Sunday, April 10, 2011

Luna Moth

Luna Moth BC- Click to Enlarge
We were finishing the Wildflower Field Trip I with Darrel and Pat Blech when our guide Barb slammed on the brakes of her ATV and pointed to the ground.  There was just a faint streak of lime green color to be seen but she announced "Luna Moth"!  Sure enough, there it was, having emerged from its cocoon hanging from a dead branch in the leaf litter on the ground, stretching its wings after a winter-long nap.

You can think of Luna Moths as a centerfold in "Playmoth."  They appear on a postage stamp and are featured on TV ads for the sleep aid Lunesta.  They are just 150 pounds and a few tattoos short of having their own reality show.

Actias luna, aka Luna Moth has a wingspan of up to four and a half inches, making it one of the largest moths in North America.  They are found all over North America and live only 7 days once they emerge from the cocoon.  They have no digestive system and live only to reproduce, a high price to pay for love.  They reproduce annually in Canada, twice a year in the temperate states and three times a year in the south including Missouri.  The reddish-purple wing margins in our specimen above are typical of the first brood of the year.

After mating, the female lays up to 300 eggs, 4-7 at a time, on the underside of tree leaves such as walnuts, hickories, sumacs,  sweetgum, and persimmon.  After four successive molts, the caterpillar finally reaches full size.  It wanders away to spin its cocoon, frequently on a leaf which will drop to the ground in the fall as our friend did.  This one survived the winter to come out on an unseasonably hot 90 degree day in April.  (It probably thought it was in Florida.)

As described in Wikipedia:
Their wings are very small when they first emerge and they must enlarge them by pumping bodily fluids through them. During this time, their wings will be soft and they must climb somewhere safe to wait for their wings to harden before they can fly away. This process takes about 2 hours to complete.
It was a special treat to see this uncommon brief moment in its natural surroundings.  We have watched many Luna Moths emerge in the Butterfly House at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park in Springfield and you can too.  If you come to the the Butterfly House, especially during the Butterfly Festival, you will increase your chances.  However, in nature, there are no guarantees.  That is what makes these moments so special.

Extensive Information is available at this University of Florida site.

1 comment:

  1. Besides Playmoth magazine, I have only seen one once in person. What a beautiful picture!

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