The Largest Moth in the World

The Largest Moth in the World

MikeDeHaan
MikeDeHaan
Scribol Staff
Environment, August 28, 2012

A Hand for an Atlas MothPhoto: internets_dairy

The Atlas moth, Attacus atlas, ranks as the world’s largest moth when measured according to the surface area covered by its wings.

As you can see here, it’s about the size of a hand. That’s about 400 square centimeters.

Sizing Up the Atlas Moth

Measuring ‘only’ 25 to 30 centimeters from the tip of one wing to the other, the Atlas moth is not the largest creature of its kind in terms of wingspan (that honor belongs to the white witch moth, which has a wingspan of 28 cm). It also has a relatively small body. Still, it’s enough to make a tasty meal for its predators.

Atlas Moth CaterpillerPhoto: internets_dairy

Large even its larval stage, the Atlas caterpillar grows up to about 11 centimeters in length.

Gender Differences among the Atlas Moths

Female and Male Atlas MothsPhoto: woodleywonderworks

The female is larger than the male. The larger female Atlas moth is pinned in the upper part of this image.

Facing a Male Atlas MothPhoto: Nyctalimon

The male Atlas moth compensates for this lack of size with his magnificent feathered antennae. These are sensitive to the female’s pheromones. After looking at this close-up of a male Atlas, you can compare it with the unadorned antennae of the larger female in the previous picture.

Award Winning Atlas Moth at Pacific Science CentrePhoto: Ryan Somma

The Pacific Science Centre presented the Attacus atlas with an award for its wing area – so it’s widely recognized for its size!

Life Span of the Attacus atlas Moth

The Atlas moth begins its life as an egg attached to the underside of a leaf. The caterpillars hatch after one to two weeks. Their task is to eat leaves from a variety of plants: for example cinnamon, citrus fruit, guava and Jamaican cherry trees.

Head and Tail of Atlas CaterpillerPhoto: Deanster1983 (Dean Morley)

It’s hard to tell whether this Attacus atlas caterpillar is coming or going!

Atlas CaterpillerPhoto: Deanster1983 (Dean Morley)

Now it’s clear that it’s crawling from left to right. The face of the Atlas moth caterpillar does not have orange-red lips!

Atlas Moth CocoonPhoto: Deanster1983 (Dean Morley)

After eating its fill, an Atlas caterpillar spins a cocoon. There it will pupate for about one month.

Brown Atlas MothPhoto: slappytheseal

Attacus atlas only lives about two weeks as an adult moth. Adults do not have fully developed mouth parts, so they cannot eat. During adulthood, of course they must avoid predators, mate, and lay eggs to ensure that there will be a next generation of Atlas moths.

Where does the Atlas Moth Live?

The Atlas moth is a native of southern China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia. Its habitat includes tropical and sub-tropical forests.

Orange Atlas MothPhoto: internets_dairy

In India, the silk of the Atlas pupa’s cocoon is made into ‘Fagara’ silk even though the strands are broken. (This is different from the thread from silkworm cocoons, which is unbroken.) Despite the breaks, Fagara silk is quite serviceable.

Some Taiwanese also use one whole Attacus atlas cocoon as a small purse!

The World’s Biggest Moth has Deceptive Wings

Although Attacus atlas is truly a giant moth, it also has beautiful colors and a deceptive pattern on its colorful wings.

Snake Head Wingtips on the Atlas MothPhoto: john_amend_all2000

The wingtips are thought by some to resemble the heads of snakes! The eyes seem to gaze away from the Atlas moth’s body, and the snakes’ necks show scaly patterns.

References:
Ria Tan, Naturia, “Atlas Moth Attacus atlas“, 2001, referenced Aug. 22, 2012.
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, “Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas)“, referenced Aug. 22, 2012.

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