The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is a truly stunning creature known for its striking appearance and fascinating behavior. With its large size, boasting a wingspan of 3-4.5 inches, and unique sea-foam green to yellow color, this North American native has captured the attention and admiration of moth enthusiasts everywhere. The moth’s name is derived from Luna, the Roman moon goddess, fitting for its nocturnal nature and moon-like markings on its wings.
Caterpillars of Luna Moths are known to feed on a variety of tree species, including walnut, birch, and persimmon. As they mature, these moths develop into striking adults with long tails on their hind wings and discal eyespots on both fore and hind wings. It’s interesting to note that Luna Moths have different numbers of yearly generations depending on the location – they can be univoltine, bivoltine, or even trivoltine.
One peculiar adaptation of Luna Moths is their ability to disrupt the sonar of hunting bats. The tails on their hind wings serve this purpose, while the caterpillars have been observed making clicking noises and vomiting as defense mechanisms against predators. These fascinating features contribute to making the Luna Moth a truly remarkable and captivating creature.
Luna Moth Identification and Appearance
- Large, feathery antennae
- Lime green or sea-foam green body
- Four wings with eyespots
- Long, tapering hindwing tails
The Luna Moth, Actias luna, is a fascinating and beautiful moth native to North America. Their most distinctive features are their large, feathery antennae, particularly in males.
Coloration and Markings
- Overall pale or lime green color
- Dark leading edge on forewings
- Eyespots on all four wings
The coloration of Luna Moths is striking and easily recognizable. Their overall color is a pale or lime green, with a dark leading edge on the forewings. All four wings feature eyespots that add to their unique appearance.
Wingspan and Size
- 3-4.5 inch wingspan
- Found across North America
- Larvae feed on white birch, hickory, and persimmon trees
The Luna Moth boasts an impressive wingspan of 3-4.5 inches, making them one of the most spectacular moths in North America. They can be found throughout the continent, with their larvae feeding on the foliage of trees such as white birch, hickory, and persimmon.
Biology and Life Cycle
Luna Moths lay eggs on host plants such as walnut, hickory, and sweet gum trees. The eggs are small, white or pale green, and typically hatch within 8 to 13 days.
After hatching, the caterpillar eats its way through the host plant’s leaves, growing larger as it molts through five different stages. This caterpillar stage lasts for about 4 to 6 weeks. Some characteristics of the Luna Moth caterpillar include:
- Green body
- Yellow lines across the body
- Red or orange bumps
At the end of the caterpillar stage, the Luna Moth forms a cocoon, usually on the ground among leaf litter. Inside the cocoon, the pupa stage takes place, during which the caterpillar transforms into an adult moth. This process can last about 2 to 3 weeks.
Once the transformation is complete, the adult Luna Moth emerges from the cocoon. Adult Luna Moths showcase various distinctive features:
- Large wingspan of 3-4.5 inches
- Sea-foam green to yellow color
- Long tail-like extensions on hind wings
- Transparent spots on wings
Adult Luna Moths have a brief lifespan of just 7 to 10 days. In this time, they focus on mating and laying eggs to continue the life cycle. Since they don’t have functional mouthparts, adult Luna Moths don’t eat.
Comparison between Luna Moth stages:
|Eggs||8-13 days||Small, white or pale green|
|Caterpillar||4-6 weeks||Green, yellow lines, bumps|
|Pupa||2-3 weeks||Inside cocoon|
|Adult||7-10 days||Large wingspan, long tails|
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 – Luna Moth Caterpillar
big neon green caterpillar
September 19, 2009
My husband and I found this 3 inch long almost an inch wide big neon green caterpillar eating peacon leaves.What kind of caterpillar is this and what will it turn into..
Barb claremont north carolina…
Claremont,North Carolina foothills.
This is a Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar. It will transform into a large beautiful moth.
