The moon moth cometh…

For a few weeks now we’ve been on the lookout for the most beautiful moth in eastern North America. Our property has a lot of sweet gum trees, and our friends over at Roads End Naturalist told us that sweet gums seem to be a favorite host plant for Luna Moth caterpillars. (They also like winged sumac and persimmon, which we also have on our property.)

We had seen some evidence of them on the sweet gum leaves – the young caterpillars tend to eat the outer edges of the five-pointed sweet gum leaves, leaving a roundish shaped center, like this:

Sweet gum leaf eaten around the edges

Every morning and evening I’d go check around the sweet gum trees to see if I could find a caterpillar or the adult moth itself. No luck… until today.

Keith was walking through the woods beside our house and came running to me with this beautiful adult Luna Moth cradled in his hands.

Adult male Luna moth

I suspect this one is a male, since its antennae are yellowish gold and the plumes are fairly large. The females antennae are not as wide and a little greener in color.

There’s something magical about finding a critter like this, especially since they are nocturnal and not easily seen during the day, and luna moths only live for about a week as adults.

Henry David Thoreau was just as intrigued when he first encountered a luna moth:

“I found a remarkable moth lying flat on the still water as if asleep, they appear to sleep during the day, as large as the smaller birds. Five and a half inches in alar extent and about three inches long…with a remarkably narrow lunar cut tail of a sea green color with four conspicuous spots whitish within then a red line, then yellowish border below or toward the tail, but brown orange and black above toward head. A very robust body covered with a kind of downy plumage an inch and a quarter long by five eighths thick. The sight affected me as tropical and I suppose it is the northern verge of some species. It suggests into what productions Nature would run if all the year were a July. By night it is active, for though I thought it dying at first it made a great noise in its prison a cigar box at night When the day returns it apparently drops wherever it may be even into the water and dozes till evening again.”

Such a beautiful gift to have living among us.

Have you seen a luna moth? When and where?

5 comments

  1. Great job, Keith! I have not seen one and I feel pretty sad about that. What a beautiful, enchanting little creature. I hope to meet one some day (or evening).

  2. Nice! I’ve seen them a few times at night but typically at an illuminated window. I’ve also seen them resting in the morning. I had no clue about their fondness for sweetgums. I enjoy all the moths and butterflies with “eyespots.” One of my favorites is the Io moth.

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