Name: Atlas moth (Attacus atlas)
Range: South-East Asia, in tropical and subtropical broadleaf rainforests. While it can be found throughout the year, it is most common during November to January.
Diet: Ficus carica (common fig), Mangifera indica (mango) and other citrus plants, Ricinus communis (castor oil plant), Annona squamosa (sugar apple)
The atlas moth is one of the largest moths in the world. The caterpillars can grow to 11.5cm and adults wingspan are 25- 28cm long. While not the longest wings, it has one of the largest wing surface area of all lepidopteran (moths and butterflies), approx 62 inch sq.
Caterpillars are green, with long, soft, blue protrusions coming out of their bodies, a red spot on the side of their last feet (prolegs), and are covered in white pruinescence (a waxy substance that resembles powder). The adult moths have comb-like antennae and a rusty brown, fuzzy thorax. The heavy-bodied abdomen alternates between brown and beige stripes, and circles along their sides. The wings are mainly a reddish brown, with white, yellow, black and pink and purple lines. There are triangular-shaped ‘windows’ on the wings, with no scales, that are transparent, surrounded by a black border. The colours on the underside of the wing are much paler.
Caterpillars feed on a variety of host food plants, but adults do not feed at all. Adults, both male and female, have no mouthparts to enable them to eat, so they survive off energy reserves they gained from the caterpillar stage of their life. As a result, adults do not tend to move very far from where they eclosed from their cocoon, preferring to keep energy to live long enough to reproduce. Despite big wings, they tend not to fly too much; to reserve energy as it uses a lot of energy to heave their big, heavy bodies through the air. Females release a pheromone to attract males, which males pick up (downwind) with chemoreceptors located on their big antennae. Females can lay up to 150 eggs.
The silk from the atlas moth is not used commercially, unlike that of the Silkworm. However, the silk is very strong and it is cultivated by local people for non-commercial purposes. For example, in Taiwan, the empty silk cocoons left behind after the moths eclose, are often used as coin purses.
Emma is the HSI’s resident photographer, and has an MSc in Evolutionary Biology. She has a great deal of experience with reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, both in-field and in captivity. Her most recent breeding project involves the stunning Attacus Atlas Moth. You can follow her on Twitter here.