Are Luna Moths Poisonous? Debunking Common Myths

Luna moths, known for their vibrant green color and unique appearance, are considered one of the most beautiful and captivating insects in North America.

With their large wingspans of up to 4.5 inches and signature long tails on their hind wings, these moths have captured the attention of many enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Are Luna Moths Poisonous

However, a common question that arises is whether luna moths are poisonous or not.

To answer this, it’s important to note that luna moths, scientifically named Actias luna, do not possess any venom or toxins that make them harmful to humans or other creatures.

They are considered safe to handle and observe, making them even more appealing to those interested in the world of insects.

Are Luna Moths Poisonous?

No, Luna moths are not poisonous.

Besides, luna moth caterpillars feed on the leaves of various tree species such as persimmon, sweetgum, walnut, and hickory1.

Despite their vibrant green appearance, they do not possess toxins or venom in their bodies2.

Luna Moth Caterpillar Characteristics:

  • Vibrant green color
  • No toxins or venom
  • Feed on leaves from persimmon, sweetgum, walnut, and hickory trees

Harmless to Humans

Luna moths, native to the United States and Canada3, pose no threat to humans as they neither bite nor sting.

Adult moths have a short lifespan and are active at night4.

Comparing Luna Moth Caterpillar and Adult Moth

FeatureLuna Moth CaterpillarAdult Luna Moth
Threat to HumansHarmlessHarmless
ToxinsNoneNone
Activity TimeDaytimeNighttime

Luna Moth Characteristics

Appearance

The Luna Moth showcases a striking appearance, characterized by its:

  • Large size, with a 3-4.5-inch wingspan
  • Sea-foam green to yellow color
  • Long tails on hindwings
  • Distinctive eyespots on all wings

Here’s a comparison of Luna Moth features to common moth characteristics:

Feature Luna Moth Common Moth
Wingspan 3-4.5 inches 0.5-2 inches
Color Green to yellow Varied
Tails Long on hindwings Rare/shorter
Eyespots On all wings Rare/less distinct

Life Cycle

The life cycle of the Luna Moth varies depending on location:

  • Univoltine: one generation per year in areas like Michigan
  • Bivoltine: two generations per year in the Ohio Valley region
  • Trivoltine: three generations per year in southern regions

In each stage, the appearance of Luna Moths is different:

  1. Eggs: Small, white to translucent, and oval-shaped
  2. Larvae: Bright green caterpillars with yellow bands on each segment
  3. Pupa: Cocoon stage, wrapped in leaves
  4. Adult: Emerges with green wings, eyespots, and long tails on hindwings

Despite their magnificent appearance, Luna Moths are not known to be poisonous. They they are admired for their beautiful and distinctive features, as well as their fascinating life cycle.

Distribution and Habitat

Luna moths can be found throughout Eastern North America, with a distribution that spans from Canada to parts of the United States.

In the US, their range extends from Maine down to Florida and westward to Texas. They are also present in Nova Scotia, but their range does not extend as far west as Saskatchewan.

Preferred Environment

These large, green moths thrive in forested areas, where they have access to a variety of host plants for laying their eggs. Some common host plants include:

  • Hickory
  • Walnut
  • Sweetgum
  • Sumac

Luna moths have adapted to different environments within their range, resulting in varying numbers of generations per year.

In more northern areas like Michigan, they have one generation, while they have two generations in the Ohio Valley and up to three generations in the southern parts of their range.

Defense Mechanisms for Predators

The luna moth has developed several tactics to protect itself from predators. One such mechanism is its distinctive appearance, which helps it blend in with its surroundings.

Additionally, the moth has discal eyespots on both its fore and hind wings, allowing them to deter potential predators by appearing larger and more intimidating 1.

Luna moth caterpillars also employ a variety of defense mechanisms. These include:

  • Distasteful fluid: Produced by caterpillars to deter predators.
  • Clicking noise: Caterpillars make noise to startle and repel attackers.

They can produce a distasteful fluid that deters predators from consuming them 3. Moreover, these caterpillars can produce a clicking noise to startle and repel potential attackers 3.

Natural Enemies

Luna moths and their caterpillars face numerous predators in their natural habitat.

These predators include:

  • Bats: They are attracted by the moth’s large size and presence in the night sky.
  • Owls: Luna moths can be targeted by these nocturnal birds of prey.
  • Fiery searcher ground beetles: These beetles can prey on luna moth caterpillars.
  • Parasitic wasps: They can lay their eggs inside the caterpillars, eventually leading to the caterpillar’s death.

