The luna moth (Actias luna) is a stunning creature known for its large size, impressive wingspan, and striking green color. This magnificent insect can be found throughout North America, and its life cycle is closely tied to its host plants. Luna moth caterpillars rely on specific trees and plants to feed and grow, ultimately transforming into the remarkable adults they’re known for.
One intriguing aspect of the luna moth’s life is its host plant selection. Female luna moths deposit their eggs on the leaves of their preferred plants, where the caterpillars will eventually feed. Some common host plants include walnut, sweet gum, and hickory trees. By understanding the importance of host plants for luna moths, we can better appreciate their unique biology and role within their ecosystem.
With detailed insight into the luna moth host plants, you will become an informed enthusiast with valuable knowledge about these beautiful creatures. This article will explore the key host plants and their role in the luna moth’s life cycle, as well as discussing the relationship between luna moths and their environment.
Luna Moth Biology
The luna moth (Actias luna) is found in North America, including the United States and Canada. It has a unique and fascinating life cycle:
- Egg stage: lasts about a week
- Larval stage (caterpillar): 4 to 6 weeks
- Pupal stage (cocoon): 2 to 3 weeks
- Adult stage (moth): only about 1 week
These captivating moths have some distinct features:
- Wings: large, with a wingspan of 3-4.5 inches
- Color: sea-foam green to yellow
- Tails: long, on each hind wing
- Eyespots: present on both fore and hind wings
- General appearance: pale green overall, with a delicate, papery texture
Mating and Reproduction
Luna moths exhibit unique mating and reproductive behavior:
- Males have feathery antennae, used to detect females’ pheromones from long distances
- Mating occurs overnight, usually after midnight
- Females lay their eggs on host plants, either individually or in small clusters
Some key differences between male and female luna moths are:
|Antennae||More feathery, longer to detect pheromones||Less feathery, slightly shorter length|
|Egg-laying||Absent||Lay eggs on host plants|
The luna moth caterpillars feed on a variety of host plants, including walnut, sweet gum, and hickory, before forming their lime green cocoons to complete their metamorphosis into adult moths.
Luna Moth Host Plants
Common Host Plants
Luna moth caterpillars prefer to feed on a variety of plant species. Some common host plants include:
- White Oak
These plants provide essential nutrients for the caterpillars to grow and eventually transform into the beautiful Luna moth.
Caterpillar Feeding Behavior
Luna moth caterpillars are
fat and green, measuring about 2.5 inches long. They feed on the leaves of their host plants, and while they don’t cause significant damage to these trees, it’s essential to have an adequate supply of leaves for them to consume. The caterpillars are also known to make a clicking noise, believed to be a defense mechanism against potential predators.
Choosing Host Plants for Gardens
When selecting host plants for your garden to attract Luna moths, consider the following:
- Ensure the plants are native to your area and suitable for the local climate.
- Plant a variety of their preferred host plants to provide an abundant food source for caterpillars.
- Provide a mixture of both deciduous and evergreen trees to offer diverse habitats.
By integrating several host plants into your garden and providing a suitable environment, you can offer a welcoming and safe space for Luna moth caterpillars to thrive.
Luna Moth’s Natural Habitat and Distribution
The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is found predominantly in Eastern North America. Its distribution spans from the United States to Canada, covering a variety of habitats.
Some key areas include:
- Ohio Valley
- South Carolina
Luna Moths thrive in forested areas, where they find host plants to lay eggs. Adult female Luna Moths deposit eggs on host plant leaves. They lay eggs on both tops and bottoms of leaves.
Main host plants for Luna Moths are:
- Hickory trees
- Walnut trees
- Sweet gum trees
- Persimmon trees
- Ample foliage
- Host plant availability
- East of the Great Plains
|Habitat||Geographical Range||Preferred Forest Types|
|Eastern America||United States and Canada||Deciduous and mixed wood|
|Forested Areas||Michigan, Ohio Valley, South Carolina||Hickory, Walnut, Sweet gum, Persimmon trees|
Predators and Threats
- Bats: Luna moths use their long tails to disrupt the sonar hunting bats depend on for locating moths.
