Curio Cabinet: Wing of the Luna Moth
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)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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Posted on May 6, 2014, in Curio Collection, Video Clips and tagged artifacts, cabinet, caterpillar, collection, curio, eyespot, hindwing, insects, lifespan, luna, moth, naturalist, saturniidae, species, wing. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Curio Cabinet: Wing of the Luna Moth.