Sunday, March 13, 2011

Luna Moth

Turn off outside lights at night.  This Luna Moth damaged a wing while fluttering in confusion against a floodlight.
Whenever a Luna Moth is glimpsed, it is a blessing. This one appeared in Clay County, Florida, February 2011
     You remember your first.  I was a swimming instructor at a North Carolina 4-H camp.  Beneath a canopy of trees, in the sultry summer night, I gazed at the glow of the Staff Cabin’s porch light.  I was transfixed, enthralled by the sight of a wild being too beautiful to exist.  I was afraid to move lest I break the spell and cause the creature to vanish.   I widened my eyes and expanded my awareness, trying to imprint the moment on my brain.  When I became confident that the animal would linger, I ran to summon another camp staff member.  He identified the object of my amazement - a Luna Moth.  Vivid, lime green with an improbably long, decorative tail, this moth seemed more like an artistic paper sculpture than an insect.
     My reaction to the Luna Moth is not unique.  In Discovering Moths:  Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard, John Himmelman writes,  “The Luna Moth does something to me.  It hits me deep down in a place where I accept the existence of magical things.”   I totally agree.
     The Luna Moth, Actias luna , is in the family of Giant Silkworm Moths.  In the southeastern U.S., the Luna Moth has two generations.  Adults that emerge in the spring will have purple, pink or brownish wing margins.  (The one I photographed emerged in February and clearly has purple margins.)  Those emerging in the summertime will have yellow wing margins.  Luna moths don’t eat or drink and survive only for a week or two.  They live to mate and lay eggs on leaves of host plants:  sweetgum, blackgum, pecan, persimmon, walnut, hickory, birch & oak.   Bright green caterpillars form silk cocoons in leaf litter on the ground.  Pupa will twitch inside the cocoon if disturbed.   The caterpillars do not sting, they are not agricultural pests and the adults are harmless.  Love the Luna!