It is one of the most beautiful moths too. Its name is derived from the oval-shaped eyespots located on its wings that resemble the moon. It is thought that elongated hind wings tails help the moth to confuse the echolocation of predatory bats.
Its Latin name is Actias luna, and it’s a member of the Saturniidae family.
They usually inhabit forested areas of southern Canada and from Maine south to Florida, eastern Texas, and eastern North Dakota.
They vagrant sometimes.
Occurrences of the luna moth in western Europe have been recorded.
Wingspan of adult moths is 75 to 105 mm (2,95 to 4,13 in).
Males and females are similar in size. Antennae are also present in both sexes, but males have longer and wider ones. Female abdomens are larger because of deposited eggs.
Both sexes are green with a long tail on hind wings.
Fore and hind wings have an oval spot, one per wing. Second and third generation moths have more yellowish-tinted wings.
Number of moth generations are conditioned by the climate.
The Canadian population is univoltine, which means they have one generation a year. Central populations are usually bivoltine, so they have two generations per year, and southern ones are trivoltine (which obviously means three generations a year).
Mating usually starts after midnight and lasts for a few hours.
Females sit on a preferred tree and release pheromones that lure males.
Male luna moths can sense female pheromones at a distance of few kilometers.
Specific pheromone developed by luna moths does not affect any other insect species. Mating occurs with the first male encountered by a female.
Females lay 200 to 400 eggs.
They are placed singly or in small groups on the underside of leaves of trees. It takes about a week for eggs to hatch.
Caterpillars develop through five instars.
Depending on the temperature, each instar lasts for 4 to 10 days.
Each instar of larvae stage is green.
Caterpillars stay at the same tree they hatched. Trees are not harmed in any significant way as the moth population is not large enough.
Luna moth cocoon is single-layered and wrapped in leaves.
Pupa is attached to a silk pad at the rear of a cocoon with a hook-shaped protuberance called cremaster.
Adult moths escape the pupal case by splitting it and pushing the top upwards.
Then it cuts its way from the cocoon with serrated chitinous spurs located on the thorax near the forewings bases. Cocoon opening typically occurs in the morning.
Males emerge from cocoons a few days earlier than females.
Favorite host plants for luna moths are broadleaf plants.
Northern populations often utilize white birch while southern pick walnuts, hickories, sumacs, sweetgum and persimmon.
Adult forms have vestigial mouthparts, which means they cannot eat.
That is why this species is short-lived. An average imago (adult form) lifespan is 7 to 10 days.
While caterpillars often fall prey to insect parasitoids, adult forms are being hunted by nocturnal birds and bats.
Attacked caterpillars make clicking noises with their mandibles. They are also able to release distasteful fluids capable of fending off insects and even a small rodent.
Like most moths, they are nocturnal animals.
The NatureServe conservation status for the luna moth is G5 (secure).