Happy Friday, Moth Maniacs!!! We hope you’re having a great Friday. This week we thought we would introduce you to one of the most impressive moths in the world, Attacus atlas. Its name Atlas almost says it all. With a name like Atlas, you know it has to be big. Named after the Greek mythological figure, Atlas was the Titan who was destined to carry the entire earth on his shoulders. The Atlas moth is a member of the Saturniid moth family, and its Genus, Attacus, has approximately 20 species. Atlas moths are considered to be the world’s largest moths, although some of the other species in the genus are very close in size. Female Atlas moths are normally significantly larger than the males, and the female in our photo today has a wingspan of 9-inches!!! And it even impresses you as being much larger because its somewhat squarish shape gives it a huge surface area. Attacus atlas is often credited as being the inspirational model for the famous Japanese movie monster, Mothra!
Atlas moths fly in many of the Southeast Asian countries. We saw them in Malaysia, and have seen specimens from Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They vary in color from dark reddish-brown to light orangey-brown. Their most characteristic features are the triangular clear patches on their wings, the hooked wing tips, and the feathery antennae. Although Atlas moths have an earth-tone color range, their marking patterns are fairly complex. They have shaded stripes and border spots in muted shades of pink, red, black, and yellow that allow Atlas moths to be extremely variable. The hooked forewing tip has an interesting pattern. What do you see when you look at it? Many people see a snake’s head. In fact, Atlas moths are commonly called “Snake Head” moths. The clear patches on the wings are transparent sections of the wing membrane that form without the colorful wing scales that cover the rest of the wing. Many Saturniid moths have these clear spots.
The super large feathery antennae of the Atlas moth are not there for ornamentation. Like all Saturniid moths, Atlas moths have no mouth parts and cannot feed as adults. All of the energy and fluids that they will ever have are stored in their bodies as caterpillars!!! Because of this, they only live as adults for about a week! Their sole purpose as adults is to find mates and produce the next generation. This is why the antennae are so important. The female Atlas moths emit a fragrant pheromone that drifts away on the breeze. Using their super-sensitive antennae, the males can detect this pheromone from over a mile away, and follow the scent directly to the female. With so little time as adults, it is imperative that they don’t waste their limited window of opportunity.
The caterpillars of the Atlas moth are enormous, occasionally approaching 6-inches in length. That’s about the size of a hot dog!!! They eat a variety of plants including citrus and privet. Their cocoons are equally huge, and sometimes their cocoons are used as a source of silk, although Atlas silk is course and irregular.
Atlas moths are commonly attracted to lights at night. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we happened to pass a white marble-clad hotel one night. This beautiful building was fully lit and had huge lights at the top. The entire face of the building was speckled with gigantic Atlas moths, all the way up to the 40th floor! They had been attracted by the lights and had landed on the building to rest. It was absolutely amazing to see. Although Atlas moths are quite common, it is very difficult to catch a perfect specimen. There always seems to be some wing damage. Luckily for collectors, Atlas moths are one of the most commonly commercially bred species in the insect trade. So it is always possible to obtain large, perfect specimens at reasonable prices. Atlas moths are always a favorite in our Wonders Of Nature department. Tomorrow we’ll post a picture of one that we have. An Atlas Moth would be a perfect addition to your own collection, or it would make a great first gift to begin a collection for your child or grandchild. It could start them on a lifetime of enjoying Entomology. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, we hope you’ll stop in and see some of our favorites. See you on the trail!
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We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.