A couple of months ago Will posted a photo of a huge moth on his blog. Just the other day, Mark emailed me a copy of the same photo. In both cases, I was queried regarding the moth's identity. This morning, a very nice specimen emerged in the Butterfly Haven. I got a decent photo, so I thought I'd turn this into a blog post.
The Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas) is from Southeast Asia. By some measures, it's the biggest moth in the world. In this case biggest could mean biggest wingspan (up to 12") or largest wing area. There are several species of moths with very long tails that are longer than Atlas Moths. The one in this photo is medium sized. In part that's because it's a male. Female butterflies and moths are often larger than the males. Butterflies and moths that are produced by farms tend to be smaller than their wild-caught counterparts. We have occasionally had individuals as large as the one pictured on Will's blog, but that's unusual.
Atlas moths are from the family Saturniidae, the giant silk moths. Another member of that family, the Luna Moth (Actias luna), is much more familiar to folks in this country. Atlas Moth caterpillars eat a variety of leaves, including citrus and willow leaves. The adults are typical giant silk moths in that they don't eat at all. These species build up huge fat reserves (note how plump the body is in the photo). The adult phase is entirely about reproduction- they mate and lay eggs. So complete is their lack of feeding that adults don't even have functional mouthparts.