Honey Locust Moth: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The Honey Locust Moth is a fascinating insect that can be found on the honey locust tree, a medium-sized tree native to the United States. In this article, we will delve into the intriguing world of the Honey Locust Moth and provide you with all the essential information to better understand its peculiar characteristics and life cycle.

As a lepidopteran, the Honey Locust Moth belongs to the order of insects that includes moths and butterflies. There are two distinct forms of this moth: the summer form and the winter form, each with unique physical attributes linked to adaptation. Differentiating between these life stages enhances our understanding of their behavior and interaction with their environment.

Apart from their intriguing appearance, Honey Locust Moths also play a vital role as pollinators for honey locust trees, which in turn provide ecological benefits such as fixing nitrogen in the soil. Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the habits, habitats, and significance of this captivating insect species.

Overview of Honey Locust Moth

Taxonomy and Classification

The Honey Locust Moth, also known as Syssphinx bicolor, belongs to the Saturniidae family. This family of moths is commonly referred to as Giant Silkworm Moths.

Physical Characteristics

The Honey Locust Moth exhibits different appearances based on the time of its emergence. Moths that emerge in June are referred to as the “summer form” and display the following characteristics:

  • Forewing upperside ranges from rust-colored to orangish to yellow-tan
  • A postmedian line running between the midpoint and the wing edge

The Honey Locust Moth is not only an attractant for bees, moths, butterflies, and small mammals, but it also plays a role in honey locust tree’s pollination.

In comparison to other moths, Honey Locust Moth has the following features:

Feature Honey Locust Moth Other Moths
Family Saturniidae Varies
Primary Host Plant Honey locust tree Varies
Forewing Color (Summer Form) Rust to yellow-tan Varies
Importance Pollination & Attractant Varies

Below are some of the key characteristics of Honey Locust Moth:

  • Part of the Saturniidae family (Giant Silkworm Moths)
  • Presence of a postmedian line in the forewing

Remember to consider the Honey Locust Moth’s unique characteristics and role in nature, whether you’re an enthusiast or studying entomology.

Life Cycle and Behaviors

Male and Female Differences

Honey Locust Moths display some differences between males and females:

  • Males have a slightly smaller wingspan than females, but both sexes have a wingspan ranging from 35-50 mm.
  • The coloration of males and females might vary, with males often having more prominent markings.

Reproduction and Growth

The Honey Locust Moth (S. bisecta) has a straightforward reproduction and growth process:

  1. Mating: Male and female moths mate during the fall season.
  2. Eggs: Female moths lay eggs on or near the host plant (Gleditsia triacanthos).
  3. Hatching: Caterpillars emerge from the eggs and begin feeding on locust tree leaves.

Larvae and Caterpillars

The larvae and caterpillars possess unique features:

  • Color: Ranging from green to brown or yellow, depending on their environment.
  • Markings: White spots on their body, a red stripe along their abdominal section, and reddish horns are common.
  • Size: As they grow, they can reach a mature stage up to 45 mm in length.

Caterpillar Food Plants

  • Host Plant: Gleditsia triacanthos (Honey Locust Tree) is the primary source of food for the larvae and caterpillars.
  • North America: They can be found throughout North America, feeding on a variety of locust trees.

Unique Features

  • Hind Wings: The hind wings of the caterpillars bear a white stripe near their border, distinct from the white dots found on their main wings.
  • Taillike Horn: Present at the end of their body, used as a defensive mechanism against predators.

Comparison Table:

Feature Male Honey Locust Moth Female Honey Locust Moth
Wingspan Slightly smaller than female Larger than male
Coloration More prominent markings Less dominant markings
Hindwing Similar to female Similar to male

Overall, understanding the Honey Locust Moth’s life cycle and behaviors can enhance our appreciation of their intricate patterns and ecological importance. Their fascinating characteristics give us insights into the diverse world of moth species.

Habitat and Distribution

Native Range

The Honey Locust Moth is native to North America, specifically in areas where locust trees, such as the Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus), are widely distributed. These moths can be found in woodlands across the continent but are particularly prevalent in regions like Kentucky.

Habitat Preferences

Honey Locust Moths prefer habitats where locust trees are plentiful, as these trees provide both cover and a food source. They are primarily found in:

  • Woodlands
  • Forest edges

Some notable characteristics of their preferred habitats include:

  • Availability of locust trees, especially Kentucky Coffee Trees
  • Dense foliage for cover
  • Forested areas with a mix of tree species

Honey Locust Moths and their preferred tree host, the Kentucky Coffee Tree, share the following features:

Feature Honey Locust Moth Kentucky Coffee Tree
Native to North America North America
Habitat Woodlands Woodlands
Importance to Moth Food source Host for larvae

In conclusion, understanding the native range and habitat preferences of the Honey Locust Moth is essential for its conservation and for maintaining the health of the ecosystems it inhabits. By promoting the growth and preservation of locust trees, particularly the Kentucky Coffee Tree, we can help support the natural balance and biodiversity of these woodland areas.