- Owls: Grounds below owl roosts have been found littered with saturniid wings, including those of luna moths.
- Parasitic wasps: As caterpillars, luna moths can fall prey to these invertebrate predators.
Luna moth caterpillars have their own defense mechanisms, such as making clicking noises and vomiting to deter predators.
- Pesticides: Chemicals used to control pests can negatively impact luna moth populations.
- Habitat loss: Deforestation and urbanization can lead to the decline of suitable host plants for luna moths.
|Threat||Impact on Luna Moths|
|Natural predators||Luna moths have developed defense mechanisms to deceive or deter predators|
|Pesticides||Can lead to a decline in luna moth populations|
|Habitat loss||Reduces suitable host plants and contributes to population decline|
Caterpillar and Moth Behavior
Communication and Defense
Luna moth caterpillars are known for their interesting behaviors. For example, they can produce a clicking noise which biologists believe is a defense mechanism against predators ¹. In addition to these sounds, luna moth caterpillars can also regurgitate a foul-smelling substance to deter would-be attackers ².
Lifespan and Energy Conservation
The Luna moth has a short adult life, only lasting for a few days ³ as their sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs. They do not even have a functional mouth, so they cannot eat during this stage. Instead, they rely on energy reserves acquired during the larval stage. Luna moths can have different numbers of broods depending on their geographical location:
- Univoltine: One generation per year (e.g., Michigan) ⁴.
- Bivoltine: Two generations per year (e.g., Ohio Valley) ⁴.
- Trivoltine: Three generations per year (e.g., Southward locations) ⁴.
Luna moths are active during the night, known as nocturnal creatures. They lay their eggs on a variety of host plants, mainly in the late spring and summer months ³. Some common host plants include sweet gum, hickory, walnut, and persimmon trees ¹. At midnight, adult female luna moths deposit eggs, singly or in clusters, on the tops and bottoms of the leaves of their chosen host plant ³.
Some characteristics of these nocturnal insects:
- Adults do not eat and only have a short lifespan.
- Caterpillars molt multiple times during the larval stage.
- Nocturnal activity helps them avoid certain predators, such as birds that hunt during the day.
Conservation and Care
Protecting Luna Moth Populations
Luna moths depend on specific host plants for laying eggs and caterpillar development. Some common host plants include:
- White birch
- Sweet gum
Preserving native host plants helps support healthy populations of these beautiful moths. Avoid using pesticides in your garden, as they can harm luna moth caterpillars and other beneficial insects.
Raising Luna Moths in Gardens
If you want to raise luna moths in your garden, consider planting some of their preferred host plants. Make sure to provide a pesticide-free environment for them to thrive. It’s essential to monitor egg-laying on the plant leaves and respect the moth’s natural flight patterns.
Endangered Species Status
While luna moths are not currently listed as an endangered species, their populations can be affected by habitat loss and pesticide use. Support conservation efforts by planting native host plants and maintaining a healthy ecosystem in your garden without chemicals.
|Feature||Luna Moth||Other Moths|
|Size||3-4.5 inch wingspan||Smaller in size|
|Color||Sea-foam green to yellow||Varies with species|
|Caterpillar stage||Feeds on leaves of host plants||Feeds on different host plants|
|Adult stage||Short life, non-feeding nectar||Varies; many feed on nectar in adult stage|
Interesting Facts and Cultural Significance
Luna Moth in Popular Culture
The elegant adult luna moth has captured people’s attention and hearts, making appearances in various creative works. An example of its cultural significance is the USA postage stamp released in 1987 that featured the stunning luna moth.
- Size: Luna moths are one of the largest moths in North America, with a wingspan ranging from 3 to 4.5 inches.
