The Enigmatic Ghost Moth: Unveiling Its Mysteries

Ghost moths, also known as Hepialidae, are a fascinating family of insects that remain somewhat elusive, capturing the curiosity of both professional and amateur entomologists. Found globally, these moths are known for their unique characteristics, behavior, and appearance. Interestingly, their name is derived from their peculiar hovering flight patterns, which are quite ghost-like.

There is an incredible diversity of ghost moth species, boasting a wide range of sizes, colors, and patterns. As a result, there is always more to discover and learn about these enigmatic creatures. In addition to their captivating looks, ghost moths exhibit intriguing behaviors, such as their distinct larval feeding habits, which involve living in underground tunnels and feeding on plant roots.

To better understand ghost moths, we can explore aspects like their life cycle, habitat preferences, and their potential impact on agriculture and forestry. By delving into these topics, we gain valuable insights into this remarkable insect family and ultimately deepen our appreciation for the intricacies of the natural world.

Ghost Moth Basics

Classification

The ghost moth (Hepialus humuli) belongs to the family Hepialidae under the order Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths. Members of this family are commonly called swift moths.

Physical Appearance

Ghost moths are known for their white wings, giving them a ghost-like appearance. The wingspan of a ghost moth is typically around 50mm.

Features of Ghost Moths:

  • White wings
  • Wingspan of around 50mm
  • Distinct ghost-like appearance

Range and Distribution

These moths are primarily found in Europe, specifically in Great Britain. They are relatively widespread in these regions.

Distribution:

  • Europe
  • Great Britain

Habitat

Ghost moths mainly dwell in grassy habitats, as their larvae or caterpillars feed on the roots of grasses. The moth goes through a complete life cycle, including egg, larval, and adult stages.

Ghost Moth Life Cycle:

  1. Egg
  2. Larva (caterpillar)
  3. Adult moth

Comparison Table: Ghost Moth vs. Typical Moth

Feature Ghost Moth Typical Moth
Family/Order Hepialidae/Lepidoptera Lepidoptera
Wings White wings Varied colors
Wingspan ~50mm Varies
Habitat Grassy areas Various habitats
Main Food Source Grass roots (in larval stage) Varied

Ghost moths are fascinating insects with ghostly white wings and a unique life cycle. Their distinct appearance and preference for grassy habitats make them an interesting subject of study within the Lepidoptera order.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Mating Behavior and Lekking

Ghost moths, also known as ghost swift moths, are known for their unique mating behavior called lekking. Males gather in groups to perform an elaborate flight display, hovering and releasing pheromones to attract females. This usually occurs at dusk in open areas such as grasslands and woodland clearings.

Eggs and Caterpillars

After mating, female ghost moths lay their eggs on various plants, including grasses and bushes. The caterpillars, or larvae, hatch and feed on these plants and can be found in forests, grasslands, and other woodland habitats across Britain. Caterpillars exhibit some level of sexual dimorphism, with female caterpillars being larger than males.

Predators of the ghost moth caterpillars:

  • Birds
  • Bats
  • Other small mammals

Pupal Stage

When the caterpillars reach their full size, they enter the pupal stage of their life cycle. The pupa is formed within an underground cocoon, usually close to their host plant. This stage can last several weeks before the adult moth emerges.

Adult Moths

Male Ghost Moths Female Ghost Moths
Size Smaller than females Larger than males
Color Yellow forewing Orange markings on forewing
Flight Range Larger range during lekking Lesser range

Adult ghost moths are characterized by their distinct color patterns and size difference between males and females. Males tend to have a more extensive range during mating season, while females have a more limited flight range. The moths also share common predators, such as bats and birds, in their woodland habitat. Carl Linnaeus, a famous botanist and zoologist, first identified the species in 1758. Ghost moth adults have a relatively short lifespan, living long enough only to reproduce successfully.

Ghost Moth Significance

Folklore and Literature

Ghost moths, belonging to the family Hepialidae, are known for their intriguing role in folklore and literature. In Britain, these moths are associated with Ghost Month, a Taoist tradition also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. The ghost moth’s English name derives from its appearance at dusk, when its white, translucent wings resemble ethereal spirits.

An example of the ghost moth’s literary significance can be found in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, where the moth symbolizes the novel’s haunting atmosphere and supernatural themes.

Conservation Status

The conservation status of ghost moths varies depending on the species. These moths are distributed across different woodland habitats and possess unique characteristics:

  • Distinctive antennae
  • White or translucent wings
  • Nocturnal activity at dusk

A comparison table highlighting features and distribution:

Features Ghost Moth
Antennae Distinctive
Wings White/translucent
Activity At dusk
Distribution Woodlands

Despite their fascinating cultural and ecological significance, there is limited information on the conservation status of many ghost moth species. Efforts to study and conserve these moths are vital for preserving the biodiversity of the celestial beings they have come to represent.

Avoiding Conflict

Dealing with Moths in the Home

It’s important to keep Ghost Moths from invading your home, as they might have an impact on the well-being of family members, especially children. Ghost Moths carry a reputation of negative energy, and handling them with care is key to maintaining harmony within the household. Here are a few short tips for managing their presence:

  • Offerings: Placing offerings of food in secluded areas encourages good karma and might keep moths at bay. Just ensure these offerings are kept in clean and hygienic conditions.
  • Ancestor worship: Displaying photos or amulets of ancestors around the house can create an aura of protection against negative energy.
  • Colors: Decorating rooms with dark colors like black might discourage moths from entering, as they prefer lighter environments.
  • Rock salt: Placing rock salt at entry points helps deter unwanted presences, moths included.

