Moths don’t get the same love as butterflies. People often see them as pests that bother them and eat holes in their clothing. While that may be true for some moths, there is one member of the moth family that defies these bad stereotypes to stand out from the rest.
This exceptional insect is the Luna moth, a large green moth which is a member of a family of giant silk moths called Saturniidae. You might be most familiar with them through Lunesta, a sleeping aid brand that use them in their TV commercials.
Most moths are disliked by people because of their gloomy and dull coloring. But the Luna moths are one of the brightly colored exceptions.
Luna moths, scientific name Actias luna, are known for their translucent lime green color and long narrow hindwings. This combination gives them an elegant appearance especially when they’re in flight. Meanwhile, its ‘eye’ spots located on the middle edge of their hindwings act as a protection from predators.
Being members of the family Saturniidae, Luna moths share the same large wingspan. They usually reach an average wingspan of up to 4.5 inches while regular brown moths only reach a wingspan of about half an inch and are one of the largest moths in North America.
Another shared characteristic of Saturniidae moths is the silk cocoons they make in their caterpillar stage which is the reason why they’re also called giant silkworm moths.
Where to Find Them
If ever you haven’t seen this large green moth in the wild yet, you may need to go out more or be more observant. Luna moths are very common especially in the eastern states of the United States like Arkansas, Missouri and Florida. They can also be found in Canada’s southern areas. What makes them more special is that they’re only found in the North American continent.
They’re fairly noticeable when they’re around because of the flutter of their wings which further emphasize their relatively big size. What more, they usually give away their presence when they perch on light bulbs and darken the light from it. Because of this strong attraction to light, you’ll also find Luna moths fluttering around for hours on end at traffic lights, gas stations and fast food joints during night time.
Popular as they may be, this large green moth’s population is threatened by factors like the loss of their natural habitat due to use of pesticide. Meanwhile, their population in the northeastern United States is threatened by the presence of wasps that were introduced in the wild to control the population of another moth species: the gypsy moth.
Many efforts are currently concerned with observing and solving this problem. One of them is the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program which believes that the restoration of a healthy ecosystem will also involve the restoration of moths’ (and other insects’) populations.
A Luna Moth’s Life Cycle
Luna moths, like other moths, go through four stages of development.
In its short lifespan of just one week, Luna moth females fulfill their biological function by mating and eventually laying eggs on their host plant. These plants will also serve as the host to caterpillars and adult moths. Trees like hickory, walnut and birch are some of the most prefered by Luna moths.
The eggs that the adult Luna moth laid will then hatch into caterpillars after 10 to twelve days. As you may already know, caterpillars (or larvae) would then eat as much as they can for the next weeks, usually three, before weaving their silk cocoons. Then adult Luna moths will emerge from their cocoons. These moths will continue the cycle of life and live their one week as moths in the wild. Their lifespan is so short partly due to them being unable to eat because they don’t have mouths.
Some people believe that Luna moths signify the coming of new beginnings. And because of their name and attraction to light, they are also associated with ‘seeing the light’, the gift of intuition and psychic perception.
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