Luna moths, also known as the American Moon Moths, are among the most fascinating creatures in the natural world. They are Nearctic moths, which means they are found in North America and tropical Mexico.
They are from the family Saturniidae, a group commonly known as giant silk moths. And thanks to their large, striking wings and ghostly appearance, they’re sure to captivate anyone who sees them. But there’s more to these moths than meets the eye. Let’s learn some more interesting facts about luna moths.
Facts About Luna Moths
From their beautiful lime-green-colored wings to their mating habits, here are 14 facts about Luna moths that will make you see them in a whole new light:
1. Luna Moths Are Among the Largest Moth Species in the World
Luna moths are among the largest moths in North America and the world. Their wingspan can reach up to four and a half inches, about the size of an adult human hand. The moth’s body is relatively small compared to its wingspan, measuring only about two and a half inches long.
2. Luna Means Moon in Latin
Luna moths are among the most beautiful creatures on Earth. They are named after the moon because of their silvery-white, pale-colored spots, which resemble the moon.
The word luna moth was derived from the word Linnaeus which translates to “brilliant feather tail.” This is attributed to the moth’s striking silver coloration that looks like the moonlight.
The word “luna” in their scientific name, Actias luna, is the Latin name for “moon,” making luna moths a fitting name.
3. These Moths Are Nocturnal
Luna moths are nocturnal creatures and are most active at night. They are attracted to light, and you’ll often see them flying around street lamps and porch lights.
This lifestyle also has its advantages. For one, it helps them avoid predators during the daytime hours. Additionally, being active at night means more food and less competition. It also allows them to conserve energy for when they are most active – at night.
4. Their Lifespan Is Approximately 7-10 Days Long
After emerging from their cocoon, luna moths only live for 7-10 days as adults. In that time, they mate and lay eggs. The eggs hatch into caterpillars which eat voraciously for about two months before spinning into a cocoon and metamorphosing into an adult moth.
During this period, the male luna moths may fly long distances to mate with the females if necessary. After the female moths lay eggs, they die, and the cycle begins anew.
5. Luna Moth Caterpillars Are Ravenous Eaters
Luna moth caterpillars are among the largest of all caterpillars, with some individuals reaching lengths of up to four inches. Hence, they are voracious eaters and can consume an entire leaf in one night. However, they do not pose a threat to crops or gardens as they only eat certain species of trees such as walnut, hickory, and sumac.
6. Luna Moths Use Their Wings to Throw Off Bat During Attacks
When a bat attacks a Luna moth, it uses its wings to defend itself in a very unique way. The moth’s large wingspan and brightly-colored patterns make it particularly vulnerable to predation by bats, which locate their prey using echolocation.
However, when a bat comes close, the moth will begin to flutter its wings rapidly. This makes it more difficult for the bat to identify the moth as a potential meal, while the noise it produces by flapping its wings serve as a distraction.
These constantly-moving wings make it harder for the bat to accurately target the moth with its claws. As a result, the Luna moth is able to escape many attacks by using its wings to create confusion and distraction.
7. Luna Moths Don’t Have a Mouth or a Digestive System.
An adult luna moth doesn’t have a mouth or a digestive system because its main purpose is to mate and lay eggs. Within the week they’re alive, they’ll find a mate, reproduce, and then die. Hence, they don’t need to eat or digest food.
8. Luna Moths Are Attracted to Light
One of the most intriguing phenomena of moths is their fascinating relationship with light. While scientists have been trying to unlock the secrets of this strange behavior for years, there are still some unanswered questions.
Some scientists believe that these moths use light as a navigational tool, following the moon and stars to find their way. Others suggest that moths mistake artificial light for the moon’s light, which they use to guide them on their nighttime journeys.
9. Male Luna Moths Have Bushy Antenna While the Females Have Thin Antennae
It’s easy to distinguish between a male and a female luna moth. That’s because the males have much bigger and bushier antennae than the females, who have thinner and smaller antennae.
Male Luna moths use their big, bushy antennae to sense the pheromones of females, which helps them easily find mates.
10. Luna Moths Only Have Four Life Stages
Luna moths go through four distinct life stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult. The adult stage is the only time they can fly and mate, which lasts only 7-10 days.
After mating, females lay their eggs on tree leaves and die. Larvae (caterpillars) hatch from the eggs and spend the next few weeks eating leaves. When fully grown, they build a cocoon to pupate. The pupal stage lasts about two weeks, after which the adult luna moth emerges, and the process starts all over again.
11. Luna Moth Caterpillars Envelop Their Cocoons in Leaves
After spinning a cocoon, the caterpillar of a luna moth will attach it to a nearby leaf using silk. It will also wrap the cocoon in leaves to protect the vulnerable larvae as they start the process of metamorphosis. The leaves provide excellent camouflage and help keep the cocoon safe from predators and the elements.
12. Female Luna Moths Lay Between 200-600 Eggs
The female moths may lay up to 600 eggs at once or in small batches. This process starts the evening after the moths complete mating. The moths often lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves and spread them around.
The eggs are small and spherical, usually cream or yellow in color. The egg-laying process may go on for a few days, with the eggs hatching one week after.
13. Male Luna Moths Have the Fifth Stage of Life
Male moths have a fifth stage of life known as “imago,” while females do not. Imagos are fully-grown adults that have left their cocoons but have not yet mated. When the adult luna moths come out of their cocoons, they often have small, soft, and wet wigs with swollen abdomens.
They spend their first few hours pumping hemolymph from their abdomen to their wings. Hemolymph is the equivalent of blood in invertebrates. The moths must wait for the wings to dry and harden before they can fly. The imago or winged process might take two to three hours to complete.
14. The Females Mate With the First Male to Find Them
When the female luna moths emerge from their cocoons, they fly and patch on their preferred tree species. They sit there emitting pheromones, waiting for the males to find them.
When the males start flying, they detect the pheromones through their antennae and fly in the direction it’s coming from until they reach the females. The female luna moths often mate with the first males to reach them. The mating process starts after midnight and may take a few hours.