Jeff Green | Aug 06, 2009
Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'lakes - August 6, 2009 The beautiful Luna Mothby Lorraine Julien
The sheer beauty and elegance of the Luna Moth (Actias luna) is almost breathtaking - pictures do not do it justice. I was lucky recently though to see my first Luna. It had flown to my neighbour’s cottage and rested on the doorframe for several hours so I was able to take a photograph. In Roman mythology, Luna was the goddess of the moon – a very appropriate name for this moth.
The first thing you notice is the soft lime-green colour, the large size (a wingspan about 95 mm) and the long trailing hindwings. (When resting, as in the photograph, the hindwings may not be as noticeable if they are folded in) There are usually two eyespots on each green wing to confuse predators. On closer inspection you can see the feather-like antennae and the whitish fur on the body. Other members of the giant silkworm family share similar traits.
Like most moths, Lunas are active at night. Late on a summer evening, the female moth releases an air borne pheromone to attract males. The males use their sensitive antennae to smell this scent. Scenting or “calling” can continue for several hours during the night until the female has mated. Her primary purpose is to reproduce – a Luna moth doesn’t even have a mouth for feeding.
Lunas cannot waste any time as their lifespan is only about seven days with one generation being produced a year. In more southern climes, they’re able to produce two generations a year. Eggs are laid on the underside of leaves and, about 10 days later, the eggs hatch into caterpillars. Luna moth caterpillars are green with short hairs, a yellow stripe along each side, red knobs and a brown or green head. They hungrily eat the vegetation they’re laid on and eventually transform through five larval stages – each stage lasting about a week. Sometimes they fall to the ground and then make a cocoon by spinning silk and wrapping themselves in a leaf. They remain in this state, well camouflaged, for several weeks.
Once the adult Luna moth emerges from the cocoon, it crawls onto a tree. Their wings are very small and soft at first but bodily fluids are pumped through them. The wings then harden and they are able to fly. This process takes about two hours.
In northern Frontenac County, I think we may be at the northernmost fringe of Luna territory.
Lunas can range from as far south as Florida to southern Ontario, the north eastern U.S. and into the southern prairie provinces, preferring deciduous forests, particularly birch trees, in their northern range. Although rarely seen, Lunas are considered to be fairly common.
Luna moths are eaten by bats, spiders, toads, owls and other birds. Humans can also inadvertently take their toll on these moths. Development can destroy caterpillar host trees such as maple, white birch and oak.
There are a number of things you can do to help preserve the Luna moth population. These hints were taken from the “Wild About Gardening” website:
Avoid using pesticides. Pesticides not only affect the targeted species but many other species that depend on the target species for food. Luna moth caterpillars do not cause significant damage to the host trees.
Plant host trees native to your area. Choose trees such as maple, oak, white birch or willow.
Avoid using outside lights more than necessary. As Luna moths fly around artificial lights sources, they can become distracted and miss their chance to mate. Flying around outside lights also uses up their limited energy supply.
Our giant silkworm family has no connection to the commercial silkworms of Asia. At one time, it was thought that the giant silkworms in North America could be used to make silk. This venture failed as it was found that our native silkworm moths wrap too many leaves and knots into their cocoons. As a result, our giant silkworms remain beautiful symbols of the wild.