Atlas Moths

June 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

The Atlas moths at the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit at CBG are among the most fascinating in the collection of butterflies and moths.  This past week there were four moths (3 females and 1 male) in the exhibit, and the male was mating with one of the females.  Atlas moths belong to the Saturniidae family and are native to the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia.  They are the largest moth in the world in terms of wing surface and their wing span can reach 10-12 inches.  There are varying theories as to why the moth is called the Atlas moth - perhaps being named after the titan of Greek mythology, or because of their atlas or map-like wing patterns, or perhaps because in Cantonese the name translates into "snake's head moth," referring to the patterning of the curved forewing tip that resembles a snake's head with eye spot.

Female Atlas moth, recently emerged from the cocoon and waiting for a mate.

Atlas Moth - FemaleAtlas Moth - Female

When the moths emerge from the cocoon they have no mouth parts and do not eat, relying only on their fat stores from the caterpillar stage.  Their sole purpose once they emerge is to reproduce. They live only 1 - 2 weeks.  The female secretes a pheromone to attract her mate.  The male Atlas uses his long feathery antennae, which are much larger than the female antennae, to detect the pheromones and find the female.  Once the eggs are laid, the moth dies.  The caterpillars emerge 10-14 days later and the cycle of life begins again - egg, caterpillar, pupa and moth. 

Female Atlas mating with male - the male is smaller in size than the female but note the larger antennae.

Mating Atlas Moths - Female above, Male belowMating Atlas Moths - Female above, Male below    Close up of the female Atlas - note the transparent triangular windows on the wings. Atlas Moth - FemaleAtlas Moth - Female Close up of another female in the exhibit.  Her antennae are thinner than the male's.

Atlas Moth - FemaleAtlas Moth - Female The eggs of the Atlas moth.

Atlas Moth EggsAtlas Moth Eggs

In 10 - 14 days a dusty green caterpillar emerges from the egg.

Atlas Moth CaterpillarAtlas Moth Caterpillar Due to USDA regulations, when eggs or caterpillars are found within the exhibit they must be destroyed.  The exhibit could not begin to support the eating habits of these large and hungry caterpillars.  USDA regulations dictate that only the pupae and the emerging butterflies or moths are raised within the exhibit. 


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