Did anyone hear that there was a lunar eclipse the other night? Seems like the internet just exploded with lunar luminosity. So in the spirit of all this lunar lunitic-ary, I am jumping on the moon madness bandwagon. With the dazzling luna moth (Actias luna). Few people will argue that this is an incredibly beautiful species. It is large, photogenic, and a pale (yet brilliant) green. It can be found through much of Canada and the US (sorry west coast, none for you!). Unfortunately for us, it is short lived, only about 7 days as an adult, and only active at night.
This is one of those cool species in which each larval instar looks a bit different from the one before and after. University of Florida has a really nice page with great photos of each development stage. These larvae feed on a range of leaves including birch, walnut, hickory, sumac, and others. One study suggests that different geographical populations of the caterpillars may be adapted to different host plants. So despite having a wide range of reported host material, each geographical population will feed on just a few host plants.
My favorite thing about this species is their antennae. Most moths have somewhat elaborate antennae to pick up pheromone cues. These have what is termed “quadripectinate” antennae (bring that up at your next party and impress all your friends!). This means they are comb-like on four sides. And it means the males can pick out the scent of a woman from quite a distance away.
Since these moths fly at night, they have some predators to worry about. Namely bats. Of course, they have found a way to deter getting consumed by hungry, flying, echo-location using mammals. Those long pretty “tails” on the hind wings serve to baffle the echolocation of the bats. There’s a cool video here that show how those tails sort of spin which distracts the bats.
Being pretty little fairies of the nocturnal world, luna moths are used in all types of art. Paintings, drawings, jewelry, there was even a US stamp issued in 1987. Got a favorite luna moth piece of art? Don’t forget to share the entomological awesomeness (’cause who can’t love the luna moth?).