Their life can only be described as short and sweet.
While this insect’s days lack quantity, they absolutely have quality. How else could you describe a full week of lovemaking?
Luna moths spend their short time on the planet mainly concerned with the act of procreation. Finding a mate and laying eggs must be done quickly in the 7 to 10 days that they live as adults. Limiting these luminous insects even further is the fact that they are only active at night, so days are wasted, waiting for darkness to fall.
I saw my first lovely lime green luna this week, holding tight to my screen door. These insects are truly unmistakable with their large size, fanciful tails, and engaging eyespots.
With a wingspan of up to four and a half inches, these moths are hard to miss, even if they are trying to blend in. Their eyespots serve to ward off predators, including the owls, wasps and bats that would happily snatch them up for a snack.
Though they are being pursued, luna moths will never make a sound. Even if a scream could help, they would not be able to utter it since these insects do not have a mouth during their adult stage.
There is no need for one since they don’t eat. Adult luna moths subsist on fat stored during their caterpillar days. Luna moth caterpillars enjoy birch trees as a primary host, though are also fond of sumac, walnut varieties and hickory trees.
If you catch a glimpse of these green giants, look closely at their color and antennae to differentiate the sexes. Males tend to be more yellow-green in color and have full, bushy antennae. Females appear blue-green and have thinner and more understated antenna.
The male’s sizeable antennae serve a purpose. Their larger and fuller characteristics allow them to sense pheromones, chemical signals that the female puts out to attract a partner. That is how these love bugs find each other.
This appearance of these insects may be the luna moth’s only go-around. These monster moths exhibit one to three generations (or complete lifecycles) depending on location. Those in the far north are univoltine, a fancy way to say that they have only one generation. In the mid-atlantic states and the south, you can find bivoltine and trivoltine luna moths respectively, that have two and three generations through the season. The rest of their life is spent as an egg, overwintering pupa or as a hungry caterpillar.
Luna moths are hard not to love and have appeared often in popular culture. Consider the first-class stamp honoring them in 1987, or their use in advertising and literature. A recent guest appearance for the luna moth came in the popular Hunger Games book series. This special moth alighted on the book’s heroine, Katniss, representing transformation, rebirth and new beginnings for her.
Hunger games may be exactly what these mouthless moths may be experiencing this week, but let’s not be too green with envy at their ravenous lovemaking. They pay a heavy price for it. Summer flings may be romantic, but for luna moths their affair is an all-or-nothing proposition, assuring or denying a future flight of fancy.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.