Luna Moth (Actias luna)

Luna Moth (Actias luna)

The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is an insect in the Saturniidae family (Giant Silkworm Moths) and Lepidotera (Butterflies and Moths) order. The genus name is from the Latin for "attic." The species name is from the Latin for "moon." The family name is from the Latin for "daughter of Saturn." The order name is derived from the Latin for "charming." These insects are seldom seen because the adults have a short lifetime (about one week) and fly only at night in late spring and early summer. When encountered, they are easily recognized and are one of the most beautiful moths. Look for them flying around lights, on window screens or on sides of buildings as shown in the photograph above. They are found only in North America and are relatively common in the French Hill Pond area. Luna Moths are considered an endangered species because they are easily killed by pesticides and pollution.

The adult Luna Moth has a wingspan of up to 4½ inches (11.5 centimeters). The wings and body are lime green. The front margins of the fore wings are purple. The hind wings form a long tail in flight. Each fore wing and hind wing has a pale, eye-like opening apparently designed to confuse predators. The antennae are club-like. Adults mate during their short lives but do not eat. The female lays around a half dozen eggs on the underside of leaves on which the larvae will feed. The host plants include Birches, Alders and Sumacs in the area of French Hill Pond. The Luna Moth is also fond of tomato plants. Each female will lay as many as 300 eggs in her short lifetime. The egg incubation period is from one to two weeks.

The Luna Moth caterpillar is green with a yellow stripe on each side and grows to about 3⅛ inches (8 centimeters). Upon emerging from the egg, the tiny caterpillar begins to eat leaves. It will go through five growth stages before reaching its largest size and spinning a cocoon. The caterpillar stage lasts about a month. The pupa (cocoon) stage has a duration of about two weeks after which the adult moth will emerge. There may be multiple generations per year in more southern parts of the Luna Moth's range but there is probably only one generation per year in the French Hill Pond area. Some pupae overwinter.

These moths are not closely related to the Asian silkworms. Attempts to spin silk from their cocoons have not met with success. The Luna Moth may seem strangely familiar even if you have never encountered one because its form is used in the LunestaÒ sleep medication ads produced by the SunovionÒ pharmaceutical company. 

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