Subject: What magical creature is this?
Location: Middle of Austria
March 24, 2017 5:18 am
Hi Daniel! I found this beautiful moth today on the tiles of an underground passageway at the local train station (middle of Austria). The temperature was in the 40s, so the moth was pretty sluggish. I rescued it from being stepped on and spent a good 5-10 minutes communing with it before I put it on a tree. What really impressed me was the range of colors, and the fact that the “eyes” look like they were done with silver cloisonne. Can you tell me what this magical creature is?
Signature: N. Fritz
Dear N. Fritz,
A catchy subject line is always the best way to get our attention and to stand out from much of the chaff we receive, and your “magical creature” reference immediately caught our attention. This is a female Emperor Moth in the genus Saturnia. It might be Saturnia pavonia, a species pictured on Moths of Europe where it states: “Female Emperor moths possess an organ at the tip of their abdomen from which they disseminate pheromones to attract the day-flying males. A single freshly emerged female can attract as many as 70 males, which can detect the pheromones from distances of a kilometre or more away, using their strongly pectinated antennae as “radar” to home in on the female. The females are heavily laden with eggs so are unable to fly very far, and after mating lay most of their eggs very near the spot where they emerge. After laying 100 or so eggs they have lightened their load sufficiently to enable them to fly, but unlike the males they fly by night. It takes them about 2-3 days to complete egg laying. Neither sex has a proboscis, so the moths are unable to feed, and only live until their body fats are exhausted – i.e. about 4 or 5 days.” The Saturniidae of the Western Palaearctic also has information on the Small Peacock Moth. A similar looking larger species found in Europe is the Giant Peacock Moth, Saturnia pyri, which is pictured on Saturniidae of the Western Palaearctic where it states: “Most adults emerge in the late morning, with females calling that same night, often from the base of trees up which they have climbed. Pairing takes place just before midnight and lasts for about 22 hours. After separation, the male flies off in search of another mate. If possible, the female climbs to the highest vantage point possible before launching herself clumsily towards the nearest shadow on the horizon which, often as not, is a tree. The reason for this strange behaviour is that most females carry too many eggs at first and are ‘bottom-heavy’. This stop-start process continues until about 30 eggs have been deposited, usually in chains of five to eight on the trees’ branches or trunk. The rest of the eggs are laid on the leaves and twigs of suitable hosts.” We will try to get exact species confirmation from Bill Oehlke. Meanwhile, since you rescued this magical creature from stomping feet in the station and put her on a tree where she may attract a mate, we are tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian Award.
I’m honored to be a bug humanitarian! Somehow I intuitively knew to put this beauty on a tree. Thanks for posting the pix to What’s That Bug? and for enlightening me on the mating habits of emperor moths!