A crucial aspect of the luna moth’s interaction with predators such as bats involves the long tails on the moth’s hind wings 2.

These tails disrupt the sonar that hunting bats use to locate the moths, making it more difficult for them to catch their prey 2.

This evolutionary adaptation helps the luna moth evade predators and survive in its natural environment.

Impact on Ecology and Human Life

The relationship between Luna Moths and plants is primarily related to their larval stage.

The larvae feed on a variety of tree leaves, including walnut, hickory, and sweetgum. They typically don’t cause severe damage to the trees they inhabit.

In this way, Luna Moths are an important part of the ecosystem, as they help control plant populations and provide a food source for other animals.

Conservation Status

Luna Moths are not considered endangered or threatened. However, they face a few issues that could impact their populations:

  • Habitat loss
  • Pesticide use
  • Climate change

Despite these challenges, Luna Moths continue to be a captivating and essential presence in North American ecosystems.

Conclusion

The captivating Luna moth, with its vibrant green beauty and unique features, dispels the myth of its poisonous nature. With no toxins or venom, these gentle insects pose no harm to humans or other creatures.

Their intricate defense mechanisms, remarkable life cycle, and role in the ecosystem make them a truly enchanting and cherished presence across North America.

Despite the challenges they face, Luna moths continue to be a symbol of nature’s resilience and the intricate interplay of species within our ecosystems.

Footnotes

  1. Luna Moth Caterpillar – Mountain Lake Biological Station 2
  2. Luna Moth – Missouri Department of Conservation 2 3
  3. Luna Moth – Home & Garden Information Center 2 3
  4. Luna Moth – Entomology and Nematology Department

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about Luna Moths. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Luna Moth

Luna Moth in Waco, Tx.
We found this Luna Moth in the brezeway of our apartments. We see all different kinds of them this time of the year. My grandkids take them to school for Show & Tell then we set them frre around the same place that we found them.
Barbara, in Waco,Tx

Hi Barbara,
Thanks for sending us your photo. We are also pleased to hear that show and tell is still alive and well and that insects still play a prominent roll in that compelling education method.

Letter 2 – Luna Moth

Luna Moth
Hello,
Thought that I would add another addition to your Luna Moth page. My husband and I were so excited to see this one at our vacation home at Toledo Bend, south of Many, Louisiana.

I startled him a little with my flash, but it was in the evening of March 24th and I had to turn the flash on to see him properly. Such a shame that their life span is so short but I feel blessed that I was able to see one. Thank you for your informative site!
Shelley

Hi Shelley,
Judging by the volume of Luna Moth images and letter we have received in March, we should have made the Luna Moth the Bug of the Month. Thanks for your contribution.

Letter 3 – Luna Moth

What is this big intensely colored moth?
May 27, 2010
My father-in-law sent me this picture today with the following note: “On the lower garage door trim this morning was this large moth. The trim is 4 5/8″ wide so you can see how large it is. Quite a sight. Jean tried to find it in her insect book but no luck.”
Any thoughts? It is a beauty.
John Argentiero
Duluth, MN

Luna Moth

Hi John,
This is a Luna Moth, arguably the loveliest North American moth.  Each year, we like to chart the progress of the Luna Moth emergances from the northern climes.  Usually our first sightings are from Florida in February, and by late March, we get reports from Maine.  We believe this is the first report we have ever received from Minnesota.

Letter 4 – Luna Moth

Luna moth top and underside
July 8, 2010
Found this moth today on a small cedar tree directly underneath a black walnut–between my back yard and a parking lot!
Amy
Philadelphia, PA

Luna Moth

Hi Amy,
Thanks so much for sending us your breathtakingly beautiful images of your Luna Moth.

 

Letter 5 – Luna Moth

Long tail Skipper, maybe?
Location:  Atlanta, Georgia
July 25, 2010 11:55 am
My wife and I found this on our stairs last night. This thing is about 5 inches across and it didn’t seem to mind being photographed. The photo was taken at around 2:45am on July 25th 2010. It was still pretty warm out. Thanks!
D. Ruffin

Luna Moth

Dear D.,
Though the Long Tailed Skipper has extensions on the hind wings similar to your insect, your Luna Moth is a much larger insect.  Additionally, Skippers do not fly at night, unlike the Luna Moth, arguably North America’s most distinctive looking moth.

