01 August 2014

Actias luna

I found this big fellow hustling across the grass under a walnut tree.  He had apparently fallen or been dislodged from the foliage above.  He would have made a tasty meal for a bird, so I brought him home and placed him in a terrarium with some walnut leaves.

That same night he spun a cocoon.  This late in the summer I wondered if he was going to enter diapause until next spring, but the transformation to a moth required only about ten days, and one morning I walked out to our screen porch to find this handsome Actias luna (Luna moth) drying his new wings.  That evening he flew away over the treetops.

The complex structure of the antennae identified him as a male, superbly adapted to detect minute quantities of pheromones in the air and track them along their gradient to a female.

Sadly, this beautiful and magnificent creature will live only about one week.  It has no mouth parts and thus cannot feed, surviving only on energy stored during the caterpillar stage.  The moth is really just nature's way of making more caterpillars.


  1. Beautiful picture and a fascinating account of this magnificent moth.

  2. Always the best posts/photos/stories on TYWKIWDBI! Thanks, MinnesotaStan!

  3. Even the caterpillar is beautiful. Thanks, once again, for sharing your wonderful photos.

  4. Those wings look like a softly draping silk kimono. I never knew about a living creature that did not have mouth parts and could not feed. That would be a great Jeopardy question.

  5. A thousand kindnesses back at you for taking care of that little critter on the grass

  6. I found a dead one on my walk yesterday afternoon - there was some slight damage to the body, but the wings were intact. How would I go about preserving that? It is too beautiful to just toss aside.

    1. I only keep photographs of them, but a quick web search turned up these suggestions:

      "If specimens are to be stored for long periods in dark conditions add moth balls, paradichlorobenzene crystals or other registered insecticide to prevent dermestid (carpet) beetles and book lice from feeding on the body parts (note: moth balls will melt Styrofoam). If the specimens are kept in lighted conditions, such as in glass frames or domes, generally no insecticides are necessary since insects that feed on dead insects (book lice, dermestid or carpet beetles) do not like light. However, keep them out of direct sunlight to avoid fading of pigment colors. Always keep specimens in low moisture conditions to prevent mold from growing on the specimen’s bodies. Stored properly, specimens will last for years and years."

      I think you will have more success preserving the wings (perhaps alone) rather than the thick body, which will tend to attract mites and other microscavengers, and might also release bacteria as it breaks down, unless it desiccates quickly.

      Some people do take wings and wing segments and turn them into jewelry. You could Google that.


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