Upon receiving a comment that this was a Luna Moth Caterpillar and not a Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar, we are amending our original identification. The Luna Caterpillar is picture and described on BugGuide as “Larva lime-green with pink spots and weak subspiracular stripe on abdomen. Yellow lines cross the larva’s back near the back end of each segment (compare Polyphemus moth caterpillars, which have yellow lines crossing at spiracles). Anal proleg edged in yellow.(2) Sparse hairs.” The Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar is described on BugGuide as: “Larva: body large, bright green, with red and silvery spots below setae, and oblique yellow lines running through spiracles on abdomen; diagonal streak of black and silver on ninth abdominal segment; head and true legs brown; base of primary setae red, subdorsal and lateral setae have silver shading below; end of prolegs with yellow ring, and tipped in black.“
Letter 2 – Luna Moth goes Camping
Luna Moth Images
I don’t know if you want any more Luna Moth photos, but this one is from the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire, USA. Not being a bug person, I must admit that when the insect whapped me in the head and then landed on our lantern, I screamed like a 5 year-old girl. With kind regards,
Seeing as we just removed the “old” Luna Moth image from our homepage, your letter and amusing photo arrived just in time.
Letter 3 – Luna Moth in Tennessee
Subject: Found in our garage
Location: Crossville, Tennessee
May 27, 2013 7:42 pm
We live in eastern Tennessee, this was found in our garage. Early summer evening. About 3” wingspan. Any info would be great.
Many folks believe the Luna Moth is the lovliest North American Moth, but certainly it is the most distinctive looking North American moth as it doesn’t even remotely resemble any other species that is within our range. Adults do not feed and only live long enough to mate and reproduce. Your individual is a male as evidenced by his more feathery antennae.
Letter 4 – Polyphemus Moth and Luna Moth eclose in captivity
Subject: Polyphemus & Luna Moths
Location: St. Mary’s County, MD
June 10, 2013 10:34 am
We hit the jackpot this spring. One of my children brought home 2 cocoons that she found on the ground at a nearby playground, so we put them on the front porch in a butterfly habitat and started waiting. Last month, a polyphemus moth emerged, and last week a luna moth followed. We live at the bottom of Maryland on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, and we don’t usually see luna moths this early in the summer. By the way, my 10 y.o. thinks the polyphemus was a male and the luna was a female. Is she correct?
My you were lucky. What a wonderful experience for your children to have experience these eclosions in a butterfly habitat. The Polyphemus is definitely a male because of his plumose antennae. The Luna is most likely a female as the antennae are not quite as feathery. If you had kept the female in the habitat for a day or so, she might have attracted one or more males. Have you ever attempted to raise caterpillars of the Giant Silk Moths in your area? You should see if there is a National Moth Week event registered somewhere in your vicinity this year. It might be a nice family outing.
Letter 5 – POLYPHEMUS MOTH COCOON
EDITOR’S NOTE: Vicki wrote to us about Stoneflies and included this intriguing bit of information: "The highlight of my day, though (other than seeing an otter) was finding a cocoon of a Polyphemus Moth, which I took a picture of and left to dangle patiently on its limb for a few more months." We requested that she send the photo.
More than happy to. This cocoon is hanging right over the creek (Tuckahoe Creek on the Eastern Shore of Maryland). Hopefully when the moth emerges, he’ll crawl UP.
Letter 6 – Rosy Maple Moth and Luna Moth
Hi – We live in the mountains of East Tennessee and have 4 girls who are bug crazy! We snapped a couple of pictures of some of the colorful moths that we find outside our door almost daily. I never realized how beautiful moths could be until we moved here. We really enjoy seeing who has come to visit and thought we’d pass our pictures along to you. If you could tell us what types of moths these are we would love to know. We get a ton of the pink & yellow fellows but this was the first time we had seen one of the green moths. We think it looks just like the moth in the Lunesta commercial! lol!All the best,
Libby Edwardson (and Grace, Hattie, Mabel & Essie)
Dear Libby, Grace, Hattie, Mabel & Essie
Both of your moths are Saturnid or Giant Silk Moths. The pink moth is a Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda. The Green Moth is a Luna Moth, Actias luna. We suspect it was chosen for the Lunesta mascot because of its name which means Moon Moth. Perhaps, the name Lunesta was coined after selecting the moth as the mascot. Only the advertisers know for sure.
Thanks so much for the reply and for giving us names to put with our moths. We think your site is great and we will definitely be bookmarking it for future reference! I thought that Lunesta moth looked just like our guy. I said to my husband last night “That’s our moth!” when the commercial came on! lol! Pretty neat. All the best,
Libby & co.
