Christopher Taylor Bird Nature Wildlife Mammal Photography
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Luna Moth Picture @
Location: Los Angeles, CA
GPS: 34.1N, -118.2W, elev=281' MAP
Date: June 10, 2001
ID : ? [3888 x 2592]

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Binomial name Actias luna
Linnaeus, 1758

The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is a lime-green, Nearctic Saturniid moth in the subfamily Saturniinae.


This moth is found in North America from east of the Great Plains in the United States to northern Mexico and from Manitoba eastward through central Quebec to Nova Scotia in Canada.

Life cycle

Based on the climate in which they live, the Luna moths produce differing numbers of generations. In Canada and northern regions, they can live up to 7 days and will produce only one generation per year. These reach adulthood from early June to early July. In the northeastern United States around New Jersey or New York, the moths produce two generations each year. The first of these appear in April and May, and the second group can be seen approximately nine to eleven weeks later. In the southern United States, there can be as many as three generations. These are spaced every eight to ten weeks beginning in March.


Female Luna moths lay 100"?300 eggs, 4"?7 eggs at a time, on the underside of leaves, and they incubate for eight to thirteen days, depending on climate. It will lay more eggs in a better climate.


Each instar generally takes about five days to a week to complete. After hatching, the caterpillars tend to wander around before finally settling on eating the particular plant they are on. These caterpillars tend to be gregarious for the first two to three instars, but separate and live independently after that. As with all Saturniids, these caterpillars go through five instars before cocooning. At the end of each instar, a small amount of silk is placed on the major vein of a leaf and undergoes apolysis. The caterpillar then undergoes ecdysis, or molts from that position leaving the old exoskeleton behind. Sometimes the shed exoskeleton is eaten. Each instar is green, though the first two instars do have some variation in which some caterpillars will have black underlying splotches on their dorsal side. Variation after the second instar is still noticeable, but slight. The dots that run along the dorsal side of the caterpillars vary from a light yellow to a dark magenta. The final instar grows to approximately nine centimeters in length.

Pupa Male Actias luna drying his wings after eclosion

The luna moth pupates after spinning a cocoon. The cocoon is thin and single layered. Shortly before pupation, the final, fifth instar caterpillar will engage in a "gut dump" where any excess water and fluids are expelled. The caterpillar will also have an underlying golden reddish brown color and become somewhat immobile. As pupa, this species is particularly active. When disturbed, the moth will wiggle loudly. Pupation takes approximately two weeks unless the individual is diapausing. The mechanisms for diapause are generally a mixture of genetic triggers, duration of sunlight or direct light during the day, and temperature.

Adult Eyespot of male Actias luna Scales of Luna moth eye spot

Adults eclose, or emerge from their cocoons in the morning. 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. The Luna moth has a wingspan of between 8"?11.5 cm (3-4.5 in) with long, tapering hindwings, which have eyespots on them in order to confuse potential predators. Although rarely seen due to their very brief (1 week) adult lives, Luna moths are considered common. As with all Saturniidae, the adults do not eat or have mouths. They emerge as adults solely to mate, and as such, only live approximately one week. They are more commonly seen at night.

Eclosion of Actias luna. Time elapse: about 45 seconds. Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Actias luna

Images of life cycle

Luna eggs

Hatching caterpillar

1st instar caterpillars reared on American Sweetgum

2nd instar caterpillars

3rd instar caterpillar

4th instar caterpillar emerging during ecdysis

4th instar caterpillar

5th instar caterpillar

5th instar caterpillars

5th instar caterpillar defoliating American Sweetgum

5th instar caterpillar spinning a cocoon

Female Pupa

Male Pupa

Pupa and cocoon

Luna cocoons

Adult male

Adult female

Adult male

Mating adults

Host plants

The caterpillars feed on the following host plants:

  • Betula (Birch)
  • Alnus (Alder)
  • Diospyros (Persimmon)
  • Liquidambar (Sweet gum)
  • Carya and Annamocarya (Hickory)
  • Juglans (Walnut)
  • Rhus (Sumac)

Popular Culture
  • The pharmaceutical company Sepracor markets its sleep medication Lunesta using a logo that incorporates the Luna moth.

External links Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Actias luna
  • How to rear saturniid moths
  • Luna moth info
  • Step by step development of Luna life cycle (Caution: high bandwidth usage, many pictures)
  • luna moth on the UF / IFAS Featured Creatures Web site

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All images and video © Copyright 2006-2024 Christopher Taylor, Content and maps by their respective owner. All rights reserved.
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