Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Luna Moth: Photos, Symbolism and a Poem

Maynard, MA: This morning (May 28, 2013), turning back to the house from getting the newspaper, I looked up and saw this over our front door. It stayed until evening, then flew off.


"This" is a male Luna Moth (not 'Lunar moth'); only the fourth I've ever seen in 60 years. Luna moths are native to North America, and not so much rare as secretive. These are forest-dwelling, night-flying, short-lived moths. In New England, adults emerge from pupa in late May to mid-June. The adults do not feed, hence are never seen flitting from flower to flower, and live for only about a week, their sole purpose - besides beauty - being to mate before dying.

I suppose it's the same with us, just on a different time scale.

In northern states the cycle from egg hatching to egg laying takes a year, with only the last week spent as a winged adult. In central and southern states there may be two or even three generations during the warm months, with only first cycle of adults having overwintered as pupae.

Eyespot on upper wing
The males use their intricately branched antennae to detect scent pheromones released by females. The detection system is so sensitive that a male in flight can detect the presence of just a few molecules in the air. He will then immediately turn and fly upwind into the mild night wind, traveling miles on her intensifying scent steam until he finds her perched on a tree branch. Each male and female mate once (a process that takes several hours). The female will deposit several hundred fertilized eggs over the next 2-3 nights.

click on photo to enlarge

A careful look at the large photo discerns what appear to be faint circles on the upper wing, below and inward from the more obvious oval-shaped markings. Actually, these are brightly colored circles on the underwing. Several large moth species have "eyespots" on underwings. There is a theory that moving the overwings apart to suddenly reveal what looks like large eyes on the underwings might briefly scare away an attacking bird or other predator, allowing the moth time to escape.

This does not always work, as evidenced by the photo of dismembered remains found on top of a picnic table.

Similar moths (night fliers with green coloring, wing eyespots and tailed underwings) live elsewhere in the world. A search on "moon moth" will yield information and pictures on many related species in Asia, Africa, and one in Spain that as a caterpillar, eats pine needles. The sole North American species is Actias luna. A picture below shows one of the cousin species native to Thailand.

Bill Oehlke maintains a very detailed set of instructions on how to care for Luna moths from eggs to caterpillars and from caterpillars to pupa and hence to moths at the website: http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/Actiaslunarearing.htm

Henry David Thoreau jotted a few notes in his journal, June 1859: "I found a remarkable moth lying flat on the still water as if asleep, they appear to sleep during the day, as large as the smaller birds. Five and a half inches in alar extent and about three inches long...with a remarkably narrow lunar cut tail of a sea green color with four conspicuous spots whitish within then a red line, then yellowish border below or toward the tail, but brown orange and black above toward head. A very robust body covered with a kind of downy plumage an inch and a quarter long by five eighths thick. The sight affected me as tropical and I suppose it is the northern verge of some species. It suggests into what productions Nature would run if all the year were a July. By night it is active, for though I thought it dying at first it made a great noise in its prison a cigar box at night When the day returns it apparently drops wherever it may be even into the water and dozes till evening again."

LUNA MOTH SYMBOLISM, LUNA MOTH MEANING

Actias rhodopneuma (Thailand)
According to one internet posting (its source unattributed) Luna moths are associated with intuition, psychic perception and increased awareness. My own opinion is that sightings are so rare and so striking that whenever we see a Luna moth our thoughts seek out some event in our own life to create meaning.

More generally, in many cultures butterflies and moths are thought to symbolize human souls, rebirth, transformation...

From Bulfinch's Mythology "The Greek name for a butterfly is Psyche, and the same word means the soul. There is no illustration of the immortality of the soul so striking and beautiful as the butterfly, bursting on brilliant wings from the tomb [pupa] in which it has lain, after a dull, grovelling, caterpillar existence, to flutter in the blaze of day and feed on the most fragrant and delicate productions of the spring. Psyche, then, is the human soul, which is purified by sufferings and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness."

Psyche's story is of a young woman who became the lover of Eros (Cupid in Roman era), who was with her only during the darkness of night. For the forbidden folly of viewing his sleeping body by lamplight, she was tasked by the Goddess Aphrodite (Eros' mother, named Venus in Roman era ) with four near-impossible challenges. Upon completing these, she was given the drink of immortality by Zeus, and rejoined Eros. In art, Psyche is often portrayed with butterfly wings while Eros is shown with feathered wings.

