Saturniid moths, or Giant silk moths, are known for their large and colorful wings, fluffy bodies, and powerful appearance. Some species, such as the Imperial, the Rosy maple, and the Cecropia, live in North America, while others frequent Asia and Europe.
About the Species
|Range||Tropical and subtropical regions, Asia, North America, Europe|
|Lifespan||Depends on the species, 4 to 21 days, or longer|
|Description||Often brightly colored, with fuzzy bodies, large|
Saturniid moths are also called Giant silk moths and are a large family of moths, with over 2,300 subspecies, located in tropical and subtropical regions and other parts of the world. About 12 species live in Europe and almost 70 in North America, 42 of which frequent Mexico and California. Their ancient subfamilies live in the Americas.
Most Saturniid moth pupae can be used for silk production, which is why they are named “silk moths.”
Because of their reduced mouthparts, Saturniid moths rarely feed. This is why they depend on the fat stores they got during the larval stage. Their lifespan lasts from 4 to 21 days, but larger moths usually live longer.
Saturniid moths are generally nocturnal. They spend most of their life looking for a suitable partner in the evening. Their main predators are birds, spiders, lizards, and sometimes bats.
Saturniid moths are kings of eyespots and color
The Saturniid moths usually have bright wings and large eyespots on their forewings and hindwings. Their bodies can be feathery or smooth.
Their large wings are lobed, while their bodies have scales that are often too fine, resembling hair. The wingspans of the larger subspecies can range from 6 to 12 inches — making them one of the largest moth species.
Their wings are often packed with splashes of color combinations — orange, red, black, pink, green, and brown. Their coloration often helps them avoid predators by blending in with their surroundings. Their hindwings are somewhat elongated and form into “tails.”
Saturniid moth caterpillars blend in their environment
The caterpillars of the Saturniid species are relatively large. They can reach about 4 inches towards the end of the first instar and can be as long as 6 inches by the time they are ready to form the pupa.
Their thorax can be hairy, with soft spikes that cover their bodies. Some larvae are bright green, and most exhibit a cryptic color scheme to blend into their environment.
Their body shapes are typically cylindrical and chunky. They also have horns situated near the apex of the head.
Once the Saturniid larvae reach their optimal size, they stop feeding on leaves and start spinning silken cocoons around their bodies. They will cover their shells with leaf litter and attach themselves to the undersides of leaves or the stems of their chosen host plants.
Top 12 representatives of the Saturniid moth kind
These moths showcase how big and pretty Saturniid moths can be:
- Atlas moth
- Polyphemus moth
- Oakworm moth
- Imperial moth
- Promethea moth
- Luna moth
- Rosy maple moth
- Emperor moth
- Io moth
- Ailanthus silkmoth
- Cecropia moth
- Royal walnut moth
1. Atlas moth
The Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) have such coloration that it makes them look like cobra heads. The primary color is brown, with 4 prominent bright spots on both forewings and hindwings. They are among the largest moths and live in India, the Philippines, southern Indonesia, and other parts of Asia.
2. Polyphemus moth
The Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) has pale brown wings with 2 prominent purplish eyespots on the hindwings, surrounded by dark areas. Its body is tan-colored and fuzzy. They live in Southern Canada and Mexico.
3. Oakworm moth
The Oakworm moth (Anisota virginiensis) has dark copper-colored wings and an orange fuzzy body. Males’ wings are purple-brown. This moth lives in Canada, and the US, especially in deciduous woods.
4. Imperial moth
The Imperial moth (Eacles imperialis) has a wingspan of 3.1 to 6.9 inches, meaning it’s the largest moth in North America. Still, males are smaller than females. Their wings have various colors, such as yellow combined with purple or red/brown patterns.
5. Promethea moth
The Promethea moth (Callosamia promethea) females have a black, reddish brown body, while males are darker. They have tan-shaded borders on the edges of their wings. This moth lives on the East Coast and the Great Plains.
6. Luna moth
The Luna moth (Actias luna) is one of the prettiest Saturniidae moths with bright green/lime-colored wings and beautiful shapes. It’s common in Canada, and the US, and lepidopterists often raise it in their homes.
7. Rosy maple moth
The Rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) is a cute furry moth with purple or pink wings with some creamy areas. Their wingspan ranges from 1.26 to 1.73 inches. This moth is native to North America and lives in US and Canada.
8. Emperor moth
The Emperor moth (Saturnia pavonia) has many shades of brown on the forewings and orange hindwings. Both forewings and hindwings have eyespots, which are Emperor’s most prominent features. The Emperor moth lives in the British Isles, Cornwall, and Scotland.
9. Io moth
The male Io moth (Automeris io) is yellow, while females are brown/rusty red. Once this moth opens its forewings, it reveals large blue and black eyespots on a yellowish background. The Io moth lives in Canada and some parts of the US.
10. Ailanthus silkmoth
The Ailanthus silkmoth (Samia cynthia) is a giant moth with brown and yellow colors on its wings. It’s used for silk fabric production, but not as much as the Domestic silk moth. Native populations live in Asia, but some are introduced to the US, Canada, and Europe.
11. Cecropia moth
The Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) has a wingspan of 5 to 7 inches. Brown is the primary color, accentuated with some coppery, creamy, and black patterns and areas. This is a native North American species.
12. Royal walnut moth
The Royal walnut moth or the Regal moth (Citheronia regalis) is recognizable for bright coppery lines and white spots on bluish/grey forewings. Its body and hindwings are dark orange, with some creamy sections. Its legs are reddish. This moth lives in North America.
Are these moths considered pests?
Because they usually aggregate in large numbers, they can be considered pests to some extent. The caterpillars of some species (for example, the Rosy maple) are notorious for defoliating maple trees.
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Joan is a nocturnal person who loves traveling and coffee. She’s also an animal lover (and rescuer) who makes it a point to befriend every animal she meets. Her passion for learning led her to writing about various topics. As someone who is a nature lover, she aims to continue learning about the wonderful creation—especially butterflies, and at the same time, share her knowledge here at Butterfly Hobbyist.