Saturday, October 31, 2009

Luna Moth (Actias luna) Life Cycle

Luna moths are beautiful. This individual is a male. As is the case with many moths, males have larger and more feathery antennae than females. Female Luna Moths emit pheromones.  Males use their antennae to "smell" and find females.  Males also have slightly longer tails.   (Photo by Jo on 3/21/07.)

I happen to think Luna Moth caterpillars are also quite attractive. Their bright green color almost seems to glow. After emerging from their eggs, Luna Moth caterpillars go through five stages (instars) before pupating. The larger specimen in the photo above is in its fifth and final instar. (Photo by Marvin on 9/8/09.)

But even I have to admit: A Luna Moth pupa isn't much to look at. When a fifth instar Luna Moth caterpillar is ready to pupate, it crawls down into the leaf litter and uses it silk -- It is a Giant Silkworm Moth, after all. -- to bind several leaves together. It then spins a cocoon inside which the pupa forms. (Photo by Marvin on 9/12/09.)

I've removed most of the leaves in the shot above. You can see a little bit of the silken cocoon. I could carefully remove the pupa from the cocoon without harming it, but won't. The cocoon and leaves help protect the pupa and keep it slightly damp during the long wait until spring, so I will leave them in place.

(BugGuide has images of all stages in a Luna Moth's life cycle, including a shot of the papa without its protective cocoon.)

A little general information on Luna Moths from their BugGuide species page: In the United States, Luna Moths have been found in every state east of the Great Plains. Their primary habitat is deciduous forests. Adult moths only live about a week. They do not (cannot) eat as adult moths. Their only objective is reproduction.

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Lisa at Greenbow said...

Goodnesss, I have never seen the pupa before. This is great. I have wondered if people seeing Luna moths flitting in the garden didn't give start to some fairy stories. They are so beautiful.

Paula Werner Severo said...

very beautiful photos!... really nice shots!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I've never seen the moth let alone the caterpillar.

eileeninmd said...

Great post on the Luna moth and wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing your critter.

Snap said...

The Luna Moth is gorgeous! So well *camod* in all its stages. Wonderful and education post!

Teena in Toronto said...

They are camouflaged so well!

I played too :)

abb said...

Such a gorgeous creature. Haven't seen one in years. Wonder what their range is - must see if they're here in CT. Glad you shared, my Arkansas friend.

Chubskulit Rose said...

That is a gorgeous luna moth! The caterpillar creeps me out lol..

BOO, happy Halloween! Here's my Camera Critters entry. Have a spooky one!

Carolyn Ford said...

What a beautiful moth! The stages of life are amazing and I am wondering if you collected some to watch...and great shots of this critter!

Garden Lily said...

This sounds like a good reason not to be too diligent about cleaning up the fallen leaves in the yard. ;-)

Happy Hallowe'en!

Jeannette StG said...

A great post, Marvin! Yes, the moth is beautiful - its color and form reminds me on a spaceship:)

We love Luna said...

wow it's really impressive , different and cool post. And he got my name!
Happy Camera Critters
purrs and love
Luna - We love Luna ( but I'm a little cat!)

squirrel said...

Nice photos and lots of good information. I didn't know that about the tails. I will look for more from you next week.

Lana Gramlich said...

I was delighted to finally see a luna moth a few weeks ago. Unfortunately it was dead & being dragged across a parking lot by a bunch of ants, but still!

Marvin said...

Yes, I did collect two of the dozen or so caterpillars we saw this year. (In the past, I've never before knowingly seen a Luna Moth caterpillar.) Both of them pupated, but one has never shown any signs of life so I fear something went wrong. The other is quite active if disturbed. With any luck, I'll get to see a Luna Moth emerge next spring.

Now that I know Luna Moths live for such a short period of time, finding them dead doesn't bother me as much as it used to.

Sexing the moths by their tails isn't as reliable as sexing by their antennae. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, especially if the moth is a bit tattered. Once you've seen a few moths of both sexes, the difference in the antennae becomes obvious.

Thanks to everyone for your kind comments.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Marvin: What a beautiful critter, its colors are outstanding.

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

This is a fantastic series Marvin. Brillinat pics and info too. You did really good with this one my friend. It is a beautiful moth.

Anonymous said...

I was excited to find a luna moth caterpillar last summer. It makes me wonder how any insect overwinters when everyone in the suburbs blows all their leaves away...Michelle