Large, Light Green, Butterfly-like: Looking at the Luna Moth
This big green butterfly-like insect is actually a luna moth. Its pale green, almost-iridescent wings shimmered in the sun on the screen of our kitchen window all day long while it rested. The 4-inch-wide nocturnal creature didn't take flight until sunset.
Though one of its wings appears to be chomped, it didn't have trouble flying away at nightfall. According to National Geographic's Phenomena blog, the streaming tails that hang from the luna moth's wings work as protection. Bats use sonar to prey upon them, and the tails make distracting echoes, sometimes causing a predatory bat to miss its target. The long tails "serve to draw a predator’s attention away from more vulnerable regions; better to lose a tail than a head."
According to National Geographic Kids, "The insect doesn't have a mouth or a digestive system. That's because it only lives for about a week after leaving the cocoon, and it doesn't ever eat." The luna moth spends about a month in caterpillar form, 3 weeks in a cocoon and only 1 week with its eye-catching green wings. As adults, they live solely to mate.
"The term Luna itself is the Latin name for the moon, and moths are even thought to use the moon for orientation," writes Crystal Cockman for the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. "The age-old expression of someone being led as a 'moth to a flame' certainly has truth to it, as moths are clearly attracted to light. This attraction is believed to be related to the moths' use of the moon as a reference point to orient their flight patterns, and therefore they become disoriented by artificial lights."
We spotted this luna moth on a mid-August morning in the Catskills, after leaving our kitchen light on by mistake!