There are many beautiful species of Moth which are native to Long Island. Most species are either crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk or nocturnal¸ meaning they are most active at night. When caterpillars hatch they are just a few millimeters in length, but by the time they are ready to begin spinning their cocoons they will have grown to hundreds of times their original size. In order to accomplish this amazing growth, they must eat almost constantly. Moths spin a cocoon which protects them as they undergo a complete metamorphosis. The existing tissues and cells of the caterpillar break down into clusters of organized cells and quickly reform themselves into brand new body parts, creating wings and legs where once there were none!
The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is a large North American species of giant silk moth with a wingspan of roughly 4.5 inches. They are easily identifiable because of their striking pale green color, brown “eyespots”, large bushy antennae, and the sweeping tails on their hindwings. They emerge in this new form only to mate, and live about one week. Luna moths do not even possess the mouth parts required to eat, and thus rely on energy gained from food consumed before their metamorphosis. Luna moths are primarily active at night. Females release a pheromone which attracts males, who use their larger, more sensitive antennae to track the scent. Luna moth numbers have declined across the United States in part because of habitat destruction (they favor deciduous forests) and the widespread use of bright outdoor lighting, which disrupts their natural mating patterns. A Luna moth sighting is a rare and memorable event, given the ephemeral nature of these nocturnal beauties!
The Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) is another stunning example of a giant silk moth. They have large red, furry bodies and brown wings with varying bands and patterns of red, black and white. They have a wingspan of 5 to 7 inches, and are the largest moth in New York. These moths have no mouth parts, feature beautiful eyespots on their wings and the female produces a pheromone to attract males. Sound familiar? Cecropia Moths and Luna Moths belong to the same family, Saturniidae, and share many important similarities. These moths spend the winter in their cocoons and emerge in the late spring and early summer.
The type of Sphinx Moth (Sphinx gordius) most common in New York is the Apple Sphinx, an unusual name considering they actually favor smaller shrubs. They have very large bodies, and slender wings, with a wingspan of 3 – 5 inches. These moths are nectar eaters and frequent pollinators of flowers and trees. Certain diurnal species have been mistaken for hummingbirds as they dine on various flowers, lending them the nickname the “Hummingbird Moth.” Sphinx caterpillars are known as hornworms because of a horn at the base of their abdomen, some species are considered pests by farmers because of their proclivity to dine on tobacco and tomatoes.
The Isabella Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella) is a smaller moth with a wingspan of about 2 inches, and a more typical, “moth like” color pattern of tan and muted orange. They have large furry bodies with a straight line of black dots on the back of the abdomen, and slender hairless antennae. They can often be seen fluttering around lamps at night. These moths start out as Wooly Bear Caterpillars, and are unusual in that they spend the winter as full size caterpillars and hibernate until the spring. These caterpillars are most active during the late summer and fall and can be found crossing sidewalks and roads in abundance. Wooly bears are black except for a rust colored band around their middle, when threatened they roll (adorably) into tight little balls as a means of protection.
On summer nights take a second look, you never know what beautiful moths might be fluttering by!
By Kimberly Stever