The enchanting Luna Moth, native to North America, is cherished for its unparalleled beauty and size, boasting a wingspan between 3-4.5 inches. These captivating creatures, known for their sea-foam green to yellow color, have a limited adult lifespan which revolves around reproduction.
Luna Moths utilize plants as a safe nursery, depositing eggs either individually or in clusters atop or beneath plant leaves. The life cycle of the Luna Moth is fascinating, as it undergoes distinct developmental stages with unique features.
Luna Moth Eggs: Life Cycle and Reproduction
Luna Moth Mating
Luna moths, known for their distinct lime-green color and long tails, mate at night. Males are attracted to females by their pheromones. After mating, females are ready to lay their eggs.
Female luna moths deposit eggs on both the tops and bottoms of the leaves of a host plant. They can lay them singly or in clusters. Some examples of host plants include:
The incubation period for luna moth eggs is 8-13 days. After hatching, caterpillars feed and grow larger before pupating in a thin, silken cocoon among leaf litter on the ground. They then emerge as winged adults.
Luna Moth Caterpillars: Growth and Development
Larval Stage and Diet
Luna moth caterpillars (Actias luna) are known for their distinctive and beautiful appearance. They hatch from eggs laid by female luna moths on the leaves of host plants. These caterpillars feed on various types of leaves, including:
- White birch
- White oak
Host plant leaves provide the necessary nutrients for the caterpillar’s growth. During the larval stage, luna moth caterpillars focus solely on consuming food and increasing their size.
Molting and Transformation
As caterpillars grow, they need to shed their exoskeleton, a process known as molting. Luna moth caterpillars typically molt five times before they reach their final size. At this point, they undergo metamorphosis, transforming from a caterpillar to an adult moth. The luna moth caterpillar encases itself in a cocoon, where it will remain for approximately two weeks before emerging as an adult moth.
|Caterpillar||Leaves||Hickory, Birch, etc.||Several weeks|
|Adult Moth||n/a||n/a||~1 week|
In summary, luna moth caterpillars go through a series of growth and development stages, from the larval stage, feeding on leaves, to a brief period as an adult moth. Their growth relies on a diet of host plant leaves, which provide the necessary nutrients to support their eventual metamorphosis into their adult form.
Anatomy of Luna Moths
Wings and Antennae
The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is a large, green moth native to North America. They have a wingspan of 3-4.5 inches, making them quite impressive in size. Some key characteristics of these moths include:
- Sea-foam green to yellow color
- Long, tapering tail on each hind wing
- Feathery antennae, particularly in male moths
- Discal eyespots on both fore and hind wings
Male Luna Moths have larger and bushier antennae, which they use to detect pheromones released by females.
Eyespots and Wing Tails
Luna Moths have eyespots and wing tails on both forewings and hind wings. The eyespots serve as a distraction mechanism to deter predators, while the wing tails have a unique purpose.
|Eyespots||Intimidates predators and serves as a distraction.|
|Wing Tails||Used for bat evasion by interfering with their echolocation.|
Luna Moths use their tails solely for evading bats at night, as their tails create interference with bats’ echolocation. This advantage becomes increasingly important when considering the moth’s limited time as a fully-formed adult, which often only spans a few days. However, their visually elaborate tails can also make hiding more challenging during the day.
Habitat and Geographical Distribution
Native Region and Range
The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is native to Eastern North America and can be found from Canada down to the United States. They are more commonly spotted in forested areas.
Quick facts about Luna Moth’s native region:
- Found in Eastern North America
- Commonly seen in forested areas
- Range includes Canada and the United States
Host Plants and Forested Areas
Luna Moths depend on various host plants to lay their eggs and provide sustenance for their larvae. Some of their preferred host plants include:
- Paper Birch
- Red Maple
- White Oak
When it comes to laying eggs, adult female Luna Moths typically deposit their eggs on the tops and bottoms of the host plant’s leaves during summer. These eggs later hatch into caterpillars that feed on the leaves.
Examples of Luna Moth host plants:
- Walnut provides a rough surface for the eggs to cling to.
- Sycamore offers leaves with large surface areas.
- Beech, Red Maple, and White Oak are found in their natural forested habitat.
Luna Moths’ forested habitat protects them from many predators and provides the necessary oxygen through the leaves of these host plants. The cocoon stage usually takes place in hidden areas, such as tree holes or forest floor debris, to increase their chances of survival.
Key points on Luna Moths in forested areas:
- Forest offers protection from predators
- Provides necessary oxygen
- Cocoon stage hidden in tree holes or debris
Luna Moth Predators and Threats
Luna moths are preyed upon by various predators, including nocturnal creatures like owls. For smaller luna moth stages, parasitic wasps can be an issue. Some predators include:
- Parasitic wasps
- Fiery searcher ground beetles
These predators take advantage of the moth’s distinctive lime green appearance, which may give them away at night.
The luna moth faces threats due to human activities, such as:
- Pesticide use: Insecticides can harm or kill luna moths.
- Pollution: Affects the moth’s habitat, hindering their survival.
