The Luna moth (Actias luna), or moon moth, is my favorite of our native giant silk moths. Their pale green color and swallowtail-shaped wings are unique and beautiful. As with all giant silk moths, the adults only live long enough to mate and lay eggs . . . about a week or ten days. They do all of their eating as caterpillars and the adult moths do not have mouth parts, so they must survive only on their stored energy reserves. These moths only fly at night and are attracted to large lights.
Luna moth females lay their eggs on several different kinds of tree leaves including walnut, pecan, sweetgum and hickory. In my beautiful wildlife garden they prefer the sweetgum as their nursery. One healthy female can lay 100 – 300 eggs which she divides into small batches of 3 – 12 eggs per leaf.
The caterpillars go through several growth spurts, or instars, and shed their skin as it gets too tight. Their colors change slightly as they mature.
If you decide to hand-raise these caterpillars in captivity, be sure you have a reliable supply of fresh leaves to feed them for 4 – 8 weeks. The hotter the weather, the faster these guys will eat and grow. They do not respond well to being kept indoors if the room is air-conditioned. Heat and humidity are preferred.
When you see their skin stretched tight and taking on a pinkish tint, they are mature. The caterpillar will dump everything from its gut (fluid, food and feces) and then select a spot to start spinning its cocoon.
The caterpillar spins a thin layer of silk to wrap leaves around itself before it enters the pupa stage. In this photo I’ve peeled away the top leaf to show the cocoon.
The silk is pretty strong and not easily torn. In this photo I’ve opened it to show the pupa inside. They are very active and wiggle around a lot if they are disturbed. If it is not in winter diapause, the moth will emerge in two weeks.
The female has a plump body full of eggs, while the male has antennae that look like feathers that are much wider than those of the female.
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