Monday, September 14, 2009

Luna Moth Caterpillar (Actias luna)

Luna Moth Caterpillars (Actias luna) are such a bright lime-green they almost appear translucent. We found about a dozen caterpillars on a couple of sweet gum saplings growing along side the road just up from the house.

From a distance, the Luna Moth caterpillar does an excellent job of looking like a leaf. The weak subspiracular stripe on abdomen and yellow lines that cross the larva's back near the back end of each segment look like leaf veins. We'd probably walked passed these caterpillars many times before noticing them. I actually found the caterpillars by first noticing the eaten leaves on the sapling. I then started looking for the caterpillar that had done the damage.

The larger caterpillar is in its fifth and final instar. I'm not sure about the smaller. Even if the eggs are laid at the same time and they hatch at about the same time, caterpillars often pass through their instars at different rates. (Note: The anal proleg edged in yellow is one of the identifying characteristics of a Luna Moth caterpillar.)

Luna Moth caterpillar demonstrating the coordination between its six true legs and mouth. It's dining on sweet gum in this case. Hickory, walnut, persimmon, and birch are also common host trees. The caterpillar must eat enough now to sustain it through the adult stage of its life cycle because adult Luna Moths are incapable of eating.

For more information on Luna Moths, please see:
BugGuide Species Page.
BugGuide photos of all five caterpillar instars.
Butterflies and Moths of North America.
Animal Diversity Web.

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SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

An excellent post as always Marvin. I can see how easy it would be to mistake one of these for a leaf. Nature takes care of her own. I find it very useful to know what these cats feed on so you always know where to look for them.

WR said...

The lunar moth! Haven't seen one )as a caterpillar or a moth since leaving New England. you have a lovely blog with great photos!

Birdy Official said...

Luna moth caterpillar is as beautiful as Luna moth itself. I love butterflies and moths, but have some concern over the damage done by their caterpillars. Anyhow thanks for sharing the pictures and information.

Shelly Cox said...

Beautiful caterpillar. They are almost as pretty in this stage as they are as adults. Almost. Great photos!

Texas Travelers said...

Nice job as usual. Great photos and excellent write-up. Thanks for sharing your walk.


Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a find. I have seen few adult Luna moths in the wild and never the caterpillar. Great shots.

Anonymous said...

I can almost hear him munching away. Interesting post.

Lana Gramlich said...

I have yet to see a luna moth in "real" life. I know they're around here. It's all just a matter of time...
Lovely photos.

Caterpillar Parts said...

I have not seen one of these caterpillars in years. When I saw these pictures, I immediately got flashbacks of the child hood days of finding them on your cloths, or just stumbling across them on trees. Just like WR said, "Not since New England". I am growing nostalgic of Connecticut now that I have seen this blog and hopefully I will be able to get back there soon, but half way across the world is a long way to travel.

Marvin said...

We have two or three flights of luna moths every summer, but this fall is the first time I've (knowingly) seen their caterpillars, and I've seen them on three separate occasions. I don't know if I'm just getting more observant or if this is a banner year for luna moths and their cats.