Here’s a concise comparison table to illustrate the pros and cons of using rock salt for moth prevention:

Method Pros Cons
Rock salt All-natural and eco-friendly Can be messy to handle
Non-toxic to humans and pets Might attract other pests

In summary, maintaining a comfortable home environment without Ghost Moths requires the use of a variety of tactics. Following these methods may help create a balanced, positive space for you and your loved ones.

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Ghost Moth: Aenetus tegulatus or Aenetus dulcis

 

(05/14/2008) anaetus tegulatus
From your web site, I think this is anaetus tegulatus. I can’t find out much about her. I live near Albany, Western Australia (south western corner of the country). She seems to be mentioned in places like Queensland. Is she lost, or have I just not looked for the information in the right places? Can you tell me where I can find more information? Thanks,
Sindi

hi Sindi,
Your identification of Aenetus tegulatus is correct, but the spelling in your letter is not. We don’t know if this sighting represents a range expansion, or if the information online is incomplete. At any rate, it is a beautiful green Australian moth.

Update: (05/15/2008) aenetus moth
Dear Daniel,
Sindi’s moth was seen in SW Western Australia. I am wondering if it might be Aenetus dulcis, which is found in WA and has green females, larvae living in Agonis. See http://linus.socs.uts.edu.au/~don/larvae/hepi/dulcis.html Regards,
Grev

Letter 2 – Large Ghost Moth from Australia

 

Is this a Bogan moth?
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 at 5:27 AM
Came home tonight during the rain, found this little bird shaking its wings in the corner. It was very dark, and I initially thought it was a bit of plastic shaking in the wind, except there was no wind.
I’ve seen many big moths, we are in a bogan migration path apparently (Canberra Australia) but I’ve never anything this big before, and its tail seemed fatter than Im used to seeing. Just wanted to know if its size was unusual, and what type of moth it is.
Feel free to keep/use the pics if they’re interesting. I have a short movie clip of it shaking its wings, but its very dark.
Ken
Canberra Australia

Unknown Moth
Ghost Moth

Hi Ken,
While it looks vaguely Sphinxlike, we do not believe your moth is a Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae. We did a cursory search on the Csiro Australian Moth site, but had no luck. We have found references to Bogan Moths being eaten in Australia, but the photos seem to be of widely differing species. We haven’t the time to more fully research your question right now, and it is our hope that some reader will provide an answer.

Unknown Moth

Comment: Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 6:50 PM
Try Hepialidae, a lot of Australian ones look like chubby awkward sphinx moths, maybe Abantiades sp.

We researched this on Csiro Entomology page  and found a likely Abantiades hydrographus and Abantiades marcidus.

Update:  August 5, 2012
We are trying to clean up some unidentified postings and we realized some of our previous links are no longer active.  We can link to a page on Ghost Moths from Australia on the Atlas of Living Australia website.

Letter 3 – Aenetus tegulatus is Unknown Green Moth from Australia

 

moth found that i cannot identify
to whom it may concern, my name is nathan morello
in the early hours of this morning i found a large green moth, and after spending a few hours online i cannot identify it. it is approximately 3′ or 7.5cm long with a folded wingtip to wingtip span of about 2′ or 5cm. it is green ontop with 6 brownish/black spots on each dominant wing. the underside of the wings are pinkish with green edgings. i found it in the blue mountain range in nsw Australia. as stated i cannot find anything close to it online, no pictures or information. can you be of any assistance in identifying it or is it possible i have discovered a new species, and if by chance it is a new species how do i officially name it. thankyou your time and assistance yours sincerly
Nathan Morello

Hi Nathan,
A quick web search of green hawkmoths from Australia did not provide an answer for us. We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if he recognized your Sphinx or Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae. Bill Oehlke wrote back: “Daniel, I don’t know what it is but am pretty sure it is not one of the Sphingidae. Bill Oehlke”. Then, while trying to identify another Australian Hawkmoth, we discovered this site devoted to Australian moths on stamps and an image of Aenetus tegulatus. A further google search produced actual photographs of the species and we are satisfied this is your moth.

Letter 4 – Bug of the Moth June 2017: Carpenterworm Moth

 

Subject: unknown Sphinx moth
Location: Carrboro ,NC
May 31, 2017 8:53 pm
Found this large Sphinx moth on my front porch last night in Carrboro NC. My best thoughts were it might be a Rustic Sphinx moth.
Signature: Mary S

Carpenterworm Moth

Dear Mary,
Though it resembles a Sphinx Moth, this is actually a Carpenterworm Moth,
Prionoxystus robiniae, in the family Cossidae, which we verified by matching your individual to this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae bore in wood of living deciduous trees: locust, oak, chestnut, poplar, willow, maple, and ash.”  BugGuide also notes:  “Large, might be mistaken for a sphinx moth. ”  We will be featuring your posting as our Bug of the Month for June 2017.

