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.
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.
Readers from Southern states have commented about sightings in September or even October.
|Luna Moth eyespot on upper wing|
|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 moon moth 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
|"Moon moth" 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.
|Luna Moth on old wood siding, Nobleboro, ME (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
|Close-up of Luna Moth antennae (male)|
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 taste the beauty of a sumac leaf,
To feel sun, dark, rain, wind.
|Color-saturated photo of Luna Moth|
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...