Atlas Moth Care

Credit: Emma Lawlor

Credit: Emma Lawlor

Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas) Caresheet

Sexing and characteristics. 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).

Atlas Moth - eggs and hatchlings

Hatchlings and eggs. Credit: Emma Lawlor

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.

2nd moult caterpillar. Credit: Emma Lawlor

2nd moult caterpillar. Credit: Emma Lawlor

Males and females are easily distinguished when they transform into the adult moths. Females are slightly bigger, with broader wings, larger ‘windows’ on the wings and are heavier-bodied. Males have broad, ‘feathery’ antennae, and the ‘windows’ on their wings are more triangular in shape.

Size. 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.

Substrate & water needs. The caterpillars require a clean enclosure; dirt left to gather can grow bacteria and fungus that will affect the health of the caterpillar. Therefore, an easy-to-clean substrate is ideal. This species comes from tropical rainforests in South-East Asia, so a substrate that can hold moisture is recommended. Water can damage a moth’s wings, and can drown caterpillars, yet they need moisture. The best way to provide this is by spraying the food plant and the caterpillars can drink the droplets as they eat the leaves.

Temperatures & humidity. The temperature should be 25-28˚C. It can survive at lower temperatures, but it grows and develops at a slower rate. Temperature should not be allowed fall below room temperature. Humidity should be about 60-70%. Too high a humidity can result in fungal infections, which the caterpillars are particularly prone to, while too low a humidity will give the caterpillars difficulty in shedding. A quick mist of the plants every second day should be sufficient.

Credit: Emma Lawlor

Credit: Emma Lawlor

Housing. Plastic boxes with plenty of ventilation are normally recommended. The larger, the better, as small cages can damage a moth’s wings if there’s not enough space to spread them. No decorations are needed as caterpillars do not stray far from the food plant.

Diet. The caterpillars feed on a variety of food plants, including mango and other citrus trees, cinnamon trees, and probably the easiest to provide; privet. The moths do not eat as they have no mouth parts, living off the energy reserves from when they ate as a caterpillar.

Life cycle. The eggs hatch in 12-14 days. The caterpillars will eat for about 5-7weeks, shedding five times throughout (they stop eating a few days before they moult). After this, they will spin a silk cocoon, sometimes using twigs and leaves as support for the structure. In a month’s time (with warm temperatures, but it takes longer with colder temperatures), a moth will emerge from a cocoon. If a cocoon is made late in the year, near winter, many will not emerge until spring/summer. When the moth first emerges, its wings are soft. It should be left alone,

Caterpillar moulting. Credit: Emma lawlor

Caterpillar moulting. Credit: Emma lawlor

undisturbed, until its wings harden after a few hours. The adult moths only live 5-14 days (shorter with warm temperatures, longer with colder temperatures). They will lay approx 150-300 eggs, which will be infertile unless a male has mated with the female.

Maintenance. The atlas moth is a relatively easy and undemanding species to rear. Their food plants are varied and readily available in garden centres. Combined with their beauty, this is a stunning species to work with. The species isn’t particularly active, preferring to reserve their little energy for mating and laying eggs rather than flying about.

They are more active at night, and can be easily picked up during the day – to do this, you can force them to step up on your finger by pushing gently into them. NEVER pick them up by their wings as they are very delicate.

Moth emerging from cocoon. Credit: Emma Lawlor

Moth emerging from cocoon. Credit: Emma Lawlor

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