I remember when I was growing up, always wanting to be outside playing and exploring. I also remember waiting patiently at the bottom deck stair, touching the grass so that it was dry so that I didn’t track anything back into the house while I was out. Every few minutes I would run my hand through the grass readying myself to yell to my mother that the grass was finally dry. Once it was, I was nowhere to be seen. I was either in the overgrown field behind the house catching insects or I would be off to other areas in Jamestown that I knew where hot spots for cool insects.
The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is one of the most spectacular of the giant Saturniid moths from the United States. With its green colors and long delicate tails, it is breathtaking to see live and in person, especially for the first time! According to the amazing book “The Wild Silk Moths of North America: A Natural History of the Saturniidae of the United States and Canada” by Paul M. Tuskes, James P. Tuttle and Michael M. Collins, this species can be found throughout most of the eastern part of North America. There are two seasonal forms, with those hatching in the spring being a more intense green in color whereas those hatching in the summer tend to be more yellowish. The spring forms also have a more vibrant purple outer wing margin. I have found them very easy to rear on both walnut and sweetgum, with the only real issues being overcrowding which tends to attract yellow jackets and birds, who love to eat the caterpillars, especially when using net bags on the branches of trees.
For anyone that raises butterflies and moths, having your caterpillars form pupae is a huge undertaking. You spend weeks feeding these hungry mouths and though you may be doing it in protected environments, the chance of failure is still there. Stink bugs, yellow jackets, skunks and raccoons are always hungry for your babies and at times, no matter how hard you try, they still seem to find what you are working so hard to protect. There is an excitement that is unequaled when your caterpillars finally form their chrysalis or cocoon. With all of these odds against you in captivity, what chance do they have in the wild?
Raising Lepidoptera has been a hobby that I have enjoyed ever since I was a kid. Though raising butterflies has always been fun, it is raising the giant silkmoths, family Saturniidae, that has been my favorite aspect of rearing. Thankfully I live in an area that includes a great representation of these amazing moths, even though their wild populations do seem to be dwindling with each passing year. What I present to you is a list of the most commonly used caterpillar foodplants for these moths representing nine species. This list is in no way meant to be complete and only through experimentation can new plants be added to this ever-growing list.
So, if you have never raised Saturniid larvae before, or even if you are a seasoned veteran, this list will hopefully be helpful in guaranteeing your success! Good luck and have fun!
THE LUNA MOTH – Actias luna
Aspen (Populus), Bayberry (Myrica), Beech (Fagus), Birch (Betula), Butternut (Juglans), Chestnut (Castanaea), Hickory (Carya), Hops (Humulus), Hornbeam (Carpinus), Maple (Acer), Oak (Quercus), Pecan (Carya), Sweetgum (Liquidambar), Sycamore (Platanus), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron), Walnut (Juglans).