Ronald A. Gagliardi wrote a thesis "The Butterfly and Moth as Symbols in Western Art." Much of it can be searched at: http://www.insects.org/ced4/butterfly_symbols.html. There is mention of belief by the Blackfoot Indians that butterflies were bringers of dreams and sleep.

Click on any photo to enlarge





Luna moths as symbol for sleep? Sunovian Pharmaceuticals, a division of a Japan-based pharmaceutical company, uses a Luna moth animation in U.S. television and print advertisements for it's sleep-promoting drug LUNESTA. While the moon is often seen as a symbol or bringer of sleep, that effect has not traditionally been attribute to moths. And why should it, when in fact we know they are up all night!!!

In The Hunger Games (book, p. 289) a beautiful green-and-silver moth lands on Katniss' wrist. In websites such as http://www.hungergameslessons.com/2011/06/whats-so-important-about-the-green.html much is made of this as a symbol of the transition of Katniss from a self-serving, self-preserving person to one who has empathy for others. Given the story takes place in North America, it could have been a Luna moth, though why "and-silver" is part of the description is anyone's guess.

AND A POEM
                                 LUNA

Close-up of antennae
Egg to wings: 51 weeks;
Wings to dead: 1 week.

We grieve for the Luna moth,
Its spectacular short life,
Beauty, beauty, beauty, beauty, beauty.
   Living only a week
   to seek, mate, die.

Perhaps we project too much,
Perhaps there is no intelligence to mourn,
Perhaps there is only a bundle of instincts,
   Atop that fuzzy white body,
   between those green wings.

The leaf-consuming caterpillar
   (also greenly beautiful),
Has five months to eat, wander, eat, ponder,
   To see the beauty of a sumac leaf,
   To feel sun, dark, rain, wind.

Then seven long contemplative months as a pupa,
Softly moving inside, always thinking.
Knowing the tides of seasons' slow change,
Until it is time
   To surrender all conscious thought,
   To become a pale night flyer.

There are other Luna poems to be found on the Internet - perhaps enough for a collection? A search on luna moth poetry turned up poems by Steve Luxon, Carl Phillips, Sean Nevin, Jo Pitkin, Cecily Parks, Robert Crawford, Jeff Friedman... 

16 comments:

  1. I am happy to see the luna moth honored in this posting, and in the beautiful poem. I had an encounter earlier this week with a male luna moth (I say it was a male because you described the beautiful leaf-like, delicately veined antennae on the male moth). I was letting my dogs in the back door at night and saw something large fying just outside the door. I thought it might be a bird, and it looked like it might fly in the house. Instinctively I closed the door. The moth ended up on the deck and our dog must have snapped at it. It was badly injured. The wings were still perfect, and what a sight to see. But the body had been badly damaged and it could not fly. I felt so sorry. I lifted it up and held it in my hand and told it how sorry I was. I felt some sort of communication. It was really heart-wrenching. I decided to put it back on the deck, in hopes that some night bird might grab it up quickly. The next morning it was still there, just as alive as before. I struggled with where to put it, what to do for it. I left it under a tree. It lived another night and day. Finally, at the very end, I brought it inside to spare it from the ants. I was very touched by this exquisite creature. I hope it had a chance to pass on that beauty to a female before it came to my back door!

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  2. I am so touched by your story. I would have done the same thing. I saw one the other night, took a picture, and felt so peaceful knowing I had the special opportunity to see him/her for its short life. I believe we got to see it because it is a sign that spiritual change is about to happen for us that are given the time to see them :)

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  3. earlier, i saveed oone of its lara, from the road it was beautiful i dident know what it was and last night a beautiful luna moth landed on my tv, right off the screen. it sat their until about 30 minutes from this post. i felt a conection with it, my friends were over and mot of them being pagan
    it was an amazing experiance, we all loved it

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  4. A beautiful female landed on front door Friday morning. She was there from 8:30am-8:30pm. Then she took flight into the night air. This morning she is resting on my TV room screen window. I like to think she has come back. Her life is ending. Her wings are shredded in areas. Her body is no longer that soft white color. I felt blessed to see her take flight.....I feel honored she has come back at the end.....

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  5. A male Luna Moth has landed on my front door step this afternoon. I am so intrigued by him that I had to look up more information about this creature. I came across this story on the web. I feel like this Moth has landed on my step for a reason. I feel blessed and honored to have had him land on my doorstep in his short winged life. I believe in the symbolism.

