Tag Archives: Luna Moth
Beauty on the Wing ~ A Luna Moth takes Flight
My friend James, the facilities director at Willowdale Estate, sent a photo of a newly emerged moth on Sunday afternoon. He initially thought it was a paper napkin stuck to one of the lampposts, but upon inspection, discovered that it was a Luna Moth (Actias luna). With high hopes the moth would still be there, I dropped everything and raced over to Willowdale to photograph and film the moth. It is not that the moths are particularly rare, but that they are most often seen in flight at night. Lucky me, to have had such a wonderful encounter with one of the most beautiful moths in all the world!
The Willowdale Luna Moth is a male of the species; you can tell by his bushy and feathery plumosa (or antennae). The female’s antennae are more thread-like. Notice too, just before he takes flight, how his body vibrates, which helps warm and energize the wings in preparation for flying.
Luna moths are members of the Saturniidae, subfamily Saturniinae. With a wingspan of typically up to four and a half inches, atypically up to seven inches, they are one of North America’s largest moths. Luna Moths are most often seen in the earlier part of summer in our region; this Luna Moth encounter took place on August 11, 2013. Luna Moths, like all members of the Saturn family of moths, eclose without mouthparts. They emerge solely to mate and deposit eggs of the next generation and live for only about one week.
Luna Moth larvae (caterpillars) feed on wide variety of broadleaf plants and different geological populations of Luna Moths are adapted to different hostplants. Northernmost populations most often feed on white birch (Betula papyrifera). More southerly populations feed on persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), hickories (Carya), walnuts (Juglans), and sumacs (Rhus).
The damage done by Luna Moth caterpillars on host trees is never significant enough to harm the host trees. Please don’t spray your trees with pesticides or herbicides!
A note about the music playing in the background ~
Ave Maria, Ellens Gesang III, D. 839, No 6, 1852, was composed by Franz Schubert in 1852 and is a setting of seven songs from Walter Scotts epic poem The Lady of the Lake. Performed by Barbara Bonney.
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The Luna Moth, one of the most stunning and easily recognized moths, belongs to the Giant Silkworm Family or Saturniidae. Moths in the Sautrniidae are generally medium to large, with bulky bodies, dense, fur-like scales, and eyespot patterns on the wing. There are roughly forty species of Saturniidae in North America, including the Promethea Moth, often seen at twilight, and the giant Cercropia Moth, with a wingspan of a half-foot or more! The caterpillars of the Luna Moth feed on many trees including alders, beech, cherries, sweet gum and willows.
Male Luna Moth found at Willowdale Estate early Thursday morning. Photo courtesy Dale Resca.
No exciting news yet to report on our Giant Silk Moth Cocoon. The leaves of the American Birch Tree are unfurling, but no movement within the cocoon.
I am so excited to tell you about this wonderful find. I was walking my pooch Rosie on our usual route down to the harbor and, dangling at eye level from a tree that I have passed a hundred times this winter, there was this structure. Thinking it was what it is, I ran home and checked my Lepidoptera books, and it is the cocoon of a member of the Giant Silk Moth Family, Saturniidaee (not to be confused with the oriental silk moth, Bombyx mori, from which silk fabric is spun).
Hanging from the tip of the American White Birch branch you could easily mistake it for a dry withered leaf, and that is exactly what the caterpillar has done, weaving the leaf around itself to pupate within. The cocoon is quite a good size, approximately two inches in length by one inch in width. The caterpillar pupates during the summer, overwinters in the cocoon stage, then emerges sometime in May or June. Giant Silk Moths live only for about a week. They mate soon after eclosing and then perish. Giant Silk Moths do not have mouth parts; all eating is done during the caterpillar stage.
Several members of the Giant Silk Moth family of caterpillars eat birch leaves. I am hoping (and it looks a great deal like) it is the cocoon of the simply stunning Luna Moth, however it could also be the beautiful Polyphemus Moth.