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Unusual visitor flies to Addison home



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The Luna Moth. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
June 06, 2012 - Jo Cameron-Peter received an unexpected winged-visitor last week at her Addison Township home.

"I went out early in the morning with my cup of coffee to check the weather and there it was on the (exterior) wall of the house," she said. "My first thought was it might be an albino bat because it just looked silvery against the house, which is gray."

Turns out it wasn't a bat; it was actually a large moth, more specifically, a Luna Moth (see photo right).

And it's not exactly your ordinary, run-of-the-mill insect around these parts.

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"It's unusual to see those," said Mike Champagne, director of the Seven Ponds Nature Center (3854 Crawford Rd.) in Dryden. "Those large moths have declined (in population) a great deal over the years. We just don't see as many of those as we used to."

Luna Moths belong to the family of Giant Silkworm Moths. The have a wingspan measuring 4-5 inches, making it one of the largest moths in North America. Their bodies are about 2¾ inches long. A male can be distinguished from a female by larger, bushier antennae.

The Luna Moth is probably the best-known of the silkworm moths – the sleep medication Lunesta is marketed using a logo that incorporates the insect. Despite the fact that it is a silkworm moth, the Luna Moth doesn't produce a large amount of silk and therefore isn't really practical for textile use.

Their wings are light or pale green, marked

with transparent eyespots. Their outer margins are either pink, pink-purple or yellow. Their hindwings have long curving or twisted tails.

"He was so pretty," Cameron-Peter said. "The coloring was quite exquisite. The different shades of green and the pink – it was quite outstanding."

Cameron-Peter and her husband of 16 years, Jim Peter, decided to snap a few photos with their iPad.

"We put my husband's hand next to it, so you could tell the size of it," she said. "I've never see anything like that ever before."

Cameron-Peter posted the photos on Facebook and her daughter in California quickly identified it as a Luna Month.

When asked if any Luna Moths have ever been spotted amongst the 468 acres of pristine wilderness that make up the Seven Ponds Nature Center, Champagne, who's also a naturalist, replied, "Once in a while, we'll find one.

"Sometimes we'll find the remains of one – a bird or something else has eaten it and left a wing. It's not a moth that we see very much at all."

Champagne noted how during a recent visit to the Upper Peninsula, he and his companions found four large moths.

"We found one Luna and a Cecropia and a Polyphemus and another one," he said. "They were right outside our motel."

"That's the way I think it used to be in southern Michigan," Champagne continued. "They used to be more abundant. It seems like kids used to find them all the time. Now, we just don't see them as much.

"Probably, if you showed it to some of our grandparents, they would remember back to the days when that was something they saw as children. Kids today just don't experience those kinds of things."

When asked why the Luna Month population has apparently declined in southern Michigan, Champagne responded, "I don't think anybody knows for sure."

Various websites on the internet speculate that development, loss of habitat and pollution are responsible for the moth's diminished numbers in certain areas.

"It certainly would be plausible, but I don't have any evidence for that," Champagne said.

Adult Luna Moths are strongly attracted to light, particularly ultraviolet wavelengths. There's some concern that light pollution from man-made sources (such as mercury vapor street lights) may deter them and other silkworm moths from mating, thus having a negative impact on their populations.

Although Luna Moths generally fly around late at night, which is part of the reason why people rarely see them, Cameron-Peter indicated her visitor seemed to enjoy the daytime.

"He stayed for quite a long time, almost all day," she said.

It's interesting to note that Luna Moths only exist to propagate. The adults have vestigial mouthparts and do not feed.

"Most of these moths don't live very long (after they become adults)," Champagne said. "They just mate, lay eggs and die."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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