- Distinctive appearance: Their unique sea-foam green color, prominent eyespots on both fore and hind wings, and long, sweeping tails make them easy to identify.
Here’s a brief comparison of the luna moth with another popular, large moth species, the atlas moth:
|Feature||Luna Moth||Atlas Moth|
|Wingspan||3 – 4.5 inches||9.8 – 11.8 inches|
|Coloration||Sea-foam green||Brown with snake-head wingtips|
|Eyespots||Fore and hind wings||Hind wings|
|Distribution||North America||Southeast Asia|
These intriguing creatures continue to inspire art, foster appreciation for nature, and remain a cherished part of cultural conversations.
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
Mon, May 25, 2009 at 9:39 AM
Hello, This morning 5.25.09 I was making my bed and opened my blinds that shows out to our front deck when I did I saw a bug that looked like a leaf.. so i took a picture and did some research and turns out it was the Canadian Luna Moth… I live in Maryland, does anyone know if it is common to see them here?? And this white moth was close by to it, is it a baby?? or a different moth.
Luna Moths range over much of eastern North America, from Florida to Canada, and as far west as Texas and Oklahoma. They are quite common in some parts of their range, and quite scarce in others. Maryland is part of the range, but as to whether they are common in your area is a matter that must be verified by local statistics. Luna Moths reach their adult size after emerging from the cocoon and expanding their wings. They do not grow as adults. The growth is accomplished during the caterpillar stage. The white moth is not a baby Luna Moth.
Letter 2 – Luna Moth
This moth appeared on our rear deck the evening April 20th 2007. I t was still there the next morning and I took this picture. Can you identify it for me?
If you had visited our site’s homepage, you would have found your Luna Moth prominently featured as the Bug of the Month for April. We have chosen to post your letter since you refer to this as a Swallowtail Moth and that might help some web browser in the future identify their Luna Moth.
Letter 3 – Luna Moth
We love your site
Thanks for helping us identify this beautiful visitor. The whole neighborhood has been by to visit to admire the beauty.
We got so many Luna Moth sightings in March, we decided to make it the Bug of the Month for April. We are happy the sightings are continuing.
Letter 4 – Luna Moth
Thank You For Your Site
Hey, Thank you for having such a great site. I did a search on "identifying insects," and came across your site only to find the answer to my question half way down the first page. Luna Moth The picture I took is attached. It was taken along a Golf Course in Hampton VA on July 20, 2007. Thanks again,
Anthony A. Paluzzi
Thanks so much for sending us your photo. We are also happy that our site was helpful in your search.
Letter 5 – Luna Moth
A couple of week’s ago I found what I now know to be a Luna Moth in our driveway. It flew away before I had a chance to get a picture of it. (A cardinal tried to make breakfast of it, but it escaped safely into our walnut tree.) I tried to identify this beautiful, HUGE, green butterfly, but with no luck. Then one night while watching TV, the ad for "Lunesta" came on and I let out a loud "That’s it!!" A quick search on the internet identified it as the Luna Moth which then lead me to your great site. The picture I’m enclosing is of a second Luna Moth that showed up in the same place as the first one — in our driveway. I spotted it this morning about 6:30 AM and this time I had my camera ready. This fellow is smaller than the first one and in better condition. Maybe it’s a young one? I live about 6 miles north of Richland Center, WI in Rockbridge Township of Richland County. We have several acres of walnut trees so perhaps that is what is attracting them here. In any event, I feel so blessed to have been given a second chance to capture an image of this lovely moth. It is stunning!!
Here at What’s That Bug?, we feel that diligence, patience and research should all be rewarded, and though it isn’t much, we will be posting your image of a Luna Moth on our homepage. We always try to keep timely sightings that will benefit visitors to our site posted on the homepage so our readership doesn’t need to sift through the archives for their answers. Additionally, we always love getting letters from people who have identified their mystery guests by using our archives instead of just clicking the “Ask WTB” link the minute they see it.
