Wednesday, August 19, 2009
3rd Tennessee Arthropod-Luna Moth
Everyone will recognize this gorgeous moth. The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is universal in its appeal, and arguably the most gorgeous moth in North America. They are found throughout the Eastern portion of the United States, south into Mexico and as far north as Canada. Reaching wingspans up to 4 1/2 inches catagorizes them as a large moth. Their bright lime green color and yellow eye spots make it impossible to mistake them for any other species. The one pictured here was found in Cades Cove along the driving trail. I spotted it hanging on a limb near the ground. I frantically told my husband he needed to find a spot to pull over. Once a safe location was found to pull off the one way road, I walked back about 1/4 of a mile to capture these images. It was a newly emerged female. She was still very damp and weak. The overstuffed abdomen (for egg carrying) and the lack of feathery attennae tells me she is a girl.
Late in the evening, usually after midnight the females will emit a strong pheromone (chemical perfume) that attracts any males within the vicinity. The males are capable of smelling her perfume from great distances, they do this with their specially adapted antennae which are extremely feathered. She will continue to scent until a suitable mate has been located. After mating, she will lay her eggs 4 to 6 at a time on the appropriate host plants, in this case it will be hickory, walnuts, sweet gum or persimmon. The eggs hatch in about 10 days, and the hungry caterpillars will begin feeding immediately. They grow rapidly and are fully grown in about 2 to 3 weeks, or at the length of 3 inches. They will crawl to the ground and pupate. They will spend the winter as a pupae and emerge the following spring as an adult. These moths have a very short lifespan and only live about one week as adults. The adults do not feed, as their sole purpose is to reproduce. Look for them near deciduous hardwood forests, and they will sometimes come to lights at night.
I always get excited each time I see one of these gorgeous moths, no matter how many times I see one, it is like seeing one for the first time.