Moonlight Flight in the Garden: Attracting Lovely Luna Moths…

May 20th, 2012 § Comments Off on Moonlight Flight in the Garden: Attracting Lovely Luna Moths… § permalink

 Luna Moth (Actias luna) –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

One of the best parts about teaching is having the opportunity to further my own education. And when I am asked a great question that I can not answer, I get especially excited by the chance to do some research and learn something new! Yesterday morning, I presented a seminar, “Designing with Native Plants to Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds to the Garden”, at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. The attendees had a number of great, familiar questions about plants and plant care, pollinators and insects in general. But when I was asked how to attract Luna Moths (Actias luna) to the garden, I admit that I was stumped. I’m a horticulturalist, and while I have taken entomology classes —and continue to study and work with insects almost daily in my gardening career— I’m certainly no expert in the field. So, when I returned to my studio, I consulted Whitney Craneshaw’s comprehensive Garden Insects of North America. I was surprised by what I learned, and thought I’d share it here with all of you…

Moonlight Flight of the Luna Moth –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

Luna Moths (Actias luna) are members of the giant silkworm —or in adult phase, royal moth— family (Saturniidae). Approximately ten days after eggs are lain by an adult, the giant, green Luna Moth caterpillars emerge and begin feeding upon foliage of native trees and shrubs; including Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Willow (Salix ssp), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Sumac (Rhus), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), White Oak (Quercus alba), Hickory (Carya), American chestnut (Castanea dentata), as well as the leaves of other nut and fruit bearing shrubs, trees and shade trees. In spite of their voracious appetites, Luna Moth caterpillars pose little threat to trees and shrubs, due to their modest numbers. Predators of the large —2.5″— caterpillars are numerous; including wasps and many other insects, as well as birds and rodents. Once the adult Luna Moth emerges from its chrysalis, it only has about one week to live, and during this time, its sole mission is reproduction. Such a large moth —with a wingspan of 4.5-5″— must dodge many predators, and slow flight makes the Luna Moth easy prey for nocturnal creatures like bats and owls. Of course, the adult Luna Moths still has plenty of free time to find a mate, as it doesn’t need to spend the week seeking food. Luna Moths emerge from their cocoons without mouths, and never need to eat! The females attract males by emitting a chemical into the night air (Luna-fume?), and lay their eggs beneath the leaves of trees; preferably those of Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). Usually, there are two cycles per year with moths taking flight in late spring and again in mid-late summer.

So how to attract Luna Moths? Try planting trees and shrubs preferred by the Luna during it’s larval stage —all listed above— and be mindful about protecting natural habitat for wildlife. Once plentiful, the Luna Moth is now considered endangered in some areas of the United States. Avoid use of insecticides and herbicides (even organic methods such as Btk and insecticidal soap can kill Luna Moth caterpillars if sprayed indiscriminately) and unnecessary clearing of understory trees and shrubs in their environment. They may be rare, but keep your eyes open at night: if you head outside at dusk, or just before dawn during the early summer, you may get lucky and spot a moonlight flight of the Luna Moth!

Illustrations and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Of Sunshine and Swallowtail Butterflies…

May 30th, 2011 § Comments Off on Of Sunshine and Swallowtail Butterflies… § permalink

A Perfect Spot for Sampling Lilac Nectar – An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’

Sunshine at last! Finally, after weeks of rain and fog, golden light returned to the garden this week. And suddenly, the sultry air is filled with Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies —bright as the sun itself— fluttering about blossoming trees, shrubs and perennials; looking for a place to rest and a sample of sweet nectar. Here in my garden, the voluptuous French white lilacs —Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’— seem to be the flavor of the week.

Papillon. Poetry in Motion…

Thank you, sweet papillon, for pausing to show off your bright, beautiful colors

***

More Information on the Tiger Swallowtail, and How to Attract this Beauty to Your Garden

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is commonly found at the edge of North American deciduous forests from early-mid spring through autumn. Adult females lay their eggs on host plants; including Ash (Fraxinius), Basswood (Tilia), Birch (Betula), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Lilac (Syringa), Mountain Ash (Sorbus), Poplar (Populus), Sweetbay (Magnolia) and Tulip Trees (Lirodendron). When caterpillars emerge, they hungrily eat their way through foliage, pupate and re-emerge as beautiful butterflies. The entire process takes little more than a month. In springtime, adult swallowtails feed on the nectar of flowers —particularly those forming clusters— such as lilac (Syringa), wild cherry trees (Prunus serotina), phlox, daphne, abelia, and viburnum. Later in the season, they feast upon the nectar of verbena (particularly Verbena bonariensis), butterflyweed and milkweed (Aesclepias), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), asters, stonecrop (Sedum), butterflybush (Buddleja species*), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), bee balm (Monarda), phlox, heliotrope, pincushion flower (Scabiosa), Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), gayflower (Liatris), and many other cultivated trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wildflowers. Provide a continuous supply of flowers and caterpillar host plants throughout the growing season to keep swallowtail butterflies in your neighborhood.

Sadly, a large number of butterflies are inadvertently killed each year —particularly as caterpillars— through the use of pesticides. Even organic methods of pest control can be harmful to beneficial insects, and should only be used in a targeted manner. Although Btk is an organically approved pesticide (made from a bacterium found naturally in soils), commonly and safely used to control harmful worms, it will kill beneficial caterpillars if used indiscriminately. So please, use organic pest controls sparingly, and with great caution. Familiarize yourself with all stages of the swallowtail butterfly lifecycle and pass along the information to your neighbors and friends.

For more information about butterflies and how you can attract them to your garden, visit my previous posts here: “Butterflies on My Mind”, and also here: “On Magic Wings”. More free information about lepidoptera (butterflies) may be found online at the non-profit website,  Butterflies and Moths of North America. In addition to these resources, there are also many excellent books available on gardening with butterflies in mind, as well as books on the butterfly lifecycle and identification for both children and adults. Click here to browse top rated butterfly titles at Amazon.com.

*Caution: Buddleja davidii is considered an invasive plant species in some regions of the United States and Canada. Please see my previous post,  “Butterflies on My Mind”, for more information on butterflybushes, and useful USDA links.

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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