Carpenterworm Moth

Wow, Thanks! I wasn’t even thinking of any moth outside of a sphinx…this girl was big! Thanks so much Daniel.
Mary

Letter 5 – Carpenterworm Moth

 

Subject: Cheers
Location: North ga
June 6, 2017 6:50 pm
A beauty
Signature: Ribbit

Carpenterworm Moth

Dear Ribbit,
This is a Carpenterworm Moth,
Prionoxystus robiniae, our featured Bug of the Month this month.

Letter 6 – Dark and Light Carpenter Worm Moths

 

Subject: Sexual dimorphism? Sphinx moths?
Location: Troy, VA
June 25, 2016 10:00 am
I photographed these two moths a couple of hours apart. When I looked at the photo of the second, darker moth, I realized it was definitely the same kind of moth as the first, but black and grey where the first one was white and blackish/grey. I was very excited to see such an interesting color change between the two moths. I have looked at many websites searching for these markings and the closest I have come up with is a Rustic Sphinx Moth, but really, I’m not convinced. I wonder if the difference in the moths is sexual dimorphism as I believe the dark moth to be male and the white one female. Or just the normal variety of color range in a species? I hope you find these photos as interesting as I did.
Signature: Grace Pedalino

Carpenter Worm Moth
Carpenter Worm Moth

Dear Grace,
While we agree that these are the same species, we are not convinced it is an example of sexual dimorphism, but rather, variability of tonality within the species.  Furthermore, these are NOT Sphinx Moths.  These are Carpenter Worm Moths,
Prionoxystus robiniae, a species we identified on BugGuide where it states:  “Larvae bore in wood of living deciduous trees: locust, oak, chestnut, poplar, willow, maple, and ash.”  Here is a dark individual from BugGuide and here is a light individual from BugGuide.

Carpenter Worm Moth
Carpenter Worm Moth

Letter 7 – Wood Moth from Australia

 

Subject: Moth Identification
Location: Richardson, ACT, Australia
January 7, 2013 6:53 am
Hi Bugman,
I have just found this stunning creature on my back wall after my two beagles were going crazy trying to catch it (I have since moved it into a tree in the front yard where it will be safe)
From looking at other posts and pics on your site I tink it maybe a ghost moth but am unsure. I have never seen anything like it before. At first I thought it was a Bogong Moth as we have been known to get quite a few of those here in Canberra but he is the wrong shape.
Would love to know a bit more about it of you are able to help. Sorry the pics are the greatest I didnt want to startle it and I only had my mobile phone.
Thanks
Signature: Susan Mitchell

Woodt Moth

Dear Susan,
You are correct that this is a Goat Moth or Wood Moth in the family Cossidae.  The caterpillars are edible wood borers known as Witchetty Grubs, with the following alternate spellings from Butterfly House:  “Witjuti, Witchedy, Wichetty, Witchety, witchjetti.”
  According to the Australian Museum:  “The Giant Wood Moth is the heaviest moth in the world, with some females weighing up to 30 grams.”  We suspect the heaviest females are full of eggs, and when Daniel was doing research for The Curious World of Bugs, he learned that “Currently holding the record among nonsocial insects, a ghost moth from Australia is reported to have laid 29,100 eggs; another 15,000 were discovered when she was dissected.”  Another reason Ghost Moths are so heavy is that they don’t feed as adults, living only to mate and procreate, so they need the energy of stored body fat to fly.

Wood Moth

Letter 8 – Mating Ghost Moths from Australia

 

Ed. Note:  April 21, 2013
While we believe much of the information here is correct, we believe the family to be Hepialidae, not Cossidae.  Check Csiro for verification.

Canberra moth
Location: Bruce, Canberra
January 28, 2012 7:13 pm
Last night we found a massive moth on our porch, it was about 10cm in length and weighed about 45 grams. We were worried that our cats might think it would make a nice snack so decided to move it. It jumped onto my hand and was heavy and warm. We put it in a tree. We were worried it might not survive the move…..this morning we got up to check on the moth….and it had met up with another moth
Signature: Mel

Ghost Moth from Australia

Dear Mel,
We are pretty certain that you had an encounter with a Ghost Moth in the family Cossidae, possibly
Endoxyla leucomochla which is pictured on the Butterfly House website.  The caterpillar is a wood borer that is called a Witchetty Grub, though alternate spellings include:  “Witjuti, Witchedy, Wichetty, Witchety, witchjetti”.  According to Butterfly House:  “The adult is a large finely mottled grey moth, with wings suffused with rusty red towards the bases, and with a wingspan of about 16 cms. It has degenerate mouthparts, and so cannot feed. It relies for energy totally on the nourishment taken in by the Caterpillar earlier in its life.”  We would not discount that it might be some other member of the genus as they all look quite similar.  There are many possibilities pictured on Butterfly House

Mating Ghost Moths

According to the Brisbane Insect website, Ghost Moths are also called Wood Moths and:  “Moths in the family Cossidae are from large to very large size. They have long and narrow wings like those of Hawk moths. They are mostly brown or grey in colours. Most have the inverted “U” shape on thorax. When rest, they held their wings roof-wise. The adult moths in this family do not feed so their mouth parts are largely reduced.”  While he was researching his book, The Curious World of Bugs, Daniel learned that an Australian Ghost Moth has the record number of eggs laid for a non-social insect, 29,100.

