting the growth of the pale-colored lichens and leaving the trees bare and dark.

Consequently, the light-colored moths were not blending with the dark tree trunks and ended up as prey to the predators.

Hence, as a survival strategy, or what we call natural selection, these moths mutated to assume a darker color or the peppered pattern that would make them indistinguishable from the dark color of the tree trunks and guarantee them protection from predators. This phenomenon is popularly known as industrial melanism.

Why is it called the peppered moth?

The peppered moth's wings have intricate black and white patterns, resembling a white surface sprinkled with ground pepper, and hence the term 'peppered' in the common name of the moth.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other arthropods, including the potter wasp and the katipo spider.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one of our peppered moth coloring pages.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

Moumita Dutta picture

Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

Read full bio >
Fact-checked by Shikha Sharma

Bachelor of Commerce

Shikha Sharma picture

Shikha SharmaBachelor of Commerce

Shikha has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Delhi. She also holds a Diploma in Information Technology, which has helped her acquire technical and design skills.

Read full bio >