Sunday, May 17, 2015

Luna Moth

Last week I was walking along a path at Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve in Erie County, Ohio. Suddenly, something on a Mayapple caught my eye...

Luna Moth camouflage
Can you find both Luna Moths?
I quickly stopped and took a closer look. Much to my surprise, the object that caught my eye was a Luna Moth, a lifer for me! I then noticed that not only was there one Luna Moth, but a few inches away there was also a second one. I have been wanting to see this beautiful species for years, and I was ecstatic that I finally had the chance!

Luna Moth Actias luna
The Luna Moth, Actias luna, is a very large moth. In fact, this species is one of the largest moths in North America. Its wingspan is 4.5 inches on average, making this species an incredibly impressive sight. The Luna Moth is found in the deciduous forests east of the Great Plains, and in Ohio they can generally be found from May through October. The Luna Moth can have 1, 2, or 3 generations a year depending on where you are within their range. Ohio falls in the 2 generation range, which means these individuals are part of the first generation for the year. While the Luna Moth can be found in every county in Ohio, they are hard to find and sadly on the decline. If a Luna Moth is hanging from a leaf, their camouflage makes them very hard to spot. Most people see Luna Moths when they are perched on a wall or other surface that makes their bright green coloration stand out. It's been even harder to find them recently due to a decline over the past several years. This decline is especially pronounced near cities and large towns, but the exact cause, or causes, remain unknown.

Luna Moth on Plant
The adult Luna Moth has a very short life. The only goal for an adult is to find a mate and reproduce. While this is the same goal across all species, the Luna Moth life cycle is missing essentially anything it doesn't need to achieve that goal. Upon metamorphosing, the adult moths lack a way to feed. As a result, they only live for about seven days before starving to death. That single week is spent looking for a mate, and then waiting for death. Since they cannot eat, the moths need a large storage of fat to live off of. If you look at the photo above, you can see how large the abdomen (about the size of a big thumb). This is due to all the fat the individual accumulated in the caterpillar stage in order to last through the adult stage.

Luna Moth Face
Who can't love a cute face like this?
Luna Moths are hard to find since they are so short-lived, but even if you've never seen one in person, you probably recognize them. They're a commonly represented moth in our lives. Commercials, cartoons, magazines, and more all utilize Luna Moths for advertisement or plot devices. Moths, in general, are an overlooked group of animals, but it is impossibly hard to overlook a Luna Moth, and so they pop up a lot in pop-culture. There's nothing quite like seeing one in person though, so keep an eye out the next time you take a hike through a forest. You never know what you might find.

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