Mating Ghost Moths

Thank you so much for your speedy reply – I got a little bit addicted to your website today.  I actually think it is a Wattle Goat Moth (Endoxyla affinis) – I have some even better photos now (they spent alot of time mating in our garden and it was easier to get good pics in the arvo) – anyway, let me know if you want me to send them through. What an amazing pair they were.

Hi again Mel,
The Wattle Goat Moth,
Endoxyla affinis, did occur to us as another possibility.  We would love to post one or two better images.

Ghost Moth

Here a some photos of both the male and female moth…..I think the female was the bigger one and had a very active scent gland which I took a photo of, the male had some blue on his head. Big storm last night and both moths have gone now 🙁

Ghost Moth

Thanks for sending additional photos Mel.  We hope they will contribute to a positive species identification.  The close-up photo appears to be a sexual organ.

detail of a Ghost Moth

The newest image you sent of the mating pair is also a nice addition.

Mating Ghost Moths

 

 

Letter 9 – Carpenter Moth Exuvia

 

Subject:  Exuvia
Location:  Port Elizabeth, New Jersey
June 25, 2016
I found an exuvia in my yard last weekend, 6/24-6/25, in Port Elizabeth NJ. It is almost identical to the images posted here, more similar than the image on bugguide. This exuvia is huge. Close in size to a cicada exuvia. I think it unlikely to be a horsefly.  I’ve tried twice to submit my pictures but it just spins indefinitely. The exuvia that I found is close to 2 inches long and has an identifiable head.
Signature:  Kevin Canning

Possibly Wasp Exuvia
Carpenter Moth Exuvia

Dear Kevin,
Thanks so much for submitting your wonderfully detailed images of the Exuvia or cast off exoskeleton you discovered.  The mandibles evident in the head area are proof this is NOT a Horse Fly exuvia.  The mandibles are designed for chewing, and our best guess at this time is that the exuvia belongs to a Wasp, but we would not rule out a Beetle.  The antennae are also quite prominent as are the eyes.  We suspect this is some species of Solitary Wasp, perhaps a Cicada Killer or a Scoliid Wasp.  Here ia a BugGuide image of the head of a Cicada Killer and here is a Science Photo image of a Scoliid Wasp.  We will write to Eric Eaton to try to get some input from him.

Possibly Wasp Exuvia
Carpenter Moth Exuvia
Possibly Wasp Exuvia
Carpenter Moth Exuvia

Eric Eaton responds
Daniel:
I have no idea, though the ridges of spines on the segments make me think “fly pupa” first, like a mydas fly or robber fly.
Eric
author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America

Update:  July 5, 2016
Thanks to a comment from Cesar Crash, we are entertaining the possibility that this might be a Moth Exuvia.

Thanks, I didn’t think it went through. I tried to attach 3 images actually. Thanks for trying to ID my molt. I think it’s too large for robber fly as well as even horse fly. I think you might be on the right track with possible beetle because i did once find a very large ground beetle on the property.  I’m going to continue to look in to it.
I still have the exuvia and i also have the ability to take macro shots if i can capture something specific that will help identify it.
Thanks again,
Keven

Update:  April 18, 2017
We just received a comment from Michael Ellis with links to BugGuide indicating that this is a Carpenter Moth Exuvia,
Prionoxystus robiniae.

Letter 10 – Possibly Wattle Goat Moth from Australia

 

Subject:  Unidentified large Australian Moth
Geographic location of the bug:  Recliffe Peninsua, Queensland, Australia
Date: 12/09/2018
Time: 07:40 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I snapped this beauty outside a fish and chip shop on the weekend, taking a rest on a kerb, which would make it about 15cm from front legs to wing tips. I have no idea what sort it is, though, and haven’t seen one before. Can you help? It would be good to put a name to the face, as it were.
How you want your letter signed:  Joshua

Wattle Goat Moth, we believe

Dear Joshua,
This appears to be one of the Wood Moths or Goat Moths in the family Cossidae, possibly the Wattle Goat Moth,
Endoxyla encalypti, which is pictured on Butterfly House where it states:  “The adult moths have forewings that are speckled grey and brown with indistinct light and dark streaks. The hindwings are reddish-brown at the base, fading to grey-brown at the margins. The wingspan is around 10 cms.  The thorax of the adult moth has an uncanny likeness to the head of a mouse! The ‘eyes’ of the mouse are the thicker parts of the bluish lines running on either side of the thorax, located just behind the real eyes.”

Thanks Daniel. The wingspan of this individual was definitely greater than 10cm, but that does look a very close match. Appreciate the help!
Josh

Letter 11 – Probably Ghost Moth from Australia

 

Comment
Location:  Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia
January 19, 2014
I don’t know if this mail will get to you Daniel.
I attach some photo’s of the moth. I live in Rockhampton Queensland and I have lived in the bush for a number of years and I have never seen such a big moth. I live in the city now.
James

Wood Moth
Ghost Moth

Hi James,
Thanks for providing a comment on a Ghost Moth posting and also for sending your photo.  We are uncertain if this is a Ghost Moth in the family Hepialidae or a Wood Moth in the family Cossidae.  Both are large moths that have tree boring caterpillars sometimes called Witchity Grubs in Australia.

