Luna Moth

The Luna moth (Actias luna) is one of the most stunning moths found in North America. Its wingspan is 3 to 4.5 inches and is a sea-foam green to yellow color. The Luna moth is also known as the American Moon Moth and is common in South Carolina. Luna moths are a saturniid moth, which uses its wing patterns as a defense mechanism against predators. The Luna moth, like most moths, are nocturnal meaning they are predominately active at night, but sightings can occur during the day. Luna moths like forested areas and deciduous woodlands, but can be attracted to well-lighted areas at night.
Luna moths have a range that stretches as far west as Texas and up to Canada. Luna moths that live in Canada and bordering states produce one brood or generation per year (May-July). In the Ohio River Valley, Luna moths produce two generations per year. In the deep south, Luna moths can have three generations in one year (March-September). Different generations of Luna moths can be distinguished by their colors. Spring generations of Luna moths have a vivid sea-foam green color, while the generations that follow are more yellow in color. The spring generation have a purple to reddish-purple outer wing margin, while the later generations will have a yellow margin.
Male Luna moths tend to be a lighter shade of green and are slightly smaller than females. Female Luna moths have a fuzzy, slender antennae, whereas the male antennae fan out like a feather.
Luna moth caterpillars are lime green with yellow lines and reddish-orange spots running down both sides. The caterpillars feed on many types of trees including alder, birch beech, red maple, white oak, wild cherry, hazelnut, hickories, pecan, walnut, persimmon, sweetgum, willows, and smooth sumac. The Luna moth caterpillar molts five times over 3-4 weeks before it will spin a cocoon. It takes 2-3 weeks for the cocoon to be spun in a tree. The cocoon will fall to the ground in leaf litter where it is safely camouflaged and protected from winter.
The Luna moth adult will emerge from a cocoon in the morning and climb to a structure where it can expand its wings and dry throughout the day. The Luna moth, like other silk moths do not feed as adults. The food for adults is stored during the caterpillar stage. Luna moths live about one week after emerging from the cocoon. Males can fly long distances to mate with females if necessary. Once females lay eggs, they die.
A few predators of the Luna moth include owls, bats, bald-face hornets, parasitic wasps, and ground beetles. The Luna moth does have natural defense mechanisms though. The wing pattern allows the moth to easily camouflage itself against a tree bark or in fallen leaf litter. Eyespots on all four wings help to confuse predators and assist to misguiding an attack to less vulnerable locations of the body. The long hindwing tails help to disrupt echolocation used by bats during the hunt. Caterpillars deter predators by rearing up the front portion of its body and making a clicking nose with its mandibles and will regurgitate a distasteful fluid as a warning.
Although Luna moths are not an endangered species, fewer sightings are occurring. Issues that may contribute to the rarity of sightings include habitat degradation and fragmentation, light pollution (disrupt mating behavior), and the accumulation of pesticides in the environment.
Keep a lookout for these majestic moths, especially in well-lit areas at night.
For more information on Luna moth, please visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at hgic.clemson.edu. Tune in on Tuesday nights to watch “Making it Grow” at 7pm on SCETV or mig.org. Email Outen at [email protected].
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