- Habitat loss: Urbanization reduces the proliferation of host plants like willows.
Luna moths have a few survival mechanisms that aid in their defense against predators and threats:
- Pale green coloration helps with camouflage on leaves.
- Long tails on hindwings may confuse predators.
- They are nocturnal, reducing the chance of daytime predation.
- Adults lack functional mandibles, making them unappealing.1
- Some caterpillars can secrete a distasteful fluid to deter predators.
- Female luna moths use pheromones to attract mates, which helps in reproduction.
|Feature||Luna Moth||Comparison Species|
|Color||Lime green||Example: Brown or gray|
|Mandibles||Adults lack functional mandibles||Functional mandibles|
|Chemical defenses||Caterpillars secrete distasteful fluid||No chemical defense|
Despite these adaptations, luna moths remain vulnerable to threats, and are considered an endangered species in some locations.
Caring for Luna Moths as Pets
Feeding and Housing
Caring for luna moths begins with understanding their life cycle. Adult luna moths do not eat, as they lack a functional proboscis. Their entire purpose is to mate and lay eggs. Therefore, providing proper food is crucial during the larvae stage.
Luna moth larvae feed on leaves of specific host plants. Some examples include:
- White birch
- Sweet gum
To house luna moth larvae, prepare a cage with enough space for them to move and grow. The cage should contain fresh leaves from their preferred host plants. Remember to replace the leaves as needed.
Maintaining a Suitable Environment
Maintaining a suitable environment is essential for the growth of luna moth eggs and larvae. The ideal conditions for luna moth care are:
- Temperature: 65°F – 85°F
- Humidity: 50% – 70%
Here is a comparison table of ideal luna moth care parameters and what to avoid:
|Temperature||65°F – 85°F||Below 60°F or above 90°F|
|Humidity||50% – 70%||Below 30% or above 80%|
Make sure to provide ample ventilation and prevent the buildup of excess humidity to avoid mold and bacterial growth. Keep the cage away from direct sunlight and drafty areas.
In summary, taking care of luna moths as pets requires dedication to understanding their life cycle, providing appropriate food in the larvae stage, and maintaining a suitable environment for their growth and development.
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 laying Eggs
Luna Moth laying eggs
August 28, 2009
Thought you might be interested in seeing the coloration of this Luna just after laying her eggs.
A little East of Shreveport, LA
We are very excited to post your image of a Luna Moth laying eggs.
Letter 2 – Luna Moth Caterpillar
Mystery Caterpillar in Greenwood, S.C.
Thu, Nov 6, 2008 at 11:13 AM
I work at the Greenwood Humane Society here in Greenwood, S.C. While our director was photographing dogs for adoption she spotted this awesome little guy. She called us out ot see if we could id it. I think it looks kind of like a tobacco hornworm ,but upon closer inspection that doesn’t seem right. She guesses it’s size at about 3″ long and 1/4″ in diameter. It is November 6th, but the weather has been very warm for fall here. Today it was around 65-70 degrees. I love your website! Thank you for your time, and all that you do!
Your Luna Moth Caterpillar has probably come out of the trees to find a place to spin its cocoon. Luna Moths spin their cocoon inside of a dried leaf on the ground and pass the winter in the leaf litter under the snow if it is in an area that freezes.
Letter 3 – Luna Moth and Great Poplar Sphinx
Luna Moth & Mate????
We Own A cottage business and found this Luna Moth on one of our cottage piers one morning. If you notice in the picture under the Luna Moth there is another Moth. Is this her mate and is it also a Luna Moth? You have a very nice site with a lot of information! Thank You
Thanks for sending in your photo and question. This is not an extreme example of sexual dimorphism. The Luna Moth on top is a different species from the Great Poplar Sphinx below. This is also not an example of miscegenation. We suspect the two moths from entirely different families were attracted to a light and were found resting in close proximity the following morning.
Letter 4 – Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar
Came across this larvae while out hunting yesterday evening. To give you an idea of the length of the caterpillar, the arrow broadhead next to the caterpiller is right at about 2 inches long. Figure the larvae is about 3 inches. Nearest I can tell, its some sort of silkwork moth. I perused thru your archives and found this exact caterpiller, submitted on 9/9/04. However, the caterpillar could not be identified. Hopefully, this is a little better photo for you to work with. Its got me stumped, as I used to raise Polyphemus and Cecropias, and this don’t look like either! Thanks!
We believe this is a Luna Moth Caterpillar.
Update: January 8, 2017
We just approved a comment that indicates this is a Polyphemus Caterpillar.
Letter 5 – Luna Moth Caterpillar
What is this bug??
I was in Maine for a week checking out the wildlife when I almost crushed a worm/silkworm of some kind while hiking. I could not identify this worm with the resources I have checked out thus far. The photo is attached. If you cant help thanks Bugman. If not thanks for you time.
Nice photo of an Luna Moth Caterpillar, Actias luna, one of the Giant Silk Moths. We get many images of the adult of this gorgeous green moth, but yours is one of the few caterpillar images.