Dear Daniel,
Thanks for the speedy response! We were amazed when we saw this insect and were anxious to know what it was. I’ve never head of the Luna Moth, but there was a full moon out last night; any correlation to that? Thanks again, you guys are great!
Damon

Hi Damon,
We are not certain if Luna Moth flights are in synchronicity with the moon, but we like the idea.  Perhaps one of our readers knows of a study.

Letter 6 – Luna Moth

Moth on building in Brentwood, Tennesse (August)
Location:  Brentwood, Tennessee
August 30, 2010 2:53 pm
I’ve never seen a moth like this before here in Middle Tennessee. What is he? Is he migrating??? Thanks!
Curious Lady

Dear Curious Lady,
The unmistakable Luna Moth is a local species for you that ranges in the eastern portions of North America from Florida to Maine.  There are two generations in the southern portion of the range and the earlier sightings each year for your area are probably in late March through April.

Letter 7 – Luna Moth

Luna Moth
Location:  Texas
March 9, 2011
Hi Daniel!
We found another Luna Moth just now.  I am curious how many of these moths are in the SE TX area.  Enjoy the pic!
Amanda

Luna Moth

Hi Amanda,
We do not believe there are any Luna Moth census studies that can provide you with population numbers.  Thusfar this year, our only reports of Luna Moths have been from Texas.  Perhaps conditions were right this year for a surge in numbers.

Letter 8 – Luna Moth

Luna Moth in SC
Location: Lexington, SC
March 20, 2011 9:51 am
I saw this beautiful moth on a sidewalk while shopping on March 19. I took a photo and identified it on the Internet the next day. Imagine my surprise! It appears to be a male Luna Moth, seen here on a sidewalk in Lexington, SC (central SC, near the capital of Columbia).

I wish I had ”rescued” it, although I don’t know what I would have done, except perhaps bring it to the woods right behind my house. I’m horrified to know that I left it there to probably be trampled.
Signature: Sad in SC

Luna Moth

Hi Sad in SC,
If it is any consolation, Luna Moths only live a few days as adults and they do not feed.  Adults mate, the female lays eggs, and both quickly die.  Luna Moths have many predators, and part of their function in the intricate and confusing web of life is to provide food to other creatures. 

We would like to think that this beauty lived to mate since he is such a handsome specimen.  Your letter represents the first report we have received this year of a Luna Moth other than from Texas.  As spring nears, sightings will move north, and by May we should be hearing from readers in Maine and Canada.

Letter 9 – Luna Moth

Big green moth/butterfly
Location: Southeast Iowa
May 8, 2011 9:53 am
Found this on my shed this morning. About 4×4 inches, bright green. Can you tell me what it is? Just lovely!
Signature: shaylyn

Luna Moth

Dear Shaylyn,
You have been lucky enough to encounter a Luna Moth, a species unlikely to be confused with any other North American moth.

Since I love butterflies and moths, this made my day! What a lovely thing! And in Iowa! I understand that’s a bit rare. Thanks for your reply, maybe I should have purchased a lottery ticket!
Sherry

Hi again Sherry,
Luna Moths seem to either be very common in parts of their range, or virtually absent.  They require a habitat with needed food plants. 

They are represented on this Iowa State University Horticulture web page, and BugGuide does report other sightings from Iowa though that does appear to be the most westerly range at your latitude.  There are more southern sightings as far west as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Letter 10 – Luna Moth

what is this??
Location: Irwin, Pennsylvania
June 3, 2011 12:32 pm
Dear Mr. Bugman,
My friend saw this scary bug outside of his home. What is it? I assumed it was some sort of moth. Am I right? Any information would be greatly much appreciated…
Signature: Kat

Luna Moth

Dear Kat,
We cannot understand how anyone could view the ethereal Luna Moth as a scary bug.  Your photos tend to indicate that this lovely female Luna Moth was not on the tire when the vehicle moved, which comforts us.  Your identification request will post live to our website on June 14 during our absence.

Luna Moth

Letter 11 – Luna Moth:

Mothra!
Location: Spring Valley, AR
August 4, 2011 2:00 am
Came across this moth two days ago, landed on me so i snapped a picture.
no idea what kind largest i’ve seen in our area.
Signature: Ty

Luna Moth

Hello Ty,
One of our favorite yearly activities is to mark the advent of spring using Luna Moth sightings across its range.  According to BugGuide:  “In the United States this species has been found in every state east of the Great Plains”
and there is  “One brood in the north, May-July. Three broods in the south, March-September.” 

