Luna Waxing

Yesterday on the return leg of a hike up some small mountains in southern NH, I spied this beauty on a striped maple.  It’s a rare and wondrous luna moth and the backlight was a bonus.  Judging by the bushy and feathery antennae, it’s probably a male.  It had newly emerged from the cocoon and was at its most vulnerable stage; pumping up those glorious wings.  It was so fuzzy that I wanted to touch it, but didn’t.  Just look at those purple legs!  Tremendous.  I felt so privileged to have found and photographed him.

Luna waxing

I was so excited because it’s only the 2nd one I’ve ever seen.  A bit of research turned up the usual fact of human poisoning of the world and they are now an endangered species in my state as a result.  Hopefully our last-minute conservation efforts can bring them back from the brink.

Another thing I learned is that they are only found in the eastern half of North America and, depending on the latitude, have one to three broods each year. In the north, the first brood is in May while in the south it is in March.  Each brood is marked by a change in color to the upper and lower borders of the wings.  First broods usually being pink or lilac, second and third more orange or yellow.  The southern specimens are smaller than the northern whose wingspans can reach 4 1/2 inches. They only fly at night.

One of the more puzzling and intriguing things about them is they seem to exist primarily for their larvae stage, since the adults only live about a week and have no mouths and thus cannot eat.  I wondered for a while just where this beauty came from since it’s early in the season and since it’s obvious the adults could not possibly have over-wintered or migrated anywhere. The cocooned caterpillar did the overwintering. If it pupates too close to winter it waits until spring to emerge where it will eat and eat and eat, eventually going through 5 separate instar stages before the final transformation into the stunning adult.

Nature always surprises and enchants me, but somehow this also made me sad, thinking of those mysterious night fliers, doomed to their short lives.  It shouldn’t, but it does.

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6 responses

  1. Pat

    What a marvelous creature!

    May 29, 2012 at 8:09 am

  2. A truly magnificent photo, thank you for posting this! Keep up the great work!

    May 29, 2012 at 8:20 am

  3. You really were lucky! Beautiful photo, with amazing detail.

    May 29, 2012 at 8:51 am

  4. Had one of these beauties on my screen door the other day. No matter how much a begged it just wouldn’t move to a more pleasing setting. :-)

    May 30, 2012 at 5:09 am

  5. Thanks everyone. It was an amazing experience finding this guy. Imagine if I found and photographed a mammal or something…I might have fainted dead away. : ) Seriously, I’m not a wildlife photographer, so working with anything alive and animated is new and different. Well, kinda.

    May 30, 2012 at 7:03 am

  6. I’ve only seen one of these, and since it was clinging to the side of a building during the day, I couldn’t see the body under the wings.

    Your comments about its short life makes me recall longer lived butterflies (swallowtails) who do feast on flower nectar. As the summer wears on I have seen their wings wear and fray till I’ve wondered how they even manage to fly using their tattered remnants.

    May 31, 2012 at 6:52 am

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