Actias luna

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Geographic Range

The luna moth occurs widespread in the forested areas of North America (Carter, 1992). In Canada the species has been found from Nova Scotia through central Quebec and Ontario. In the United States the species has been found in every state east of the Great Plains all the way south to northern Mexico (Tuskes et al.,1996). (Carter, 1992; Tuskes, et al., 1996)

Habitat

The luna moth occurs in the forested areas of North America. They seem to prefer decidous woodlands, with trees such as the hickory, walnut, sumacs, and persimmon. (Tuskes, et al., 1996)

Physical Description

The luna moth is an easily distinguishable species with long sweeping hindwing tails and varying in color from yellowish green to pale bluish green (Carter, 1992). Both sexes are similar in size, but males have a more strongly feathered antennae (Tuskes et al., 1996; Carter, 1992). The wingspan ranges from 80mm -115mm (Carter, 1992). This species also exhibits both polyphenism and regional phenotypic variation (Tuskes et al., 1996). In its early stages the luna moth is a green caterpillar that has hair, spiny tubercles, and a yellow stripe on each side (Holland, 1908; Grzimek,1972). (Carter, 1992; Grzimek, 1972; Holland, 1908; Tuskes, et al., 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range wingspan
    80 to 115 mm
    3.15 to 4.53 in

Reproduction

The luna moth exhibits a pheromone mating system. This ability to attract distant males via chemical communication is found in all female saturniids. Undeterred by obstacles such as leaves and branches, the male moths will persistently follow the scent trail of a female. Then the female will typically mate with the first male to reach her. Since the luna moth is a nocturnal species, mating usually occurs in the first hours after midnight. If the pair is undisturbed then they will remain in copula until the next evening, but the slightest disturbance can cause separation. After the separation of the pair, then ovipostion will begin and continue for several nights. A female luna moth will seek a host plant in which to oviposit. Some populations of luna moths complete more than one generation in a year. (Tuskes et al., 1996). (Tuskes, et al., 1996)

Behavior

The luna moth is a nocturnal species (Tuskes et al., 1996), and is not often seen in the daytime (Holland, 1908). As do many saturniids, the Luna moth uses wing patterns as a defense against predators. The Luna moth can mimic living and dead leaves on the ground by remaining motionless when not involved in reproductive behavior and also becomes nearly impossible to see during the day when roosting on the bark of sycamore trees. The moths will also dramatically flutter their wings when attacked (Tuskes et al., 1996). (Holland, 1908; Tuskes, et al., 1996)

Food Habits

The luna moth is an insect herbivore. As a caterpillar it feeds on the foliage of various species of hickory, walnut, sweet-gum, persimmon, and birch trees (Holland, 1908). It has been reported that it is particularly fond of the persimmon (Holland, 1908). (Holland, 1908)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Luna moths have often been used in classrooms to help teach insect life cycles. They have also proven good subjects in ecology and evolutionary biology (Tuskes et al., 1996). (Tuskes, et al., 1996)

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects contributed by Luna moths.

Conservation Status

The luna moth is a wild silk moth. Wild silk moths have declined in numbers since the 1960's due to habitat destruction and increased use of bright vapor lights that disrupt mating (Tuskes et al., 1996). However, luna moths are not listed as threatened by the IUCN, the U.S. government, or the state of Michigan.

Other Comments

The first North American saturniid reported in literature was the luna moth. (Tuskes, et al., 1996)

Contributors

Linda Patlan (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

semelparous

offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

References

Carter, D. 1992. Eyewitness Handbooks: Butterflies and Moths. New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc..

Grzimek, 1972. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Holland, W. 1908. The Moth Book. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company.

Tuskes, P., J. Tuttle, M. Collins. 1996. The Wild Silk Moths of North America: A Natural History of the Saturniidae of the United States and Canada. New York: Comstock Publishing Associates.