My goodness Daniel,
You have certainly expanded my education. Witchity Grubs I certainly know, and yes, I did eat one. One was enough for my tender stomach. They are a large white grub, a bit over an inch and a quarter in length and about a half an inch in diameter. But I never even thought that they would/could turn into anything else except be grubs.
They usually live under the bark of dead/rotting fallen trees or stumps. Do they turn into anything else, like a “chrylist” or however you spell it before they emerge as a moth?  If so, what would I look for to recognise them?
If you live in Australia, I will post the moth to you if you give me an address. If you live overseas, it might be unlawful to post it.
Anyway, I have never seen a moth even half as big as this one. The biggest flying beetles I have seen are the Elephant or Rhinoceros; That might be a local name for them. This moths’ body is at least twice as long as those beetles.
If you know of any person in Rockhampton Queensland that is knowledgeable about moths, I will try to get them to identify it.
Thank you for your kindness in answering my mail.
James

Hi again James,
The Witchety Grub does have a pupa stage prior to emergence as a moth.  We are not in Australia, but rather, in Los Angeles, California.  We have already posted the image of the moth you sent and it is live on our website.  We don’t understand the unlawfulness of posting the image because we are overseas.

haha. No Daniel, I meant that I would post the dead moth to you if posting it to you is legal and if you want me to post it to you.
Jimlin

Thanks for the offer, but we do not accept specimens.

Letter 12 – Probably Ghost Moth from Australia

 

Subject:  Wondering if there is a name for this gentle giant
Geographic location of the bug:  Condell Park, New South Wales, Australia
Date: 01/15/2018
Time: 05:35 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Was working the night shift and came across this gentle giant and was just wondering if it had a specific name?
Besides Moth?
How you want your letter signed:  Kindest Regards Ray

Probably Ghost Moth

Dear Ray,
We believe this is a Wood Moth or Goat Moth from the family Cossidae, a group well represented on Butterfly House, but we would not discount that it might be a Ghost Moth or Swift Moth from the family Hepialidae, also well represented on Butterfly House.  We not only have trouble distinguishing the families apart, we also have problems with actual species identifications.  The larvae of Wood Moths are frequently called Witchetty Grubs. 

Hello,
Just wanted to take the time to say thank you for your reply!
It is greatly appreciated
Kindest Regards
Ray Davis

Letter 13 – Puriri Moth from New Zealand

 

Large Green New Zealand Moth
Location: Waitakere Ranges, Auckland, New Zealand
January 21, 2011 4:56 am
Hi,
Just tonight two of these large green moths flew into my room, one after the other. I have never seen this type of moth before.
Each one was around 75-80mm in length and approximately 100-110mm in wingspan.
After finding this website, I am assuming they are Puriri Moths.
Could you please tell me if they definitely are Puriri Moths.
Thanks,
Signature: John

Puriri Moth

Hi John,
You are absolutely correct.  This is a Puriri Moth or Ghost Moth in the family Hepialidae.  You may read about it on the Insects and Spiders of New Zealand website which indicates the Maori names are:  “pepe tuna; mokoroa, ngutara; pungoungou
“.  Though five or six years are spent as a caterpillar, the adult Puriri Moth only lives about two days and does not feed.

Puriri Moth

Letter 14 – Puriri Moth from New Zealand

 

Subject: Is this a NZ Puriri Moth?
Location: New Zealand North Island, Coromandel Peninsula
January 3, 2013 8:11 pm
I spotted this big fellow late last night on the outside settee. It’s midsummer here and it had been raining steadily through the evening. I would estimate the moth was about 2 – 2 1/2 inches long (5 – 6.5cm), it was pale/bright green with beautiful iridescent markings on the wings. I have been here for 10 years and I’ve never seen a moth like this here before. I would love to know what it is.
Signature: Maureen

Puriri Moth

Dear Maureen,
This is indeed a Puriri Moth or Ghost Moth in the family Hepialidae.  We are not certain if the name applies to only one species within the family as so many members look quite similar.  Here is another Puriri Moth from our archives.  We will do additional research on this matter.  More on the Puriri Moth can be located online on the Kiwi Conservation Club website.

Dear Daniel,
Thank you so much for your quick response to my query. I hope I don’t have to wait another ten years before I see another one of these beautiful moths in my garden!
Kind regards,
Maureen

Letter 15 – Puriri Moth from New Zealand we believe

 

Large Green New Zealand Moth
September 28, 2009
Hi, This moth greeted me on the steps to my house when I returned from work. Most likely it was there when I went to work. It is still early spring here.
You can see one wing in the photo. The other is wrapped onto the opposite side and held near the belly. The body is full, long, and thick, and the tail end can be seen poking out of the bottom of the wings.
Pictures were taken with a 8mp camera on tulip setting. When you zoom in you can see the water droplets and the hairs. It is very cool looking.
When it became dark it flew away. It was about 5cm long. Please let me know the name.
Kind Regards,
MarkcNZ
Eastbourne New Zealand (Near Wellington)

Unknown Green Moth from New Zealand
Puriri Moth from New Zealand

Hi MarkcNZ,
This is an impressive moth.  Over the years, we have properly identified two green moths from New Zealand and Australia, but this appears to represent yet a different species.  The markings are somewhat similar to a Geometrid, Tatosoma tipulata, that we posted in May, but it is obviously different.  Several times, we have posted images of moths in the genus Aenetus, from the family Hepialidae, known as Ghost Moths or Swift Moths.  That is our best guess and possibilities are posted on an Australian Lepidoptera page.  We started to follow that thought, and we found a species Aenetus virescens, known as the Puriri Moth, that Wikipedia calls:  “New Zealand’s largest native moth.
”  We also located an image on Flickr.  We are confident that the identification is correct despite variations in the markings from image to image.

