Tattered Wings

The wings came down as the only evidence that such a creature had soared.

~Henry David Thoreau, commenting on a pair of Luna Moth wings that floated down onto the ground after the moth was eaten by a bird

Walking back from the garden yesterday, I spotted some evidence of a passing…the passing of one of our most regal insects, a Luna Moth, Actias luna.

Luna Moth wing with dew 2

Hind wing of a Luna Moth on the ground near my driveway (click on photos to enlarge)

The evidence was a tattered hind wing on the ground. Although a sign of death, it also is an affirmation that these beautiful nocturnal insects are on the wing again. They typically have two (sometimes three) generations per year in this area. This moth was part of their final flight period this calendar year. Female Lunas that survive and mate will lay 200 or more eggs on numerous host plants (Sweet Gum seems to be a favorite in my area). Caterpillars hatch within a week or so, and then feed for a few weeks until they pupate in a brown silken cocoon, usually made in the leaf litter or on a twig. They will spend the winter in the cocoon and emerge next spring and start a new generation.

I don’t know whether this Luna Moth was able to successfully tend to a new generation or not. They have many predators in their short time as an adult. Nocturnal predators include bats, flying squirrels, and probably anything else that happens to come across one of these large morsels. I have seen Gray Squirrels eating them during the day, as well as many birds. As rural areas become developed, moths, in general, are susceptible to predation when lured by lights, making them vulnerable to visual predators the next morning.

Luna Moth wing with dew

The eye on the wing

When I found the wings, there had been three laying in a pile beneath a maple tree. The next morning when I went out to photograph them, there was only one. I wondered what had made off with the remaining ones. When I bent down, I could see the dew drops covering the eye of the wing. 

Luna Moth wing eye spot with dew

Beauty in the eye of the moth

The “eyes” of the Luna Moth have always fascinated me. The wing scales create a detailed pattern with such striking colors, enhanced on this day by tiny magnifiers of dew drops.

Luna Moth wing eye spot

The eye from a Luna Moth wing at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

I had found another set of wings down in the woods last week while cutting some wood. There were also three sets of wings along a short trail at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge last week. And, ironically, a friend on Facebook just posted some exquisite photos of wings he found in eastern North Carolina. It seems that the adult moths are, indeed, on the wing. And though they are falling prey to many woodland creatures, I am sure enough have secured the future of their kind by laying eggs which will soon hatch to start another generation. I look forward to finding their huge larvae in the next few weeks…another part of the yearly cycle that makes living in North Carolina so incredibly fascinating for those who take the time to walk in the woods.

 

 

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