August 16, 2009

That’s one big moth.

Last night, when Ian was coming in from the deck, he said, “The biggest moth I have ever seen is out–”

And then, before he could slide the door closed, it was in.

It fluttered around at the high kitchen light, so I hit the switch, hoping it would go back toward the dim outdoor light on the deck.

I ran into the living room and turned off those lights. The wings went ftftftfttftftftftftfttftftf against the kitchen light casing, and our two younger cats stared up at it, mooping and chirping.

They followed it into the living room, where it landed on our ceiling.

moth on the ceiling smaller


Ian stood on a table and used a bowl and a magazine to take it outside. We released it out the front door, where it flapped crazily by the light, up and down and sideways. It landed on my head and bounced and fluttered before lifting off and flapping around some more before landing on the siding just outside our front door.

It was still out there this morning.

moth and hand

Ah! My sister just sent me some info on the moth. From

Although the photo does indeed look a little like something out of a spooky Steven Spielberg movie, it’s actually a lateral closeup of the caterpillar of a Luna Moth, Actias luna. Found across eastern North America, the Luna Moth (left) is in the Saturniidae, the family that includes Giant Silkworm Moths; Luna Moth, Actias lunathese are large moths with wingspans of up to almost 6″, but the 5″ Luna Moth appears even larger because of long tails on its hindwings. Despite their name, Giant Silkworm Moths (including Cecropia, Polyphemus, and Promethea Moths) are unrelated to commercially important Asiatic silkworms, which are in the Bombycid Family.

Saturnids typically have wings marked by “eyespots”–perhaps an adaptation that scares off potential predators. The eyespots are especially noticeable against the uniform pale green of a Luna Moth’s wings (above). Another obvious characteristic of a typical adult Giant Silkworm Moth is its large, feathery “plumose” antennae (below left). Luna Moth, Actias luna, antennaeIn the male Luna Moth, these receptors are especially large and adept at picking up minute traces of pheromones–chemicals released by the female that allow males to track her down in complete darkness, or as she flutters against a backlit window at night. After the female lays several clusters of tiny black eggs, her caterpillars hatch, go through a series of growth stages, and eventually form a papery, thin-walled cocoon on the ground. In warmer parts of the Luna Moth’s range, there are two complete generations per year.


Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. It’s pretty, something I never thought I’d say about a moth.

  2. We used to get these guys all the time when we lived in a log home out in the woods in upstate New York. They’re enormous and, as you noted, gorgeous. Sadly, we don’t have them where we live now. (But we also don’t have snow.)

  3. Hi Kristen…

    I stumbled across your blog when I was doing a tag search on the Luna Moth. I just did a post on the Luna Moth Caterpillar which plopped itself down on my patio a couple of days ago. I posted some photos of the caterpillar if you’re the least interested in seeing one of those critters. They are also pretty big! 🙂


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About Kris Tsetsi

Kristen J. Tsetsi is the author of the novels "Pretty Much True..." and "The Year of Dan Palace" and the short fiction collection "20 Short Stories," all published under the name Chris Jane. Website:




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