Stray Giant Silk Moth: Leucanella species in San Diego CA!!!!

Subject: Found trembling in our office
Location: San Diego, California
June 14, 2013 8:37 am
A damsel in distress called me to remove a ”big black moth”. I found her in a corner. Had her crawl on my hand and took some pics. After that she flew off and danced around me and landed on my back and crawled up to my ear as to say ”please take me outside”. I gently grabbed her and I did what she ask.
While doing so I was telling my co-workers about your site and was going to ID the moth. I went 10 pages deep and couldn’t find her.
Thanx in advance!
Signature: Mike Coniglio

Leucanella species???
Leucanella species

Dear Mike,
We just spent considerable time trying to identify your Giant Silk Moth by browsing through the members of the genus
Automeris that are found in Mexico.  We had no success, and then we found members of another genus, Leucanella, and we believe we found your moth, however, we cannot be certain of the species.  This is a most unusual sighting, and to the best of our knowledge, Leucanella species do not stray as far north as San Diego.  See Leucanella lynx on Kirby Wolfe’s website, various Leucanella species on the Fauna of Paraguay website and various members in the genus on Saturniidae World.    We are contacting Bill Oehlke to try to get an identification.  We suspect he will likely want to document this sighting and we would request that you also provide him with access to your photos.  The big mystery for us is how did this moth get to San Diego??  Is it possible someone in your office who might raise moths is playing a joke?

Leucanella species???
Leucanella species

Bill Oehlke Confirms and Questions
Hi Daniel,
It is a Leucanella species.
There are many san Diegos in the world.
Please check to see if you can find country. Even in some central and south
American coutries there is more than one san diego.

Ed. Note: We did write back to Bill to confirm the sighting was San Diego, California.

WOW Daniel!
No, no one here in the office would do anything like that.
Our office is located at 2241 Kettner Blvd. San Diego, CA. (32° 43.658’N- 117° 10.232’W). As you can see from the Google Earth kmz file of our location, we are right under the flight path of incoming planes to San Diego International  airport. There are no direct flights from South America to San Diego. Maybe it was a stowaway on a plane?
If you need anymore, please contact me.
Thank you,

Bill Oehlke provides additional input.
Hi Daniel,
I think this is a prank with regard to location or something someone
imported from at least as far south as central Mexico.
Sometimes there can be wind assisted strays, especially if there has been a
severe storm, but San Diego California is a bit far west of the path of most
tropical storms.
It is a Leucanella female, but without knowing its true source of original
location, I would only be guessing at species.

Early Morning Ruminations:  12?51 AM Saturday June 15
We can’t help but to wonder if we might be the first to report on a range expansion due to global warming, or perhaps she is only a stowaway on a plane.  Maybe one or more Leucanella caterpillars were smuggled in from Mexico.

Leucanella Caterpillar from Mexico
Stinging Leucanella Caterpillar from Mexico



7 thoughts on “Stray Giant Silk Moth: Leucanella species in San Diego CA!!!!”

  1. The “trembling” behavior and the excellent condition of the moth may mean that it just emerged from its cocoon. The caterpillar may have pupated in someone’s luggage or commercial cargo or produce and hitchhiked from a tropical location as an undetected stowaway. (I personally know of a Caligo owl butterfly and a tropical ctenuchid moth that were found flying in a Lansing, Michigan supermarket! They had most likely hitchhiked as pupae on bananas.)

    • Thank you for your expert analysis Julian. I hope we have some thrilling discovery like this when we host our second annual Mount Washington National Moth Week event in Elyria Canyon Park this year.

      • Thanks for the followup Mike. There is a general consensus among folks whose opinions we respect that this does not represent a natural range expansion, but rather an accidental or intentional introduction. Someone who visited Mexico might have purposely or accidentally brought back a caterpillar and the moth might have escaped after it emerged. It is all speculation at this point. Thanks again for your contributions to What’s That Bug?

  2. I can confirm that this moth is in San diefo, CA. Near alpine in San diego County. I have also found them at my house in alpine. If you want pictures I can email to them.

  3. I presume normal (for global warming) range expansion. This species is very similar to that of the Io Moth which I remember well in Ohio.


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