Moths that take nectar from flowers play a role in pollination. Night-blooming flowers need night-flying pollinators. An example is jimsonweed, also called sacred datura; its large, white, trumpet-shaped flowers open in the evening. They are pollinated by sphinx moths.
Many, many animals eat moths, including spiders, praying mantises, toads, frogs, lizards, snakes, bats and other mammals, and birds (especially owls and whippoorwills). Moth predators commonly wait near electric lights. If you see spiders building their webs near your porchlights, you can bet that moths are a favorite food.
Most moths don’t survive to the adult stage, since there are plenty of predators to eat them as eggs, caterpillars, and pupae. Also, parasitoids (such as some fly and wasp species) lay their eggs on or in caterpillars — and their young eat the caterpillar from the inside.
Many bats prey especially on moths. Biologists have uncovered an interesting defensive adaption possessed by noctuid moths. A flying bat uses its radar-like echolocation to find and target individual moths. But a noctuid moth usually begins flying erratically — diving or cartwheeling — right before a bat swoops to get it. It turns out noctuid moths can hear the pulses of ultrasonic sound made by bats, sense their archenemy’s position and movements, and reflexively make appropriate evasive maneuvers. Meanwhile, at least some species in the tiger moth family take this a step further, creating their own ultrasonic sounds and timing their blips to jam the attack calls of bats.
Moths are commonly camouflaged in mottled shades of gray and brown. But some have striking eyespots on their hindwings, which they abruptly expose when disturbed. This startling appearance of a huge pair of “eyes” may make a predator pause long enough to let the moth fly away.
Tiger moths are typically bright orange, yellow, or red plus black. Like monarch butterflies, the plants they eat as caterpillars can make them toxic or distasteful to their predators. The color scheme — which is also used by bees, wasps, and stinging insects — serves as a warning to potential predators, and ultimately a defense.