Tag Archives: Luna Moth


Male Female Luna Moth dorsal Copyright Kim SmithConsidered by many to be North America’s most beautiful insect, a newly emerged Luna Moth will melt the heart of even the most vehement of insectophobes. These male and female pristine beauties were photographed at new friend Jane’s lush garden in Gloucester. Jane, along with her friend Christine (who we met last week), intend to repopulate Cape Ann with members of our native Giant Silkmoth Family. See story here.Male Female Luna Moth underside ventral Copyright Kim Smith copy

In the photo above, the female is in the lower right. You can easily tell the difference because the male has much fuller antennae–all the better to detect the female’s pheromones.

Female Luna Moth Copyright Kim SmithHer abdomen is swollen with eggs. A female Luna Moth will oviposit between 400 to 600 eggs, more during warm weather.

Not quite as large as the Cecropia Moth, nonetheless its wings span nearly four and a half inches. You are most likely to see Luna Moths flying during evening hours and the caterpillars munching on birch leaves, one of their favorite food plants in our region. The adult moths only live for a week and during that time are unable to eat (they emerge without mouthparts). The mature Luna Moth’s sole purpose is to mate and deposit eggs of the next generation.

Many thanks to Christine and Jane for sharing their passion for the gorgeous Giant Silkmoths!

This short film of a Luna Moth in flight was made after finding a Luna Moth at Willowdale Estate. I returned home with the moth and as evening approached it began to quiver and vibrate in preparation for flight. I had been listening to Ave Maria and it was playing in the background so I left it in the video and think the music perfect for this most stunning of creatures.

Jane’s Garden

Blue poppies Meconopsis coyright Kim SmithRare-for-these-parts Blue Poppy (Meconopsis rudis)

Jane's Garden copyright Kim SmithPink Poppies copyright Kim Smith



Cecropia Moth Male copyright Kim Smith

Christine holding male Cecropia Moth

This newly emerged Cercropia Moth, the largest species of Lepidoptera found in North America, was photographed at the home of my new friend Christine. She lives on the backshore of Gloucester and, with her friend Jane, who lives on the opposite side of Gloucester in the Lanesville area, are trying to repopulate Cape Ann with several species of the stunning and charismatic moths of the Saturn Family. These include the Cecropia Moth (commonly called Robin Moth), Luna Moth, and Polyphemus Moth.

Where formerly abundant, these most beautiful members of the native Giant Silkworm Moth group of Lepidoptera are at extreme risk of becoming extirpated (extinct from a region). Christine recalls a time when she could easily find the cocoons in her neighborhood. Now she finds none. The reasons for their decline are severalfold; loss of habitat, the poison in the pesticides sprayed on trees is highly toxic to all insects, and because they are suffering from a parasitism by a tachinid fly (Compsilura concinnata) that was introduced to control the Gypsy Moth. Each and every person on Cape Ann can help these moths make a comeback by making a commitment to not use pesticides and herbicides, for any reason, ever.

Cecropia moth cocoon copyright Kim Smith

Cecropia Moth cocoon

Christine and Jane purchase the cocoons at Magic Wings in Deerfield, MA. They place the cocoons in the screened butterfly house where they have also placed branches of the caterpillar’s food plant (in this case, birch branches). Cecropia Moth caterpillar food plants include the foliage of maple, birch, ash, apple, cherry, and lilac.

Screened butterfly cage-house copyright Kim Smith

If both male and female are present, they will mate almost immediately, within the first day or two, and the female will begin depositing eggs soon after. She releases the eggs on nearly every surface within the enclosure, dozens and dozens of eggs, up to 100!

Cecropia moth eggs copyright Kim Smith

Cecropia Moth eggs

If the eggs are viable, within several weeks, the caterpillars will chew their way out of the egg casing and begin to eat the caterpillar food plants provided.

Perhaps like Christine and Jane who, moth by moth, are trying to save our native Giant Silkworm Moths, you’ll be inspired to raise these North American beauties, too!

More photos to come if a batch of caterpillars emerges.

Stunning Cecropia Moth, landed on my sleeve and warming its wings.

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

A Splash of Color for Winter Weary Eyes!

Cosmos ©Kim Smith 2014Cosmos bipinatus

In preparation for the upcoming season of programs that I give, which are centered around designing gardens to support pollinators, one of my jobs is to refresh and update the photos that are an integral part of the presentation. This past month I have been immersed in colorful images and tomorrow I am giving my new monarch butterfly presentation at (the other) Cape. Here are some of the outtakes from my pollinator habitat programs for our winter weary eyes.

For more information about programs and upcoming events, please visit my website at kimsmithdesigns.com

Luna Moth Phlox David

 Phlox and Luna Moth

©Kim Smith 2015

Sunflower and Joe-pye  ©Kim Smith 2014

Sunflower and Joe-pye Weed

Goleta Monarch Butterfly Santa Barbara California Cape Honeysuckle ©Kim Smith 2015.

Monarch Butterfly and Cape Honeysuckle, Goleta California

Cosmos -1 Donovan Field ©Kim Smith 2013


Rare Footage of a Luna Moth Taking Flight

 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!

Male Luna Moth Actias Luna ©Kim Smith 2013

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.

Read More: Read more

Jewel of the Night ~ The Luna Moth

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.

Actias LunaLuna Moth ~ Actias luna

Male Luna Moth found at Willowdale Estate early Thursday morning. Photo courtesy Dale Resca.

Giant 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.

Giant Silk Moth Cocoon

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.

Luna Moth ~ Images courtesy Google

Polyphemus Moth ~ Image courtesy wiki