So I got some luna moth eggs…

30 Mar

Luna moth eggs at 80x magnification.

My friend Shawn Hanrahan collected some luna moths last Wednesday, and since they dropped hundreds of eggs he offered batches to anyone interested in rearing some lunas.  I am terrible with caterpillars (-no, really.  The only lep I have successfully reared to adulthood was a pierid that fell to the floor of the container and wound up with useless crumpled wings-) but I decided to give it a go.  So with advice from Shawn (check out his extensive body of pictures and pages on Wikipedia) I have set out on the adventure.  If you don’t hear further you can assumed I failed miserably and am sunk in depression.  On the upside, you can see I am still having tons of fun with the iPhone-dissecting scope photography.

Actias luna hatched egg cases.

Hatched luna moth eggs.

So far, I have successfully hatched luna moth eggs.  Pretty sure that required more work on the caterpillar’s part than my own, but still, points.  Fun fact: luna moth caterpillars eat their way out of their eggs.  I pulled out a cluster of eggshells a day or so after the hatching to take some exciting photos of the empty eggs.  And then I wondered what that green blobby thing in the photo above was.  Had one of the caterpillars failed to emerge properly and died trapped in the egg shell?  (I mentioned my track record with caterpillars, right?)  I detached the grisly relic to get a better look.  (And photos!)

Luna moth caterpillar emerging from egg case (Actias luna).

Hatching luna moth caterpillar.

The grisly relic started wriggling around.  I had actually managed to catch a late-emerging caterpillar in the few minutes of it’s emergence while under a scope with camera iPhone at the ready.


Hatching luna moth neonate and egg pile (Actias luna).

Hatching luna moth with eggs.

Obviously I took lots of pictures, and even managed to snag a bit of video.  Moving target don’t make great subjects for scope photography (especially with an iPhone that has to be held at *just* the right distance and angle to pick up the image through the scope) but I got a number I quite like.

Baby luna moth neonate emerging from egg shell (Actias luna).

Hatchling luna moth emerging from egg.

The spiky little caterpillar wriggle and flopped pretty energetically, apparently attempting to drag itself free of the shell, and it was only a matter of minutes before it finished the process and begin busily creeping around the dish.  After a short period of observation I transferred it back to the container to enjoy a leafy banquet with its siblings.

Neonate luna moth caterpillar and egg case (Actias luna).

Newly hatched luna moth and egg shell.

I realize at this point I failed to provide any kind of reference for how exceedlingly tiny these little guys are*, so next is a photo with an insect pin for size reference.  As an aside, I had no idea my insect pins were so glitzy.

(*and yet baby lunas are still bigger than most first instar caterpillars, which in our lab we sometimes call eyelash caterpillars.)

Neonate first instar baby luna moth with egg and pin for size comparison.

Newly hatched luna moth caterpillar with pin head for scale.

Finally, in the spirit of Adrian’s absolutely adorable pictures of “pinned” baby earwigs over at Splendor Awaits, a pinned baby luna moth:

Neonate hatchling luna moth caterpillar on insect pin head.

How many luna moths can dance on the head of a pin?

Next week: baby pictures! Or something.

>>The Luna Moth Saga


12 Responses to “So I got some luna moth eggs…”

  1. Adrian D. Thysse March 30, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    Do I see the beginnings of a new macro trend? 😉 Cute pic’s!

    • 6legs2many April 5, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

      Thanks. Seriously, if I could make my iPhone take beautiful macros in the field I would be set. It’s the camera I always have with me.

  2. gorthx March 30, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    Oh wow! I love luna moths (haven’t seen one in years.) It’s exciting to see them hatch. Good luck!

  3. gorthx March 30, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Oh, so exciting to see the little darlings hatch! Good luck!

  4. Jen April 20, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Hi, I found your post while searching for info on how to hatch luna moth eggs…. A few days ago, one showed up on my front porch window screen, laid eggs yesterday, and I fould her dead on the porch this morning. I’d like to make sure those eggs hatch, because I think Lunas are pretty rare around here. Can you give me any advice?

    • 6legs2many April 20, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

      Hi Jen, This link has very good information:
      One important detail whether your try to rear the caterpillars yourself or release them to make their own way is to identify a good host plant for them. If you’re rearing them in tubs you’ll want to try to find something close to hand since the leaves need to be changed frequently. The link above has a good discussion of the pros and cons of different plant types. Good luck!

  5. Richard Olivari June 3, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    I live in Hicksville on Long Island and 12 days ago when I was leaving work I saw a beautiful Luna moth in the parking lot. I had never seen anything like it before and didn’t want her to get hurt. I put her in a plastic container and brought her home where I released her into my yard. In the plastic container she laid many eggs. I read up on them and put them in a new plastic container. They hatched today! My problem is I can’t find any of the host plants around here. I guess they’re not native to this area. Any ideas?

