The 10 Largest Species of Moths in the World
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With more than 160,000 species worldwide, moths are one of nature's most important pollinators. Moths and butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera, and moths make up 89-94% of this species. You can tell whether you're looking at a moth or a butterfly by making a few simple distinctions.
The shape of the antenna is different from a stick antenna with a light bulb on the end. Moths have a feathery appearance with jagged edges. Usually butterflies are more brightly colored, although many moths are beautifully colored. If you touch moths, they shed scales on your fingers that look like a powdery substance. This shedding is natural and does not affect the lifespan of the moth.
Moths are generally nocturnal, but some species do fly during the day. They also fold their wings differently. Butterflies fold them on their backs, and moths fold them on their abdomens. The lifecycles are similar, with one notable difference during transitions. Moth caterpillars make cocoons of a filamentous substance. Butterfly caterpillars produce tough chrysalis.
As important insects in ecosystems, pollinating more than any other insect, moths also pose problems for agriculture. For this reason, farmers use insecticides and herbicides to kill the moths and protect their crops. Runoff from crops is endangering surrounding ecosystems and threatening populations of lepidopteran insects. Below you'll find the 10 largest moth species in the world, as measured by their wingspan.
#10: Splendid Royal Moth ( Citheroma Splendens )
You can find this royal beauty on the northern edge of Mexico and the lower United States. The mating season is short, July-August, and 1-4 eggs are laid each time on the leaves of the host.
They are dark gray with red veins and white markings, and love the delicious leaves of wild cotton, manzanita, New Mexico evergreen sumac, and squawbush.
They will burrow in the basement in September and enter the pupal stage of their life cycle, becoming moths again.
#9: Cecropia Silkmoth ( Hyalophora Cecropia )
A beautiful specimen, adorned with red, white, and yellow wings, black "eye" markings, and a frosted appearance on the wings. The belly has red and white stripes. This moth has a wingspan of 5 ⅞ inches and an adult life cycle of 2 weeks.
Found east of the Rocky Mountains, these moths love the forests of the United States and Canada. Meteor spiders can mimic the pheromones of female celestial silkworms and use this scent to attract male moths to their webs. The moths mate from March to July, and in select areas, May to June, then repeat two weeks later.
#8: Agapema Oculea & Agapema Polyphemus
The Agapema family, with wingspans reaching nearly 6 inches, has two very similar species. Agapema oculea is tan in color with orange, blue and black eye spots. There is a marginal black line and the body may have a yellow or red tinge. Agapema polyphemus is reddish or yellowish brown with pink, brown or rusty markings on the underside.
Agapena oculea has one mating June-August and lives in oak woodlands and mixed forests in the southwestern United States. Agapena polyphemus mates once in the northern United States from May to July, twice in the central region from April to May, and again in July to August, with several mating cycles throughout the southern United States.
#7: Giant Silk Moths (Saturniids)
Giant silk moths include species such as: polyphemus moth ( Antheraea polyphemus ), luna moth ( Actias luna ), Columbia silk moth ( Hyalophora columbia ) and cecropia moth ( Hyalophora cecropia ), which we have covered in detail.
Colors vary from shades of brown, orange and yellow forming "eye spots" in polyphemus moths to bright green with pink/brown spots and tails on hindwings and tails in luna moths, to dull waxy green with a row of Rows of orange, yellow, or blue adorn the wings of the Colombian silk moth, to the more brightly colored ceper moth.
Each of these produces silk that is harvested and used in silk production in Asian and South American cultures. Colors range from white silk to light brown, silvery brown and brown.
These silk moths have a wingspan of up to 6 inches and are native to deciduous rainforests and wooded areas. When mating, female moths release pheromones for only 2-3 hours, attracting male moths miles away.
#6 Royal Walnut Moth ( Citheroma Regalis )
The Royal Walnut Moth has a wingspan of up to 6 ¼ inches and its larvae have their own name, the Hickory Horn Devil. This moth is native to the southeastern United States. Exciting in coloration, the moth has gray-green wings with orange stripes and a series of yellow dots. The body is orange with a narrow yellow band. This is quite a change from the blue-green color of the caterpillar stage.
Mating only one generation per season, these moths prefer to lay their eggs on walnut, walnut, or hickory leaves. They will also use persimmon, sweetgum and sumac leaves. Some scientists believe that the larvae grow faster and larger on the persimmon leaves.
#5: Emperor Moth ( Eagles imperialis )
The emperor moth, or Eagles imperialis , is predominantly yellow with pink/purple-brown patches and spots. It has a wingspan of up to 6 ⅞ inches. Adults do not feed. They take off after sunrise and mate on the same 24-hour cycle after midnight. The female lays her eggs on the leaves, sometimes singly or in groups of 2-5. It takes about two weeks for the eggs to hatch.
The monarch moth can be found in parts of the United States and Canada. One major difference between male and female monarch moths are the antennae. The male antenna is quadrilateral, then narrowed down to a simpler singular antenna. Females don't have four combs, just a single antennae, which looks odd.
Most monarch moths emerge in late summer. This time helps with their natural defenses against predators. Their coloring allows them to blend in with fallen leaves that are often of a similar color. The moths are often found on the forest floor along with the leaves. When you see these moths congregating near lights, they are likely females that have mate and laid eggs.
#4: Giant Wood Moth ( Endoxyla Cinera )
It's hard to find one of these giant moths. With a wingspan of 9.8 inches, it is said to be the heaviest moth in the world, weighing just over an ounce. These moths are found off the coast of Queensland and New South Wales. Attracted to the cork of eucalyptus, the larvae are 1-3 years old and have purple and white stripes. This color fades as they mature.
The adults are gray and have a short life cycle, living only a few days before laying eggs and dying. Females do not eat during the larval stage and survive on stored reserves. Females are not good at flying, so they have been found resting on wooden objects such as tree trunks or fence posts.
#3: Atlas Moth ( Attacus Atlas )
If you're in Southeast Asia, you've probably come across the Atlas moth. A formidable 10-12 inch wingspan puts this moth near the top of our list. Intricate colors and patterns on the wings include reddish-brown with white, black, pink, and purple designs. The underside is lighter in color.
These moths are thought to have built into their colorful patterns a defense strategy against predators. The tips of the wings are like a snake's head, which can ward off enemies. In the caterpillar stage, they spew secretions like skunks when predators are nearby.
#2: The White Witch ( Thysania Agrippina )
Native to South America, Mexico and Texas, the White Witch has a wingspan of 11.4 inches. A rare sight, largely due to its ability to blend in with trees, the White Witch has a zigzag pattern in shades of brown, black, or gray. This beautiful moth is also known as the birdwing moth, ghost moth, great owl moth, and great gray witch moth. The lifespan of the White Witch is 1-2 weeks.
#1 Largest Moth: Hercules Moth ( Coscinocera Hercules )
This impressive species has a wingspan of 10.6 inches, with females reaching up to 14.2 inches. With a wingspan of over 14 inches, the Hercules Moth is the largest moth in the world! They are located in North Queensland and New Guinea. Their lifespan is very short, only 2-8 days, because they don't have a mouth available to feed. They live long enough to mate and lay eggs.
In the caterpillar stage, the Hercules moth can grow up to 5 inches long and have false eyes on its tail to confuse its predators. Although the moths have a short lifespan, they can live up to 2 years in the cocoon stage.
Summary of the 10 largest moth species in the world
|giant wood moth
|6 ⅞ inches
|royal walnut moth
|6 ¼ inches
|giant silk moth
|Agapema Oculea & Polyphemus
|almost 6 inches
|5 ⅞ inches
|splendid royal moth
|5 ⅞ inches
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