Luna moths, renowned for their large size and green wings, are among the most popular moths reared as pets. Though a luna moth's adult lifespan is less than a week, the complete process of hatching them from eggs, raising the caterpillars and pupa, and finally releasing a fully matured moth makes up for the adult stage's brevity. Eggs and larvae must be well taken care of to ensure that the insects survive to adulthood.
Things You'll Need
- 1-liter plastic or glass container (with lid) per 4 caterpillars
- 1-gallon plastic or glass container (with lid) per 3 caterpillars
- Aquarium/terrarium (at least 10 inches in height) with mesh cover
- Ready source of appropriate leaves (walnut, gum tree, hickory, pecan)
- Paper towels
Egg and Larvae Life Stages
Use your fingers to gently place the caterpillar eggs in one of the plastic tubs; do not include any branches or leaves, and do not make air holes in the container. Record the date that the eggs were deposited (purchased eggs will come with this information) on the container; the eggs will hatch 8 to 12 days after this date.
Transfer unhatched eggs to another container once several larvae have hatched. Transfer larvae between containers as more hatch so that approximately four are in each 1-liter container; dispose of empty eggshells only when all newborn larvae are accounted for.
Take one or two leaves, ensure that they are thoroughly dry and at room temperature, and place them in the larvae containers (don't worry if they don't immediately eat; newborn larvae have eaten enough of their eggshell to sustain them for about 12 hours). Make sure that the leaves are in contact with the bottom and walls of the container and then seal it (again, no air holes).
To change food (which you should do every two or three days), lay out a paper towel and transfer any leaves with caterpillars on them to the paper towel. Remove unoccupied leaves (being very careful not to throw away larva). Use another paper towel to wipe away condensation and frass (feces), making sure not to disturb the larvae that are still in the container. Place new leaves into the container, increasing them in number as the larvae grow. Cut off pieces of the old leaves that have larvae attached and put them in the container; the larvae will soon choose the new food over the older leaves and move off on their own. Replace the lid.
Remove shed skin if a molted caterpillar does not eat it. Do not disturb caterpillars that are in the process of molting (they will attach themselves to the container with silk during this process) or have finished molting less than an hour prior, as their bodies will be extremely sensitive.
Move caterpillars to the larger containers after their fourth molting, with three caterpillars per 1-gallon container.
Cocoons and Pupa
Observe the larvae carefully as they continue to molt and grow; they will typically begin forming cocoons between four and five weeks of age, but they can begin as early as three weeks in warmer conditions. Clean the significant defecation that occurs prior to cocooning to prevent the larvae from contacting it.
Prepare an additional container if the caterpillars begin to weave cocoons during late fall or winter, as they may be "overwintering" (staying in their cocoons until spring); you can predict this if the larvae turn an amber or burgundy color prior to becoming pupae. Place overwintering pupae in sealed containers (no air holes or water) and put the containers in the refrigerator (a temperature between 35 degrees F to 40 degrees F is recommended). Put them in the emergence container (see Section 3) in spring and they will typically emerge in about two weeks.
Place cocoons that do not appear to be overwintering in the emergence container soon after being woven; they may emerge in as little as two weeks in warmer conditions.
Adult Moth Emergence and Release
Prepare the emergence container by placing paper towels along the bottom of the aquarium/terrarium. Move the cocoons to the bottom of this container and close the mesh cover.
Place branches vertically in the container to provide emerged moths with something to climb on (moths require a climbable surface after emerging; and if they cannot expand and dry their wings, they will quickly die).
Release adult moths no later than three days after emerging.
Tips & Warnings
- Caterpillars do not require additional water, as they obtain all their necessary water from their food and do not breath enough air to require air holes. Adding water or wet leaves can easily drown eggs and young caterpillars, and adding air holes can result in dessication.
- Leaves must be free of insecticide, as caterpillars are vulnerable to poison. Pick them yourself or obtain them from pet suppliers.
- Caterpillars are vulnerable to crushing injuries and should never be forcibly removed from a surface. If you wish to move a caterpillar that refuses to budge, slide a leaf in front of it and gently push it forward (unless it's molting, in which case you should leave it alone). Use extreme care when picking them up by hand; forcing a caterpillar off a surface can result in its feet tearing off before it looses its grip.
- Adult moths require no food. They don't have a digestive system (as their only purpose at this life stage is to mate) and will die four to five days after emerging from their cocoons.
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