Letter 16 – Puriri Moth or Ghost Moth from New Zealand

 

moth
Location: NZ Taupo bush
October 18, 2011 1:56 pm
Hi Bugman,
I am in NZ and have never seen a moth this size before. I was Hunting out of taupo when this moth decided to land on the back of my neck. I thought the world was about to end….can you tell me what sort of moth it is?
Signature: stevo

Puriri Moth

Hi Stevo,
This is one of the Puriri Moths in the Ghost Moth family Hepialidae.  You can compare your individual to this image on New Zealand Tramper.  The Insects and Spiders of New Zealand website profiles the species Aenetus virescens and indicates that “is the largest moth in Aotearoa / New Zealand, and is found only on Te Ika a Māui / North Island.”  There seems to be much variation in the coloration of Puriri Moths posted online, and we are not exactly certain if there are different species or just variation within a single species.  The
Insects and Spiders of New Zealand website also provides this information:  “relatives live in Australia, New Caledonia, and Papua New Guinea;  caterpillars start life living in a bracket fungus;  older caterpillars make a refuge tunnel in the trunk of a large tree;  caterpillars feed on the wound tissue of the tree around the tunnel entrance, which is concealed by a silken ‘tent’;  pupation occurs in the tunnel;  adult moths do not feed, and live only for a few days;  moths are active at night.”

Letter 17 – Swift Moth from Australia

 

Subject: MOTH
Location: Westdale Western Australia
April 19, 2013 5:46 am
Hi
We found this large grey moth on the ground at our property in Westdale. It was about 12cm long. Just wondering if you could please tell me what it is. Much appreciated.
Signature: Thanks Michelle

Swift Moth
Swift Moth

Dear Michelle,
This appears to us to be a Swift Moth or Ghost Moth in the family Hepialidae.  The Csiro website has photos that indicate it might be
Avantiades labyrinthicus or a closely related species.  Photos on Dave’s Garden and the Morwell National Park website support that ID.  Though BugGuide is dedicated to North American species, these remarks about the family Hepialidae should also pertain to your moth:  “Explanation of Names Ghost Moth – to attract females, the male hovers over open ground, sometimes slowly rising and falling [like a ghost] (wikipedia.org)  Swift Moth – adults are rapid fliers” and “Early instar larvae feed on plant detritus, decaying wood, or fungi; later instars bore into roots or stems of woody plants, or feed on moss, and the leaves of grasses and other herbaceous plants.
Some adults cannot feed because they lack mouthparts.”
  BugGuide also notes:  “Considered a ‘primitive’ moth because of a combination of adult and larval characters. Adult moths lack a strong wing coupling mechanism and instead use a “jugum”, which is a thumb like projection between fore- and hindwings. Wings do not remain coupled while in flight. While present in other primitive lepidoptera, the exact function remains speculative. This feature is often strongly, and best, developed in the Hepialidae. Adults also have reduced or sometimes absent mouthparts.”  Finally, the Strathbogie Ranges Nature View website has a very nice posting on the Swift Moth including a link to this wonderful old article from a 1947 edition of The Tasmanian Naturalist.

Letter 18 – Unknown Canadian Moth is Four Spotted Ghost Moth

 

moth
July 16, 2010
Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada
I saw this moth on my deck today and am very curious what it is. I am located in Alberta Canada and have never seen one of these before.
brent

Four Spotted Ghost Moth

Dear Brent,
Alas, we do not recognize your moth.  We discovered a Moths of Canada Website, but we did not have any luck with a proper identification.  We will post your letter and hope one of our readers can assist with this identification.

Four Spotted Ghost Moth

I was on that site too and couldnt find anything, thanks a lot for your help!!! I’ll check your site from time to time and to see if someone knows…thanks again!!!