  6. Rosie July 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    I’m not sure what to do…yesterday my bff Judy was over for coffee her little ball of pure energy in tow as well aka:Gizmo (he’s a Boston terrier). This beautiful Luna Moth was perched on my screen door, I noticed her first yesterday a.m. when I brought walker out for the bus, & since she was still there when Judy arrived early afternoon I decided to scoop her up & take a cpl pix of her…*pause the story*…
    Quick back story so we’re all on the same page: I LOVE LUNA MOTHS! I always have, their rarity combined w/ their stunning beauty has always captivated me…they just speak to me, on a spiritual level, on an emotional level, their majestic & mysteriously alluring nature has always fascinated me & thru out my life this delicate creature always seems to appear when I need a sign, to tell me to keep going, that everything is going to be fine…I’ve seen a handful in my lifetime, sometimes yrs pass before seeing another, rare sightings just add to their symbolic sentiment, however, this is our first spring/summer here @ our new home here in South Paris & since early June I have seen15! I have 2 hypotheses: 1) they always have come to me in the past during very emotionally straining times & have offered glimmers of hope & encouragement, symbolically they’ve served as a guardian of sorts, a sentry delivering a msg from the spiritual realm…seeing this many in one season has literally taken my breath away, I feel like I’m being given some sort of divine message to my doubts & fears about life & this move, that this IS EXACTLY where I’m supposed to be…but the rational side of my brain wants to go with theory 2) there must be a black walnut tree on our property (which is where the Luna female lays her eggs after her & her mate spend just a single night dancing together til dawn), they’re rare, which makes them special but when you consider all of the factors that must be in place to actually see one you can begin to appreciate how amazing they are. The fact that they only lay their eggs on the leaves of one specific tree, only fly at night to find their life mate & they only live for 7 days once their transformation from a silk worm is complete, timing is everything so try to remember that the next time you happen to come across one of my beautiful friends…*unpause story*…I wanted pic bc I knew she was a female instantly & thus far the 14 that had preceded her were all males (one of which I have beautifully preserved in a shadow box) but once u got her in the house she took wing & I was afraid either Hannah or Gizmo or both would hurt her so I put her in a big clear sundry jar that already had holes punched in it from its last venture as a makeshift drug house…long story short…um…well shorter we’ll say…once she was in the Jr she started laying her eggs! Which was amazing to witness but now idk what I child do with them…Mamma died, her lifecycle ends after she lays her eggs, sad but necessary for the circle of life to continue on, & despite my original intentions I now have a beautiful female to preserve & add to the shadow box alongside her male.counterpart…all that’s fine & well but what to do with the eggs?! I feel terrible that circumstances forced her to lay them in a jar to begin with, I would feel even worse if they don’t get a chance to hatch because of me…I feel obligated to see this through, especially when one considers the incredible connection I feel with these creatures…I feel like I’ve started down a path to spiritual enlightenment, somehow I know this journey will lead me to a place I need to be, just have to take the first step! Any thoughts? I think I’m going to call the university of Maine first, see if I an talk to a biology professor or someone from the Maine nature society…any ideas or info would be helpful & appreciated! Take a look @ the pic, look at all the eggs in the bottom, a hundred at least…this is amazing…thank you for posting your experience, its comforting to know I’m not the only one! I would love to hatch them myself but how long before I know if my eggs are viable? They appear to be nothing more than a bunch of tiny black pebbles rolling about the bottom of the jar where their mamma laid them…is this an appropriate environment? Will they hatch if just left to themselves? I’ll check out the link you left for fellow commenter Jen as well but any help or advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • 6legs2many July 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

      I didn’t see a picture, but what you described is exactly how the eggs are supposed to look. They should hatch just fine as long as they don’t overheat, overchill, or dessicated. (A closed jar or tupperware at room temperature or a little warmer should work out fine.)

      That link above is going to be your best resource! If she mated (likely for a wild moth) the eggs should hatch in a week or two. The thing to do now is to look for an appropriate food source tree that you can either collect food from or put the hatchlings on. Luckily lunas have a pretty wide range of hosts–white birch, beech, sumac, gum trees, eucalyptus, hickory, walnut, butternut, pecan, willow, oak, etc.. Some luna hatch groups may be pickier than others on what they will accept.

  7. Rosie July 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    I apologize about the extremely long rant, I didn’t realize it was so terrifyingly lengthy! Thank you again for your post!

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