Letter 6 – Luna Moth Caterpillar
My sons found a very large, green caterpillar this weekend in Traverse Bay, Manitoba, and I’ve been unable to determine what kind it is. They had been holding him in a ventilated can in the shade and noticed he had turned red. The boys gave him large leaf to eat, and later that day he began to cocoon using the leaf. We are hoping to witness the butterfly/moth hatch, and also were wondering when we should expect it to come along.Thanks SO much!!
This is a Luna Moth Caterpillar. There are two distinct generations. Most sitings of moths occur in May. Your caterpillar will overwinter in the cocoon in the later generation. Seems your specimen might be a little off schedule, but we would guess it will emerge within a month so that its progeny will have the time to mature as caterpillars and form an overwintering cocoon.
Letter 7 – Luna Moth Caterpillar
Here is a strange caterpillar for you
I found this in my yard in South east Texas. I think he’s really neat and I can’t find any info on him.
Thanks for your help!
This Luna Moth Caterpillar has turned from green to pink as a signal that pupation is near.
Letter 8 – Luna Moth Caterpillar
We found this caterpillar in our yard in South Salem, New York. Is it a cecropia moth? Thank you
This is not a Cecropia Moth, but another Giant Silkmoth, the Luna Moth Caterpillar.
Letter 9 – Luna Moth at the ATM
Looks like a Ray
Location: Putnam County, New York
June 4, 2011 3:01 pm
Hi I saw this the other day when I filled my gas tank. Look so unusual( to me anyway)aorta looked like a manta ray. Love to know more about it.
Signature: Thank you
Gas Stations are magnets for certain insects that are attracted to bright lights at night and gas stations that are near wooded, swampy and otherwise open spaces are the richest hunting grounds for Giant Silkmoths, Toe-Biters, Beetles and Sphinx Moths. This beauty is a Luna Moth. If we ever decide to make another calendar, this is exactly the type of image we would use in it.
Thank you. I had never seen anything like it, did a little more research and learned it only lives about a week. No wonder.
Letter 10 – Luna Moth and Rosy Maple Moth
Luna moth and rosy maple moths
Location: Strong, Maine
June 7, 2011 7:23 pm
A luna moth appeared last evening (6/6/11)on my garage at about 9:00pm. It remained there today, and I noticed 3 rosy maple moths just a few inches from the luna. Is it coincidental that these two types of moths are together, or is there some reason for there being with each other? By the way, I am in Strong, Maine (Franklin County), so I think my luna is further north than the Vermont luna on your homepage…thanks!
Thanks for notifying us of your sightings. If conditions like temperature and humidity are correct for the metamorphosis from the pupa to adult of these two species, then they would emerge at the same time. We do not believe there is any other symbiotic relationship between the two. The colors of pale pink and yellow are often described as looking like sherbet by our readers and that combined with the pale green, somewhat like pistachio ice cream, reminds us of the color scheme we always relate to an ice cream parlor. These moths must look beautiful together.
Letter 11 – Luna Moth from Canada
Subject: luna moth?
Location: Fredericton NB Canada
June 16, 2014 1:08 pm
Came across this big guy/gal while walking downtown today! Just wondering if it’s out of character for this species to be in the area?
Signature: buggin out
Hi buggin out,
The less developed antennae indicate this is a female Luna Moth. Luna Moths are native to the entire eastern portion of North America.
Letter 12 – Luna Moth Caterpillar
Location: Woodstock Vermont
August 12, 2014 5:43 pm
what kind of a catepillar is this
This is a Luna Moth Caterpillar, which is 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 very similar looking Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar is described on BugGuide as being: “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”
Thank you oh so very much… I will support you and your effort it is worth it JAE
Letter 13 – Luna Moth Caterpillar
Subject: ID request
Location: upstate NY
August 4, 2015 7:59 am
Hello my name is Jack and I live in upstate NY. A few days ago my niece found what seems to be a catipillar but I am not sure. My niece and I attempted to find it on the Internet bit we had no such luck. So if you have any idea what type of bug this is my niece and I would gratefully appreciate it. Thank you
This Luna Moth Caterpillar can be distinguished from the very similar looking Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar because, according to BugGuide: “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. Sparse hairs.” The large size and pink coloration indicates that this is probably getting ready to pupate, which it does in a cocoon loosely spun around a fallen leaf. Because of your northern location, the cocoon will pass the winter and the adult Luna Moth will emerge in the spring. BugGuide indicates: “One brood in the north, May-July. Three broods in the south, March-September.”
Letter 14 – Luna Moth
Geographic location of the bug: indiana USA
Time: 04:00 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I found this dead moth in my garage. it’s big and beautiful. I am pretty sure it’s a luna moth however this one is all white and not green like the photos I’ve seen on the internet…. So the question is …. is it really a luna moth or does it turn white when it’s dead and dried up?
How you want your letter signed: dszig
There is much variation in the color of a Luna Moth. Some individuals are very green while others are quite pale. Mounted Luna Moths in collections are often quite faded, and we suspect light might cause the coloration to fade. A faded Luna Moth is pictured on the Manitoba Museum site.