Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Friday, May 29, 2009

Atlas Moth

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.

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At 12:00, Blogger R.Powers said...

Wow ... Mothra!

At 13:49, Anonymous Mark H said...

HARD to imagine moths LARGER than this one......thanks for the info, and it must be a thrill to see it live in the Haven. THANKS, DOUG.

At 15:57, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I had no idea!

At 15:58, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing photo and ty for the description of the moth.

At 00:51, Blogger Ur-spo said...

I too thought right away of Mothra.
This is a big-ass bug!

At 05:39, Blogger cedrorum said...

Damn, due to FC and Ur-Spo bringing up mothra, now I've got to put a Godzilla movie on my Netflix queue. Great post Doug. Nice that you brought up Luna moths. I can relate to this moth through that. Saw my first Luna this year around February 28th? in Georgia. That seemed kind of early to me, but I wouldn't know.

At 09:28, Blogger robin andrea said...

That's an amazingly big moth. I once saw a ceanothus silk moth on the side of the building I worked in. I thought that moth was huge, but it really is dwarfed by this giant.

At 16:23, Blogger Doug Taron said...

FC- I hadn't thought of Mothra. Most apt.

Mark- It's always a favorite with visitors.

Steve- The tropics hold lots of cool stuff.

lilian- Thanks.

Spo-Big-ass is right.

cedrorum- That seems early to me, too. Still, as stunning species.

Robin- The Atlas and the Ceanothus are in the same family- so a resemblance isn't too surprising.

At 11:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello I am looking for some info on a really rare pic that i have from this summer passed that i took up north in woodstock, ontario....i am looking to identify the specimine.....if anyone is interested please get back too me...facebook...amey liddell....thanks in advance


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