Curio Cabinet: Wing of the Luna Moth

CC luna moth wing

The Curio Cabinet series (#curioTuesday) is published biweekly, featuring an artifact of natural or cultural history and a brief selection of nifty facts. Curio Cabinet celebrates the history of curio collections, the roots of which played a part in the globalization of learning and scientific knowledge. Learn more here.

Today’s curio:  hindwing of a Luna Moth (Actias luna)
Type: insect
Origin: Maryland, USA
Size: about 3.5 in long x 1.5 in wide

Luna moths (sometimes called Lunar Moths or American Moon Moths) are one of the best things about living on the eastern seaboard, right up there with fireflies (or, as we call them, lightening bugs). These unearthly green-winged insects are part of the Saturniidae family, which boast the largest species of moths in North America. And personally, I think they’re one of the prettiest things on planet Earth.

Adult Luna Moth, via Wiki

Luna moths are distinctive due to their large size (wingspans up to about 4 inches), green coloration, eyespots on each wing, and two trailing tails on their hindwings. They need deciduous forest in which to lay their eggs, specifically sumacs, Sweetgum, White Birch, walnuts, hickories, and Persimmons. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of these host plants, and when threatened, have a neat defense: first they’ll rear up in a “sphinx” pose, click their mandibles, and – if all else fails – they will straight up barf on you. That’s right, the mandible clicking is usually a prelude to or accompanied by the “defensive regurgitation of distasteful fluids.” Which is a fancy science way of saying “barfing.” So. Cool.

Macro image of eyespot wing scales of a Luna Moth, via Wiki.

After metamorphosing into adults, Lunas do not eat, and live only about a week to mate and lay eggs. The males can apparently travel quite far to sniff out their lady friends thanks to the females’ pheromones, or sex hormones. However, they don’t use a nose to sense those airborne chemicals: they use their antennae for pheromone detection, which are noticeably larger in the males. Females are also more bluish-green than males, which tend to be more yellowish-green – so I think my specimen was probably a male.

Male Luna Moth letting his wings fill with fluids and dry out after emerging from his cocoon. Via Wiki.

Luna moths are very attracted to light, even though they’re nocturnal. I used to work at a state park here in Maryland and our parking lot was lit by large spotlights that attracted lots of insects (and sometimes other critters!). Lunas loved these lamps, and this particular wing came from a deceased one I discovered on the ground one night.

Here’s a quick vid about the life cycle of this amazing little critter if you’re interested in more. Enjoy!

Thanks for joining us for #curioTuesday! Interested in having something from your collection featured? Email us with a bit about yourself and your curio.

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Posted on May 6, 2014, in Curio Collection, Video Clips and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Curio Cabinet: Wing of the Luna Moth.

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