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  6. Found a male Luna Moth outside my office in south central Oklahoma today, a very beautiful creature. It was flopping around in the grass, so I went to pick it up and it lighted on my shoulder and stayed there while I showed him off to my co-workers. We all oohed and aahed and I took him back outside only to go back a few hours later to find him covered in ants. I took him, brushed the ants off, and carefully placed him in my palm. We all felt very lucky to have found him today, not only did we get to see one of Gods beautiful creatures, we also learned so much about the Luna Moth. I hope someday to see another one.

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  7. I found a cocoon in an old chest at the thrift store last month. I didn't know what was inside the small thumb sized cocoon so I brought it home with me, and tied it to a hanging plant inside my house on a book shelf with some hemp string. I have been talking to it daily for the last month, and when I would touch it, it moved. After close to one month, I went to talk to it again to find it completely emerged, and hanging on a leaf of the plant beside it's old house the cocoon. I didn't know if it needed some time to adjust to its new body so I left it alone for a day. This morning I didn't see it by my bookshelf, so I started looking around the house for it. It came into my bedroom last night while I slept, and has been hanging out on my bedroom wall all morning. I have a friend who lives a good way up a mountain close by, and I intend to take it up there to release it this evening. I wanted to give it a clear night with some moonlight. I have been reading about the symbolism associated with these, and I can only hope that it will be a symbol for me.

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  8. I was lucky to have seen this moth so very up close. It was like described, almost spiritual. It never moved as I look very close, maybe two inches away, I could see the veining in the wings the anteni and I think the eyes, it never moved. The tail feathers or wings were so delicate and paler in color than the big wings. The eye marking really looked like eyes and so demintional . Beauty never lasts but in this case it was eternal. So glad I had a chance to see one

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    1. Just had to share. The day after mom passed away, I noticed a luna moth at the bottom of my deck sliding glass door. I remembered thinking at the time there must be something symbolic about that. The moth remained at the bottom of the door the following day; the day of mom's funeral, I noticed the moth had moved up high to the very top of the upper windows of my great room (outside of course). It was not until today that I thought to look up the lunar moth on the internet. "Luna moths are attracted to the moon as a source of light. In spiritual terms, they signify rebirth and new beginnings. Because they gravitate towards light in the darkness of the night, the luna moth is seen as a symbol of spiritual transformation, of heightened awareness, and a striving towards truth." WOW

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  9. Had a beautiful luna moth on our porch all day yesterday. At dusk he went on his way. Made us feel like summer finally almost here.

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  10. "My" luna moth arrived sometime between 5 and 8 a.m. this morning, resting on the wall right outside my front door window. It is so beautiful. I have been avoiding opening the door, so as not to frighten it off--although it sounds from what I've read here that it will leave this evening, when it's good and ready. Thanks for this good information. It has made the discovery of my little visitor so much more fun.

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  11. Not a surprise that late May and the emergence of adult Luna moths across the northern states has led to thousands of visits to this post. I am glad that I could provide information that helps each reader know more about their visitor.

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  12. We were forced to rent for a total of 4 years after being home owners for over 10 years. Well, we finally saved enough money and purchased a new home and moved in over the weekend. As the movers and I began bringing furniture into the house, I saw a huge, beautiful Luna moth clinging to the brick right at the entrance to our new home. I've never even seen one before. I feel like this was some sort of positive sign or symbol even though I'm far from superstitious. It just felt good to be greeted and invited into our new home by a Luna moth.

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  13. I have spent the better part of the night caring for a male Luna moth who has lost most of the dust from his wings and has difficulty flying. He is perched on my left hand as I type, and I feel so lucky to have forged a bond with such a beautiful creature. he's the third Luna I have seen in my lifetime, and the other two occasions were followed by positive changes in my life - I can only hope he brings such good tidings!
    I have reported his appearance to BAMONA, and will care for him until he passes...

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  14. I have had a male lunar at my door for three days in a row now...First two days I shooed it away as I had never seen a creature like this before and was totally freaked out...I then googled it and found out it was a male lunar...rare in sightings and had a adult life span of 7 days. Of course then I felt terrible for shooing it away! It has come back though....today...right on my front door. Has been there since this morning and it's now 10:00 pm. I do feel he has picked me and my house for a reason:) He refuses to leave:) maybe he wants to mate with me??!

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  15. I will guess that you have a light by your front door that is on overnight. Hence the appearance of "your" moth in the morning. These moths are remarkably inert during the day. In their natural habitat (trees, green leaves) they are well camouflaged, so any movement is counter-productive. I hope that as of this morning the moth has decamped, hopefully to find a female.

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