Letter 6 – Luna Moth
Wonderful Luna moth
Hey to both of you,
We can’t resist to send you pictures of our Luna moth. We discovered your super site while looking for the name of this magnificent butterfly on Internet… Thank you so much for your site, it’s amazing!! We’ve found this Luna moth on the front door just as we returned from our holidays. What a wonderful surprise! She (He?) was waiting for us on 15th of June. We live close to Québec city, wich is quite North for this wonder, no? Keep enjoy!
Geneviève and Judith
Hi Geneieve and Judith,
The Luna Moth ranges well into eastern Canada. You would be amazed at the number of identification requests for Luna Moths we continue to receive, yet not post. We have had numerous images of Luna Moths plastered all over our homepage since March of this year, yet numerous individuals have been unable to find the answer for themselves once they arrive at our site. Seems they never get past the “Ask What’s That Bug?” link. We are considering moving it to the bottom of the page, forcing our less enthusiastic visitors to scroll through the entries first. At any rate, seeing as you did find the answer yourselves, we are posting your image to assist future readers.
Letter 7 – Luna Moth
What is this moth? This was taken in Eastern TN near the Smokey Mountains. Thanks
The Luna Moth was our featured Bug of the Month for April and that image is still on our homepage in order to provide easy identification for our readers.
Letter 8 – Luna Moth
Wed, Oct 15, 2008 at 5:52 AM
I was in the yard the other day and noticed this large green moth hanging from the bottom of my house. I have never seen anything like this before and was wondering if you could help me identify it? I believe it is some type of moth. I think the pattern is really beautiful. Thank you:)
Port orange, Florida
This beauty is a Luna Moth. We have received so many photos over the years that we have devoted an entire section to this species. The Luna Moth is one of the Giant Silk Moths. This group does not eat as adults, living only to mate.
Letter 9 – Luna Moth
Beautiful leaf looking bug
Sun, Apr 12, 2009 at 6:54 PM
I have just moved to North Georgia from Omaha, Nebraska, and I am very excited to explore and find new insects that I have never seen before. My first new discovery is of this beautiful leaf looking bud. I am thinking it is some sort of moth but not sure? Any help in identifying this amazing insect would be much appreciated. Thank you for this awesome site that you provide!
Congratulations on your Luna Moth sighting. This male is a lovely specimen. As warmer spring weather begins to move to the northern latitudes, we will be expecting our Luna Moth reports to be coming from further north as well. The Luna Moth’s range is the eastern U.S. and Canada. By mid May, we should be getting reports from Maine.
Letter 10 – Luna Moth
Wed, Jul 8, 2009 at 6:42 PM
My kids found this Luna Moth today in our old barn. They were so excited, they ran to my car when I got home. (I’ve tried to instill my love of bugs in them; it makes me happy when they get fired up about nature!) Luna is on a 2 x 4 roof truss (I hooked the tape measure on the truss and had my son hold it so I could take the second picture.) reading your website, this seems a little late in the year for Luna Moths in South Florida. It also appears to be a smaller one.
In the southern portion of the range where the growing season is longer, there are two generations of Luna Moths each year. In the extreme southern portion of the range, where the end of the season is not marked with snowfall, the two generations may even have little or no obvious demarcation. BugGuide indicates that in Georgia, sightings have occurred from March through October.
Letter 11 – Luna Moth
July 29, 2009
I found this Luna Moth May 8, 2009 approximately 730 am in Peoria, IL. I thought its colors were brilliant so I am passing it along.
We haven’t posted a photo of a Luna Moth recently, and your photo is so lovely, we couldn’t resist posting it.
Letter 12 – Luna Moth
Butteryfly/Moth looking insect
August 2, 2009
I was camping over the weekend and came across this big moth/butteryfly type insect. It just stayed in that spot for hours then it left for sometime and then the next day it was back on a different spot on the cabin.
