Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas)
The Atlas moth is one of the world’s largest moths particularly when measured by the surface area of the wings and the wingspan.
The white witch is the only moth who slightly surpasses this species in wingspan, measuring about 29cm. Whereas, it stands second to the Hercules moth in overall wing area. It can be found in the jungles of Southeast Asia, with the striking patterns on its large wings deterring predators. Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus first described this species in 1758 in the 10th edition of his book Systema Naturae.
Description and Identification
The caterpillars hatch in about two weeks and are dusty-green, covered with white, waxy, fleshy spines. They grow to a length, and thickness of 11.5 cm (4.5 in) and 2.5 cm (0.98 in) respectively. One can notice a sizeable green spot with an orange ring around it on the final abdominal segment, that also have prolegs.
Once the larvae are 11.5 cm long, they are ready to pupate. The pupal phase takes place inside a cocoon made of desiccated leaves held together with silk produced by the larva. The cocoon is 7-8 cm long. It takes about four weeks for the adult moths to evolve out of the cocoon.
However. environmental factors play a significant role in determining the time frame they take to mature.
Sexual Dimorphism: Present. Females are heavier and larger than males, while the latter has broader antennae.
Color and Appearance:
When the wings are opened, they are reddish-brown with black, pink, purple, and white lines and a white, triangular spot in the middle. The underside of their wings is paler than the upper part.
One of the remarkably striking features of their forewing is the upper corner on both sides that bear a close resemblance to a snake’s head. No wonder, the Cantonese people in Hongkong, refer to them as the snake’s head moth. This perhaps is an excellent camouflage of these moths against big predators like birds.
When the wings are closed, the patterns and colors remain unchanged, with the snake-like pattern being even more prominent, looking like two heads and not just one.
Average wingspan: 24 cm
Flight pattern: Erratic and weak; these moths prefer to fly as little as possible.
Season: Year-round, but heightened activity has been observed from November to January.
The yellowish-white eggs appear spherical with a diameter of 0.25 cm.
|Distribution||Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Borneo, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, northeastern India, southeastern China, Taiwan, and Vietnam|
|Habitat||Tropical and sub-tropical rainforests|
|Lifespan of Adults||1-2 weeks|
|Host Plants||Annona, Cinnamomum, Citrus, Clerodendrum, Mussaenda, and Salix|
|Adult Diet||Does not feed|
Did You Know
- They are named after Atlas, who in Greek mythology was a Titan, known for holding up the sky.
- In India, the Atlas moth is raised for their brown wool-like silk. While only available in strands, it is considered to be quite durable.
- The cocoons of these moths are interestingly used as at times as wallets in Taiwan to keep spare change.
- A postage stamp of 1959 in Japan had the Atlas moth depicted on it.
- A Japanese subspecies of this moth, A. a. ryukyuensis, was the inspiration behind the fictional monster, Mothra’s creation.