Well, the luna moth eggs finally hatched today – I was beginning to wonder if the eggs were fertile. Like the regal moth caterpillars, they began hatching in a large first wave, about 30 or so hatching in the first hour. Since the eggs were not layed so rapidly, it leads me to wonder if they emit a pheromone or something that coordinates hatching.
Hatched luna caterpillars -- click to enlarge.
The caterpillars are light green and tiny – they are about one half the size of the regal moth hatchlings (as were the eggs). I have raised lunas before, so I know what they are going to grow up to look like – beautiful fat, green corrugated caterpillars. I'm feeding them sweet gum, like the hickory horned devis, and they appear to like it just fine.
If you have never seen a live luna moth, I have to say that I think it is one of the most beautiful creatures in the insect world. There’s a reason why the Lunesta sleeping pill people use the moth (or a bad cartoon of it) to symbolize their product. I have read numerous stories about people finding one by their front porch light and calling the newspaper or the local natural history museum to report it, assuming that since it is so spectacular looking, it must be spectacularly rare. They’re not rare, in fact, they’re just hard to see.
As I said, I’ve raised this moth before – in fact it’s the last giant silk moth I raised before the current batch. When my children were small (about 20 years ago), I brought them to my mother’s house in upstate New York. It was summer and my oldest daughter was about 6. One night, on a whim, I took her on a drive to visit the places I used to go to collect moths when I was a teenager, and we caught a luna – it was high on a wall, underneath a light and its extravagant, long tails hung down like the wings of a magical fairy or an exotic bird. It was a female too, and I got it to lay eggs and brought them back with us to Arizona, where I raised the caterpillars. The whole thing made such an impression on my daughter that years later she got a tattoo of a luna on her back.
I can’t say that I was pleased when I first saw the tattoo (no parent that I know of is pleased by their children’s tattoos, though science writer Carl Zimmer may try tell you otherwise) but it did soften the blow a bit when she told me that she got it in memory of that special evening with me, so long ago. I have to admit that the tattoo artist really did a good job, accurately capturing the luna, and the moth is printed on me too, in my memory.