Old Forge, NY
Now that you know that this is a Luna Moth, you should be able to find enough information online to fill a book, one of those things that we really need to continue writing.
Letter 13 – Luna Moth
August 11, 2009
I found this moth outside my home in Auburn, Alabama. It stayed in the same place for 2 days then disappeared. It is so beautiful that I made it my background on my computer.
Thanks for sending us your lovely photo of a lovely Luna Moth.
Letter 14 – Luna Moth
Strange green moth
March 21, 2010
My boyfriend found this strange green moth on his patio screen. Neither of us have seen a moth like this before. We live in Jacksonville, Florida and this past weekend had really warm temperatures.
Just two days ago we posted our first Luna Moth image of the year from Texas. Your photo is the second for the year of this lovely moth.
Letter 15 – Luna Moth
Male or Female Luna Moth?
March 23, 2010
I commented earlier on Susan’s Luna moth and wanted to share my photos of the one I saw the same day, except late in the evening. Susan is from Houston and I live about 30 miles east of Houston out I-10. I just thought it was incredible someone saw one so close to me when I’ve never seen one my entire life. It was truly an awesome experience. I wish I’d know how lucky I was to see one because I would have tried to keep it more protected and then saved it for my grandkids when it died. Bummer. I think this is a male, but thought I’d ask just to make sure. One other thing that I didn’t realize until after reviewing the photos later in the evening, was in the pictures you can’t see 2 of the spots on the wings, but I clearly remember seeing them several times. Is this something they can activate as a defense? Kind of turn em on and off?
Hankamer, TX (Between Baytown and Beaumont)
Based on the feathery antennae, we agree this is a male Luna Moth who uses his antennae to sniff out the pheromones of a female. The eyespots are a natural feature that are not turned on or off.
Letter 16 – Luna Moth
Luna Moth Picture–Close up of Face!
April 2, 2010
I was going through your luna moth page to see the what pictures you had and noticed that the last time you posted a close-up of a luna moth’s face was in 2005. That’s why I thought you might enjoy this picture I took last April. I assume that because of the bushy antennae that this is a male. After taking several photos, I put him back on the shed I found him on and a few hours later he was gone. In the fifteen years I’ve lived in Oklahoma, this is the only luna moth that I have found. Thanks for the great site.
Hi again Josh,
Thanks for resending this. We remember seeing the photo last week, but we were too busy to post it. You are correct. This is a male.
Letter 17 – Luna Moth
Large Green Butterfly-like Bug
April 8, 2010
This was on garage door this afternoon. What is it?
Cedar Hill, TX
We never tire of posting images of Luna Moths.
Letter 18 – Luna Moth
April 9, 2010
Thanks to your website we were able to identify the green bug on our garage.
It is a luna moth and very beautiful.
Suburbs of Chicago, IL
Thanks for sending us your photo of a Luna Moth.
Letter 19 – Luna Moth
Greenish Moth with Tail
April 12, 2010
I assume this is some type of moth, but I’m really unsure.
This is a Luna Moth.
Letter 20 – Luna Moth
Finally found a luna moth
April 18, 2010
Last time you heard from me was my submission of the Io moth transformation. As I mentioned I had been hoping to see a Luna moth for a very long time; I have been living here in central Florida for the past 13 years. Today – April 18th – is the day I finally found one.
I had actually just finished my Senior Prom yesterday and I was about to return my tuxedo in Winter Garden when I noticed this beauty on the wall. I love how these things work out! I promptly brought it to in my house so I could take a picture using a more suitable camera than my cell phone.
A bit of the rear left tail seems to be missing, but it seems quite capable of flight without it.
Now I can set a new goal: finding a Red Spotted Purple butterfly. Guess I had better head back to the forests!
Carl B. – Aspiring Entomologist
Congratulations on your Luna Moth sighting. Despite living in Ohio for 22 years, we were never fortunate enough to see a live Luna Moth, but we did see numerous Red Spotted Purples. Try looking where there are willows or poplars.