Interactions with Honey Locust Trees

Importance as a Food Source

Honey locust trees (Gleditsia triacanthos) are native to the eastern United States, from Pennsylvania to Eastern Texas, and serve as a host plant for Kentucky coffee trees and other species. Some of the features of honey locust trees include:

  • Thorns that can grow up to 12 inches long
  • Small, greenish-yellow flowers that produce sweet nectar
  • Long, twisted seed pods that provide food for wildlife

These trees are important food sources for honey locust moths, as their larvae mainly feed on the leaves and seed pods.

Damage to Trees

Honey locust moths can cause damage to honey locust trees, with their population’s impact varying by region. For example, they can cause issues like defoliation, webworm infestations, and cankers. Some common issues honey locust trees face and their causes are:

  • Defoliation: Caused primarily by honey locust moth larvae feeding on the tree’s leaves
  • Webworm: Honey locust trees are susceptible to honeylocust spider mites, which can lead to webworm infestations
  • Cankers: Canker diseases are a significant threat, as they can girdle the stem and kill the tree

Honey locust trees are also known for their ability to tolerate various environmental conditions and provide shade in urban areas. In some cases, the damage caused by honey locust moths may not severely impact the tree’s overall health, as the trees are generally resilient in the face of adversity.

Feature Honey Locust Tree Kentucky Coffee Tree
Leaves Bipinnate leaflets providing filtered shade Large leaflets with a bluish-green color
Height 30 to 70 feet 60 to 100 feet
Growing conditions Tolerate varying soil and pH levels, drought-resistant Moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade

As with any pest, it is important to monitor honey locust moths and their impact on honey locust trees routinely. Early detection and intervention can help mitigate the damage caused by these insects and ensure the health and longevity of these ecologically significant trees.

Other Relevant Information

Related Species

There are various species within the Lepidoptera family, which includes both butterflies and moths. The Honey Locust Moth is related to Royal Moths, and is scientifically known as Sphingicampa bicolor. This species shares some characteristics with other members of the Lepidoptera family such as:

  • Antennae
  • Forewings
  • Deciduous environment preference

Conservation Status

The conservation status of Honey Locust Moth is not well documented. However, they are often found in various regions in the U.S., inhabiting deciduous environments with moist soil. They are short-lived creatures with a specific life cycle involving two forms: spring generation and summer form.

Spring Generation

The spring generation Honey Locust Moths have dark gray ground color and dark specks on their forewings. They are known to pupate and can be seen flying around during their brief lifespan.

Key Features:

  • Dark gray color
  • Dark specks on forewings
  • Pupate
Summer Form

The summer form Honey Locust Moths have an intermediate coloration, with pearl-colored spines and yellow bands on their forewings. Their flying behavior is similar to that of the spring generation.

Key Features:

  • Intermediate coloration
  • Pearl-colored spines
  • Yellow bands on forewings

Here is a comparison table of the characteristics of the two forms:

Spring Generation Summer Form
Ground Color Dark Gray Intermediate
Spines N/A Pearl-colored
Bands on Forewings N/A Yellow
Dark Specks Present Absent

The length of Honey Locust Moths can vary, however, they are generally around the same size as typical butterflies. Their preferred environment for growth and development is deciduous areas with moist soil, making them adaptable to various regions in the U.S.

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 – Bisected Honey Locust Moth


Help Identifiy this for me please…….
Can you please identify this moth we found in our yard ? We live in east central Illinois. Beautiful moth. It would tuck it’s big eyes in it’s fluffy face ! Thanks for your time and attention ! Sincerely,
Brian and Tami Jones
Humboldt, IL

Hi Brian and Tami,
We located a web page that we believe identifies your moth as a Bisected Honey Locust Moth, Sphingicampa bisecta or Syssphinx bisecta.

Letter 2 – Honey Locust Moth


Subject:  Moth identification
Geographic location of the bug:  Manhattan, KS
Date: 05/28/2019
Time: 06:30 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this moth on my deck this morning. With wings closed it’s about 1 inch in length.
How you want your letter signed:  Andrea

Honey Locust Moth

Dear Andrea,
This lovely Giant Silkmoth is a Honey Locust Moth,
Syssphinx bicolor, which we identified on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “Range mostly Upper Midwest, less common across se.”


  • 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.

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    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.

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