Thanks so much to Markidavana who provided a comment identifying this Four Spotted Ghost Moth, Sthenopis purpurascens.  Interestingly, when we went to BugGuide to create a link, we found Brent’s photos already posted and identified.  There was not much information on this species on BugGuide, but we did learn that this moth is in a family, Hepialidae,  that has not been represented previously on What’s That Bug? so we created a new category for it.  BugGuide does provide family information, including:  “””to attract females, the male hovers over open ground, sometimes slowly rising and falling [like a ghost]” which is credited to Wikipedia.  BugGuide also indicates:  “Early instar larvae feed on plant detritus, decaying wood, or fungi; later instars bore into roots or stems of woody plants, or feed on moss, and the leaves of grasses and other herbaceous plants.  Some adults cannot feed because they lack mouthparts” and “Considered a ‘primitive’ moth because of a combination of adult and larval characters. Adult moths lack a strong wing coupling mechanism and instead use a ‘jugum’, which is a thumb like projection between fore- and hindwings. Wings do not remain coupled while in flight. While present in other primitive lepidoptera, the exact function remains speculative. This feature is often strongly, and best, developed in the Hepialidae. Adults also have reduced or sometimes absent mouthparts.”  The Entomology Collection of the University of Alberta website also has some interesting information, including:  “habitat Mature mixedwood and poplar forest, in particular near wetlands.  seasonality Adults fly in Alberta from early July through mid-August, peaking the last half of July. identification Adults are large (6.6-10.0 cm wingspan) long-winged moths that occur in two color forms, purple-grey and yellow-brown. Until recently the yellow-brown form was thought to be a separate species, S. quadriguttatus. The forewings have a darker oblique median band, a darker terminal area and darker spots along the costa. There are two small, silver spots near the wing base. Hindwings are even purple brown or salmon pink, unmarked except for one or two small spots on the outer part of the leading edge. The antennae in both sexes are greatly reduced and hair-like, and separate them from all other large Alberta moths. The similar S. argenteomaculatus (Harris) does not occur in Alberta, and the literature reports for argentomaculatus are errors (Schmidt and Lawrie, 1999). life history Females deposit eggs in the vicinity of the host while in flight. The larvae bore into the roots of poplars, willows or alder where they complete the life cycle. The larvae apparently take two years to complete the lifecycle, and adults in Alberta are more common in odd-numbered years. Mature larvae are about 50-60 cm long, with cream-white bodies, brown heads and brown bases of the setae. The adults are crepuscular and are poorly attracted to light. conservation A fairly common, widespread insect; no concerns. diet info Larvae bore into the roots of poplars (Populus sp.), and to a lesser extent willow (Salix) and alder (Alnus). range Labrador and New York north and west to British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, south in the mountains to Arizona. In Alberta, it is most common throughout the Boreal forest and Aspen Parkland regions, less common in the Foothills and Mountains, and along wooded parts of the valleys in the Grasslands region.”   While writing our book, we did learn this information on a moth in the same family, the Australian Ghost Moth on the University of Florida Book of Insect Records :  “The highest lifetime fecundity among non-social insects appears to be a lepidopteran. An Australian ghost moth female, Trictena atripalpis (Hepialidae), captured at Adelaide, laid 29,100 eggs (Tindale 1932), and when it was dissected 15,000 eggs were found in the ovaries. These moths oviposit while in flight and tend to lay their eggs in the vicinity of the red gumtree (Eucalyptus rostrata), on the roots of which their larvae feed. There are other ghost moths that are larger, which may have an even higher fecundity, but I’ve found no literature on egg number in these species.

Thanks so much for all your help! I couldn’t believe how fast I got an answer about that moth!!! I’ll be sure you use this site again next time I have a question. Thanks!!

Letter 19 – Splendid Ghost Moth from Australia

 

Moth?
Location: Barrington Tops National Park, Australia
November 30, 2010 6:26 pm
Hello,
This insect was found in Gloucester Tops, Australia in November at 1200m. Is it a moth? It was about 50mm in length.
Regards
Signature: Lis

Splendid Ghost Moth

Dear Lis,
This certainly is a moth, but we would need to do some research to identify the species.  We are posting your letter just before going to bed and hopefully we will be able to provide an identification tomorrow.

Karl provides the Identification
Hi Daniel and Lis:
It’s a lovely moth with an appropriately lovely name. It looks like a male Splendid Ghost Moth, Aenetus ligniveren (Hepialidae). It ranges from southern Queensland to Tasmania.  You can also check out here and here for more photos and information. Regards.  Karl

Dear Daniel,
Thanks for your assistance in identifying the moth, you have a great site and a very useful facility.
Regards,
Lis

Letter 20 – Unknown Moth from India is Carpenter Moth

 

Subject: Strange Bug in my veranda
Location: India
January 17, 2013 7:05 am
I found this strange bug between my flower pots in the eve ! Dunno wat its called but am curious !u
Signature: Creepyluv

Unknown Moth

Dear Creepyluv,
This is a Moth, but we are uncertain of the family.  Though it superficially resembles a Sphinx Moth or Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae, the antennae are too hairlike for that to be the correct family.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to write in with a correct identification.

Karl provides an identification: Carpenter Moth
Hi Daniel and Creepyluv:
It is a Carpenter Moth (Cossidae) in the subfamily Zeuzerinae and genus Xyleutes, probably X. persona. The species can be found throughout much of south and southeast Asia, from India to Papua New Guinea and possibly Australia. The larvae are wood borers but the species does not appear to be a significant threat to forestry or agriculture. Regards.  Karl

Thanks so much for your assistance Karl.  While unsuccessfully searching for an identity, we tried locating images of Wood Moths from India with no luck.

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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts

43 thoughts on “The Enigmatic Ghost Moth: Unveiling Its Mysteries”

  1. I’ve seen these before ,its a giant wood boring moth from austrialia cossidae family subspecies
    XYLEUTES or ENDOXYLA cant tell. Your moth is female hope this helps

    Reply
  2. Just as a matter of interest – the moths around Canberra are Bogong (not bogan) moths – Agrotis infusa.

    Reply
  3. Hi WTB, ROFL -query should have been about a BogonG Moth not a Bogan Moth (would love to see the latter: sporting a mullet, wearing acid-wash stretch denim jeans and uggs driving a clapped-out Commodore…). Moth named after Mt Bogong:
    http://australianmuseum.net.au/Bogong-Moth
    Bogan is a pejorative social descriptor: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bogan

    This moth looks a bit too big to be a Bogong moth. If Ken really is in a bogan migration path he is very unfortunate.

