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Atlas Moth
Attacus atlas

moth emerging from cocoon
The Atlas Moth has the largest wing surface area of all moths (but not the longest wings, see below).
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Large, wings 25-30cm across.

Status in Singapore: Common.
moth seen at the park
World distribution: Asia and Southeast Asia.

Classification: Family Saturniidae (Silkworm Moths). This family has the largest moths with showiest wings.
It is so named because its wing patterns resemble maps. The Atlas Moth's wings have triangular transparent "windows" whose purpose we don't know. The wing tips are hooked and some say resemble a snake's head complete with eye, to scare off predators.

tiny caterpillars feeding on leafBreeding: Female Atlas Moths attract males by secreting a pheromone through a gland at the end of the abdomen. The male Atlas Moths has huge long feathery antennae to track down the female by her pheromones. The females are much larger than the males and don't have feathery antennae.

large caterpillarAtlas Moth eggs are laid on the underside of a leaf. They hatch in 8-14 days depending on the temperature. The caterpillars are bluish green with large bumps on them, and covered with a fine white powder.

pupa in a cocoonThe caterpillars eat a wide variety of foodplants and may even wander from one to another. Their foodplants include the Jamaican Cherry Tree (Muntingia calabura), soursop, cinnamon, lime, pomelo, rambutan, guava, citrus fruits.

The Atlas Moth's pupae is encased in a silken cocoon. The pupal stage of the Atlas Moth lasts about 4 weeks.

Adult Atlas Moths don't eat at all throughout their adult life which lasts for about two weeks. An adult Atlast Moth doesn't even have a mouth and lives off fat reserves built up when it was a caterpillar. The adults quickly mate, lay eggs, and die shortly thereafter.

Atlas Moths are found only in Southeast Asia. They are common in Singapore, especially in November-January, although they are found throughout the year.

Role in the habitat: Atlas Moth caterpillars are preyed upon by other creatures.
Uses by humans: While the Silkworm Moth (Bombyx mori, which belongs to a different but related family) which makes its cocoon out of one unbroken silk strand, the Atlas Moth caterpillar makes it out of broken strands of silk. Nevertheless, Atlas Moth cocoons are used to make a durable silk called Fagara Silk, in northern India. In Taiwan, their cocoons are made into pocket purses! Other mammoth moths: The Giant Silkworm Moth (Coscinocera hercules) has a wing surface area that rivals the Atlas Moth's. The Queen Alexandra Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) found in Papua New Guinea. Females are larger than males and can reach 28cm across and weigh more than 25g. The Hercules Moth (Cosdinoscera hercules) from Australia and Papua New Guinea is also 28cm. The Owlet Moth (Thysania agrippina) of tropical Americas can reach 30cm.
LINKS
  • Giant Silkmoths of Northeastern North America by Bill Oehlke: stunning photos of all stages with info on their behaviour and lifecycle, including the gorgeous Luna Moth and Io Moth.
  • Scott Henninger's page on moths has a fabulous photos and some info on the Atlas Moth, and lots more on other magical moths.
  • Zoom Butterflies on EnchantedLearning.com: about the giants of butterflies and moths.
  • Giants of the Insect World by John R Meyer, Dept of Entomology, NC State University:
  • Moth Cocoon Artifacts by Richard S. Peigler on BugBios, Cultural Entomology: In Taiwan, pocket purses are made from cocoons of Attacus atlas.
REFERENCES
  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Paul Sterry, "Butterflies and Moths: A Portrait of the Animal World", Todtri, 1995 (p. 60-61: about the Saturnid family).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001