The Lovely Luna Moth

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Comments

  1. michele says

    Oh, Judy, thanks for this article! Three years ago my husband, coming home in a summer downpour, found a giant, pale green THING on our front porch railing! After leaving his umbrella propped over the visitor to protect from the heavy rain, he came in & we went looking for an identity. We left the umbrella over it until the rain stopped & it flew to our sweetgum tree. Never saw it again & always wondered what was the story….now I have an idea! From our photos I think ours was male, as it had very large, ferny antennae. So, again, thanks…we’re thrilled to know a bit more about one of our favorite ‘wildlife’ episodes!

    • gayle says

      Can anyone tell me what I should do with the gorgeous female Luna that has chosen my screened porch to lay her eggs? There is a sweet gum in the woods behind my house….but how are these little guys going to eat once they hatch? Will they drop to the ground to find food? Should I cut some sweet gum branches and bring them to the porch?

      • says

        Hi Gayle. Are the eggs attached to the screen? It’s not likely that the caterpillars will be able to find food on their own. You can gently pull the eggs off using your fingernail and put them into a container with a lid. Wait until the caterpillars hatch before placing a couple of leaves in with them. Once the caterpillars climb onto the leaves you can use clothes pins to clip those leaves onto the sweet gum tree leaves, if you want them to eat on their own in the wild. If you decide to raise any by hand, be aware that they will eat for about 10 weeks and require a lot of leaves!

  2. melissa says

    I saw these luna moths in Indiana. Beautiful! Caught two so i can put them in a picture display. When I got home one turned yellow while the other stayed green. What caused it? Thanks.

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