Each year, our earliest sightings generally come from Texas and Florida, and by June, we are getting reports from Maine and Canada as warm weather hits the northern latitudes. 

While the spring brood tends to provide us with the most sightings in the south, we also like to indicate later broods, and your letter is the first we have posted of a later southern brood.

Letter 12 – Luna Moth

Green Butterfly
Location: Tyler, Tx
March 9, 2012 8:58 pm
I found this guy in Tyler, Texas in a parking lot. Seems to have some antennae shaped like fern leaves? Just curious!
Signature: Jess

Luna Moth

Dear Jess,
This verdant beauty is a Luna Moth, not a butterfly.

Letter 13 – Luna Moth

Very beautiful bug
Location: Louisville, KY
April 4, 2012 9:43 am
I found this bug today at my work.
Signature: Curious

Luna Moth

Dear Curious,
This beautiful creature is a Luna Moth.  One of our yearly activities is to track Luna Moth sightings as they move from the southern portion of the range in Texas and Florida in the early months of the year to the northern portion of the range in Maine and Canada by May and June as spring warmth moves to northern latitudes.  Your Kentucky sighting is our most northern this year.

We have had VERY unusual warm weather EARLY. The whole month of February felt like April.

Letter 14 – Luna Moth

Subject: What kind of bug is this
Location: Long Island New York
May 26, 2012 5:39 pm
can you tell me what kind of bug this is
Signature: From Tara

Luna Moth

Hi Tara,
This ethereal creature is a Luna Moth.  We hope it didn’t get run over when the car started.

Thank you! No it did not we shooed it away and it flew off. 🙂

Letter 15 – Luna Moth

Subject: Possible Luna Moth Sighting and Question
Location: Hocking HIlls, Ohio
June 25, 2012 10:48 pm
I am pretty sure that this is a luna moth, from looking at other posts on your site. My question is that I woke up in the morning to find this moth outside the cabin I was staying in. I also saw another one dead, with its wings dismantled and spread over the porch.

An hour later, I returned outside and this moth (photographed when living) had died as well. I am wondering if there are any natural predators of this moth or if you have any other explanation? I was sad to see the deceased moth in such a state!
Thanks in advance.
Signature: E

Luna Moth

Dear E,
Your email brings up many good, thought-provoking questions.  Luna Moths are in the Giant Silkmoth family Saturniidae, and like other members of the family, Luna Moths do not feed as adults.  They only live a few days to a week (that is a very old Luna Moth) and the live to mate and reproduce. 

Flying takes a considerable expenditure of energy, and since the adult moths don’t feed, they must survive off the body fat they store as caterpillars.  As such, the body of a Luna Moth contains considerable fat and other nutrients, and they are a desirable prey for many insectivores including birds, bats, raccoons and other creatures.

  The disembodied wings you found were most likely the result of some food chain scenario, with the predator eating the body and leaving the not very nutritious wings as evidence.  The second Luna Moth, if it was intact, most likely died of natural causes.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

18 thoughts on “Are Luna Moths Poisonous? Debunking Common Myths”

  1. I think your comment above is interesting regarding the flying during a full moon as my wife and I just saw one of these on the back window for the first time ever – and it’s a full moon tonight!

    Reply
  2. we have a luna moth on our house…ours has a darker pink outlined body, head, and very pink legs…lol..I sooo wish I could put up a pic but our camera broke…

    Reply
    • While they are not really rare, they can be uncommon in many parts of their range due to habitat destruction and other factors.

      Reply
  3. This afternoon whilst caring for my neighbors pet pig, I saw something odd fluttering in the rear corner of the pen. At first I thought it was a baby humming bird. The closer I looked the more mysterfied I was. i found a neighbor to validate my sight and confirm that I wasn’t hallucinating! We caught it inspected it and put it back from which it came. The piglets dad found it on your website! Thanks for solving the origin and name of our mystery guest.
    WOWED IN WAXHAW,N.C.

    Reply
  4. I was worked at Union County Dragway in S.C. for 4 years.In the tower with all the glass and the bright lights to light the property these moth were in abundance every weekend.Some were really amazing in design.Not a shortage of luna moths in union.

    Reply
  5. I live near Atlanta. Found one on my front porch this morning. He/she is big and beautiful. Wish I could post the picture.

    Reply
  6. I just found a luna moth on the siding of my home in Waukee, Iowa. I took 4 photos of this beautiful moth and will be happy to share. The date and time of the sighting was 8/15/2017 at approx. 9 am . Tom W.

    Reply

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