Pest Profile – Luna Moth
The luna moth (Actias luna) is one of my favorite moths and arguably one of the most beautiful moths out there. This moth is so popular that it appeared on a U.S. postage stamp in 1987. The Luna moth was one of the first recorded moths from North America in its family Saturniidae. They get their name from the moon-like spots on their wings. They are typically found in forest areas and are distributed in every eastern state from Maine to Florida and from Texas to eastern North Dakota.
Adult luna moths are large and green with long tails located on their hind wings. Their wingspan is 75-105 mm in length, and there are discal eyespots on both their fore and hind wings. In warmer regions, the luna moth can be found every month of the year. Depending on the region, there are either one or multiple generations of moths every year.
The larvae (caterpillars) are bright green when full grown and 55-70 mm in length. There is a yellowish-white sub-spiracular line on the first seven abdominal segments. The body is sparsely covered with short, white, spatulate setae. The head varies from green to brown in color, and just prior to pupating, the caterpillars will turn a reddish color. When the caterpillar goes to pupate, its single-layer cocoon is wrapped in leaves. The adult moth will escape the pupal case by splitting it at the anterior end and pushing the top up.
Males of this species are strong fliers and will disperse over relatively long distances, whereas females release a sex-attractant pheromone to attract males over long distances. Mating will take place usually during the first couple of hours after midnight. The adults have what are called vestigial (non-functional) mouthparts, making them unable to feed. As such, they are short-lived insects, and females will begin laying eggs the next evening after mating and continue for several nights.
These moths gain protection by camouflage. Their cryptic green coloration allows them to blend in with vegetation as adults and immatures. When threatened, immatures will rear the front part of the body in a “sphinx” pose that makes them look less caterpillar-like to a predator. Since bats are often the predator seeking out a tasty luna snack, it is said that the tails of the luna moth may interfere with the echolocation of the hungry bats.
Next time you’re out for a hike, be on the lookout for one of these magnificent moths; their striking beauty is worth stopping for!
Pest Profile: Luna Moths (Actias luna)
Kristen Stevens, BCE
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