    Reply
  4. This is prob rather late but only just seen this site. This is definitely a swift moth, and prob is Abantiades. Called rain moths as often come out after rain. Yours prob had just hatched and was still dr ying its wings

    Reply
    • Thanks so much Mardikavana. Your identification allowed us to do considerably more research on this fascinating Four Spotted Ghost Moth.

      Reply
  5. I also found one of these moths in the south of Western Australia. It was lying in the road and actually laying eggs. Put moth and eggs with some vegetation in a jar for protection. She didn’t move but stayed alive for a week or so. Unfortunately the eggs didn’t hatch.

    Reply
  6. Moth (dead). Brown 90mm long body, 22mm thick body covered in white fur, 120mm overall but ends of wings damaged. Wing span estimated, 200mm plus. I am from the bush I have never seen such a huge moth. I wish I could send photographs.

    Reply
  7. G’day cobber…
    “Ghost moth” and “Swift moth” are common names for the Hepialidae in Australia.
    The Cossidae (this sighting) are commonly called “Wood moths” or “Goat moths” because of the associated smell 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks for this clarification. Common names can be helpful when trying to make information on the natural world accessible to more people, but they are often deceptive regarding true identifications. We have changed the subject line of the posting.

      Reply
  8. G’day cobber…
    “Ghost moth” and “Swift moth” are common names for the Hepialidae in Australia.
    The Cossidae (this sighting) are commonly called “Wood moths” or “Goat moths” because of the associated smell 🙂

    Reply
  9. So excited i found this page. I came across one this morning at the train station it was sitting on the steps so i got some photos of it. I’d love to send them. Such a pretty moth. Cute little face. Reminds me of a flying fox

    Reply
  10. Where Leiden? Where did you find it, London, Paris, New York. I found mine in Rockhampton Queensland. I would very much like to post a photo. Why can’t we post photos on this page? I am on f/b.

    Reply
  11. This moth is also in humboldt Saskatchewan , and seemed to have disappeared considerably , when the fire was thick by p.a these moths showed up basically covering walls completely , over the next three or four days they coated (the stems of tall grass and even electrical cords outlets and basically anything really ) in a thick black tar like substance , if you squish one they have black inside them also but attached are white blobls , looks like eggs honesty so it’s obviously it’s hatching process, what I’m curios to know is how in hello half acre is a guy supposed to get it off ? I work at an industrial wash bay , our water is 140 degrees celcius all day , doesn’t touch the tar , I have tried multiple cleaners , spray nine, citrus solve, pansolve ( can take practically anything off , tar from roadways comes off with pan solve but no not this moth tar ? It be cool to know what the heck it is , or made up of ? Is it harmful ?

    Reply
  12. Thanks so much. Clearly I need to figure out how to search better, I really did spend a lot of time looking. I wasn’t convinced that it was a sphinx moth, but that seemed closest. Now I know. In any case, I thought you might like the picture of both colors.

    Reply
    • Thanks for those wonderful links Cesar. These images make if abundantly clear how little we really know about the world around us. We will change the subject line of the posting.

      Reply
    • Thank you Cesar for the links and all the info. After looking at your images and additional links to your pages, I see many similarities with my molt. Your expertise is most welcome.

      Reply
  13. i just found one of these Moths on the NSW SOUTH COAST ..she was on the ground i picked her up and put her in a tree she started laying eggs ..i just came on to see if i could find what type of moth ,and found this site thank you ..

    Reply
  14. Kevin,
    I have the final answer! This is Carpenterworm Moth (Prionoxystus robiniae)

    http://bugguide.net/node/view/283123

    Marius Aurelian on BugGuide said “This is definitely a carpentermoth (family Cossidae) exuvium and i would bet it is Prionoxystus robiniae. Acossus populi seems to be less frequent and restricted to poplars, according to the U of A Strickland Entomological Museum page for this species. The other cossids are either much smaller or they do not feed on poplars or willows. I checked the link you posted and i noticed the 4th photo you took (lower right) is of a pupa about to emerge. Had you waited 15 more minutes you would have seen the adult coming out of the pupal skin. Amazing process! Of course, many times they fail to emerge and the pupal skin becomes their casket.”

    I found one too in Maryland a week later last year, http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/5788894

    Reply
  15. Kevin,
    I have the final answer! This is Carpenterworm Moth (Prionoxystus robiniae)

    http://bugguide.net/node/view/283123

    Marius Aurelian on BugGuide said “This is definitely a carpentermoth (family Cossidae) exuvium and i would bet it is Prionoxystus robiniae. Acossus populi seems to be less frequent and restricted to poplars, according to the U of A Strickland Entomological Museum page for this species. The other cossids are either much smaller or they do not feed on poplars or willows. I checked the link you posted and i noticed the 4th photo you took (lower right) is of a pupa about to emerge. Had you waited 15 more minutes you would have seen the adult coming out of the pupal skin. Amazing process! Of course, many times they fail to emerge and the pupal skin becomes their casket.”

    I found one too in Maryland a week later last year, http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/5788894

    Reply
  16. I have a video of what I think may be a hawk or ghost moth laying her eggs. Please let me know your email address so I can send to you. Do you know if the larvae damage trees when they bore into them. Worried about my tree now I know how many eggs there are!

    Reply
    • I saw one in blue mountains too, on the 24th after dark. Maybe the same one…all green no markings on the wing. Peach/ orange under wings or 2nd set of wings.

      Reply

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