Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Luna Legacy

Yesterday evening while on our walk down to the Hudson River, I found the right hind wing of a luna moth in the weeds along the roadside. No other evidence of the insect was about. A bat's late night meal?

I brought it home so I could include it here with a photo because what struck me about this wing is how furry it is:

What is the purpose of this furriness? Does it, like the furry hairs on early plants like coltsfoot, help it keep warm? I don't know. I'm still looking for information.

Meanwhile, here is some background info. about the luna moth:
  • The luna (Actias luna) is a Saturniid moth.

  • The adults live for only about a week and have no mouth parts (in other words, they don't eat - that could explain the short life span as an adult).

  • Up in the northern part of its range (Canada), the luna only produces one generation a year, while in NY and NJ (and similar latitudes) it produces up to two, the first adults generally appearing around April and May, and the second generation 9-11 weeks later.

  • The larvae are usually listed as feeding on hickory and walnut leaves, but this gave me pause since we don't have those here. As it turns out, they also eat birch, alder and sumac, all of which grow up here in the mountains.

Other recent sightings:

Last night I saw my first fireflies of the season. Actually, it may have been only one firefly. Still, it was the first of the season.

Last Thursday (11th) evening, along the same route to the Hudson, we encountered two snapping turtles digging nests and one wood turtle. I used to see several wood turtles along this stretch of road in early June, all digging nests and laying eggs, but a couple years ago they paved the sandy turn-around and this has severely limited potential nest sites.

The latest bloomers include marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), sow thistle (Sonchus olaraceus - a non-native with aggressive tendencies), blackberries (Rubus alleghaniensis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium - also non-native, but naturalized), purple vetch (Vicia americana) - all your common "roadside weeds." My favorite is birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus cornicalatus), another non-native currently in bloom; I love it for its stunning yellow color.

The wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) are starting to fruit now - I saw the first ripe ones along the roadside this morning.


  1. I've only seen a luna moth once, and it was alive. In fact we decided it was just born, as there was a silky cocoon looking thing a few inches away. I just peeked at my sister's picture of it on Flickr, and I can't tell if its furry or not. Beautiful though!

  2. Most of the lunas I've seen are either already deceased or are soon to be. I've never seen a "fresh" one, as newly emerged butterflies are called. Very cool! If you've only ever seen one, that's the one to see!