Letter 7 – Another Luna Moth
Yet another Luna Moth from Northern Louisiana
…This one was late in its cycle and kind of tired…I snagged him and let him live out his final day/night in the MAC bay …….free from Eastern Red Bats and American Robins,,, ,,,,,not to mention the Hermit Thrush and Eastern Bluebird…..but oddly, though they obliterate everything else…I’ve yet to see them take a pass at these guys,,,,the Luna Moth onslaught is here both day and night… the one I photographed before had definitely taken a hit from a bird… ..obvious bite on the right wing…this one…luckier….just had to listen to some of my music collection.
Hi again Lawrence,
Thanks for the new image.
Letter 8 – Actias rhodopneuma from Thailand
Please tell me about this moth
I’m writing from Thailand in the parth South East Asia. I pictured this beautiful moth in Nothern Thailand – mountainous and high terrain (1500 metres) with evergreen forest. After a few seach on the Internet this moth looks like luna moth. But I’m not so sure. Could you help me identify this creature of the night. Thank you very much,
This is a relative of the Luna Moth, Actias rhodopneuma. We located an image on the Thai Bugs website.
Letter 9 – Another Luna Moth
Saw this beautiful creature on the side of a building today while walking downtown. Had heard if you ever seen a Luna Moth that you will know but had no idea they were SO gorgeous!! Rushed home to research and drove back for a pic. Your site was my first hit. Had no idea these were even native to East Texas. Thanks for being here! Enjoy All.
Hi there W.,
We are starting to see the Luna Moth photos arrive from the Southern portion of their range. They surely are gorgeous moths. We are thrilled to be able to post something green for Saint Patrick’s Day.
Letter 10 – Another Luna Moth
Luna Moth Picture
This beauty is still hanging out on our porch. He’s been there all day, and we’re very much in love with him already! Feel free to use this picture as you see fit! Thanks for a great site!
Thanks for sending us your photo, but our readers are probably very curious where the sighting occurred.
Palm Coast/Flagler Beach, FL just north of Daytona Beach and just south of St. Augustine!
Letter 11 – Actias artemis from Japan
I live in Fukushima, Japan and found this poor moth stuck to fly paper outside my apartment this morning (the landlord tacks fly paper next to every fluorescent light for misguided reasons). I freed him without harming him and he flew away, but can you tell me if he was in fact a luna moth like I suspect? Sure looks like one, but I thought they were endemic to North America, not Japan. …
(the) Brian Adler
Dear The Brian,
This is Actias artemis, a close relative and look-alike of Actias luna, the American Luna Moth. Actias artemis is native to Japan as well as Korea, China, India and Malaysia.
Letter 12 – Another Luna Moth sighting in Texas
crazy looking bug
ILocation: Vidor, TX
March 2, 2011 11:03 am
This bug was on my front door this morning. It flew and had legs. Never seen something like this. Would like to know if its harmful or not.
Signature: Sincerely, Miranda
This is our Bug of the Month, the Luna Moth. Thusfar, this year, our only sightings have been from Texas.
Letter 13 – Another Luna Moth from Texas
Location: Vidor, TX
March 4, 2011 5:09 pm
I wanted to send in my picture of the Luna Moth. My kiddos found this guy playing in our back yard this afternoon! I knew I could count on your website to tell me what kind of moth this was! Keep up the great work!!!
Thank you so much for providing a photo of your Luna Moth for the appreciation of our readership. We wonder how soon this harbinger of spring will begin appearing in more northern locations.
Letter 14 – We’re On Holiday
We will be away on holiday for ten days and we will not be responding to any of your numerous submissions and identification requests until we return. We expect much backlog at that time and our already overworked staff might not be able to respond to your requests during that period. Please use our archives and attempt to identify your creatures using our excellent search engine. We hope we are lucky enough to see a Luna Moth on our trip.
Update: June 12, 2013
We have returned from holiday, and though we did not get to see any Luna Moths or any Fireflies, we did see several Red Spotted Purples, arguably one of the loveliest North American Butterflies.