The luna moth caterpillar may be large and fat, but that doesn’t mean this shy insect causes abundant damage to gardens and trees. In fact, the luna moth caterpillar is revered by many as a sign of good luck, especially after they go through their metamorphosis and become a beautiful luna moth.
Still, if you’re not one for bugs and if you’re looking for ways to keep the luna moth caterpillar out of your yard this season, then this is the article for you.
Today, we are going to learn a bit more about the reclusive luna moth caterpillar, where it comes from, what it feeds on, and how you can keep it out of your yard.
On the other hand, if you would like to learn how to entice the luna moth caterpillar to your yard or garden, we can also help you out, so keep reading!
Join us as we learn more about this incredible critter and how to control it around your property.
What Is A Luna Moth Caterpillar?
The luna moth caterpillar is large, but it does not cause significant or irreversible damage to tree leaves.
You may be here looking for how to get rid of the luna moth caterpillar, but after reading more about this incredible insect, you’ll likely change your mind. The luna moth caterpillar is the larvae of the Actias Luna. Also known as the luna moth, the Actias Luna is a type of Nearctic moth that belongs to a family of giant silk moths.
The luna moth is indigienous to North America and prefers lush forest landscapes rich in its favorite types of trees, which we’ll discuss below.
Some people and even some states in the US consider luna moths and the luna moth caterpillar to be rare and endangered. This is because their habitat is continually being threatened due to pesticides, insecticides, tree-thinning, and even an abundance of predators.
And not only are these moths rare, they are also rarely seen. Revered for their beauty, adult luna moths are nocturnal and, after metamorphosis, only live for about ten days or so.
As an adult, the luna moth has a white, furry body and massive green wings which can have a wingspan of between 4.5 and 7 inches. This large wingspan makes the luna moth one of the largest silk moths in North America.
Female luna moths can lay up to 200 eggs in her short lifespan. She lays eggs on the leaves and bark of her favorite trees. It takes around 10 days for these eggs to hatch, introducing very hungry green larvae.
This larvae, aka the luna moth caterpillar, spends the next four weeks or so munching on tree leaves. He sticks close to his food source and focuses on getting nice and pudgy for the big change to come into a future moth.
While luna moth caterpillars are ravenously hungry and pretty large to boot, they often don’t cause enough damage to trees or garden leaves to be considered a true pest. In fact, did you know you can even purchase luna moth cocoons as educational gifts for children and friends? That’s right. There are entire websites devoted to the care and nurturing of luna moth caterpillars.
That said, the luna moth caterpillar doesn’t really provide much to your garden other than perhaps being a food source for wildlife like birds.
Still, the beauty they bring once they become a moth to those who are lucky enough to see them are often beneficial enough. But how does this fat caterpillar make such an amazing change?
Once the luna moth caterpillar eats enough food, it begins to weave a paper-thin brown cocoon in which to metamorphosize. Once in this cocoon, the luna moth caterpillar overwinters, staying in this stage until late May or early June. However, in some parts of the southern United States, luna caterpillars may come out of their cocoons and become active as adult moths as early as March.
Upon coming out of the cocoon, the luna moth must rest and let its wings expand and dry. Then it goes about its mission to mate. Mature luna moths do not have mouths and do not feed, relying solely on the nutrients they received in their luna moth caterpillar stage to survive until they are able to mate and lay eggs.
In order to attract a mate, the female luna moth releases a pheromone from the base of her abondomine. Then the luna moth lays her eggs on her favorite tree and, shortly thereafter she passes away.
The below video goes into more detail about the amazing life cycle of the luna moth caterpillar and it’s transformation into a luna moth.
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Interesting, right? Of course, just because the luna moth caterpillar turns into something beautiful and doesn’t cause damage to your yard or garden doesn’t mean you want potentially 200 of these insects worming their way around your trees.
But don’t worry – if a luna moth does lay her eggs on one of your trees, chances are you’ll only have a few luna moth caterpillars on your property and many of them will be naturally taken care of with predator activity.
But this does raise a new question you might be asking yourself: What has attracted a female luna moth to your property and enticed her to lay her eggs there in the first place? Let’s find out.
What Attracted The Luna Moth Caterpillar To Your Garden?
Luna moths are not attracted to flowers and are instead attracted to specific tree species.
As we now know, luna moths have favorite types of trees on which they lay their eggs. These trees include:
- Walnut Trees
- Sweet-Gum Trees
- Hickory Trees
- Persimmon Trees
- Birch Trees
- Red Maple Trees
- American Beech Trees
- White Oak Trees
- Black Cherry Trees
- American Chestnut Trees
- Elm trees
- Ash Trees
- Smooth Sumac Trees
- And Willow Trees
Luna moths are also attracted to wide, leafy areas that resemble forests and places to hide. This is because they have a wide range of predators. Chances are, if you have noticed a number of luna moth caterpillars hanging around your plants, you likely have some of the above trees and shrubs and a lack of natural predators.
Should you consider yourself lucky? Some say you should. Remember, the luna moth caterpillar is considered to be endangered in some regions and generally does not cause any severe or lasting damage to plantlife.
Furthermore, most experts warn against using methods of population control to get rid of these insects.
Why Population Control Is Not Needed To Get Rid Of The Luna Moth Caterpillar
Luna moth caterpillars feed on leaves like the leaves of maple trees, but they do not cause serious damage.
Population control methods like insecticides, repellents and traps are a common form of pest control used to manage pests that cause serious damage to homes, buildings and gardens or that can be dangerous to people and pets. These pests often include termites, ants, roaches, and bed bugs but they can also include beneficial insects like spiders and bees.
However, when it comes to managing the luna moth caterpillar, it’s important to keep in mind that this insect is not a real pest and poses no danger to people, pets or the environment. In fact, using population control remedies like insecticides, repellents and traps may even cause harm as these moths and caterpillars are becoming increasingly rare around North America.
For this reason, if you do want to deter luna moths, we recommend using preventative measures in order to keep them from laying eggs in your yard or trees in the first place as opposed to using insecticides or pesticides to get rid of them once they are already there. These preventatives can include spray deterrents or even the introduction of predators to help keep these moths away.
The good news is this means you will not need to use any insecticides that require the use of harsh chemical ingredients around your yard and garden.
But what methods should you use then to repel a luna moth from laying her eggs on your property? Let’s find out below.
If You Want To Get Rid Of A Luna Moth Caterpillar…
Keep your porch lights off at night in the summer to help keep luna moths away.
If you want to get rid of the luna moth caterpillar and keep it from returning, you’re in luck. These insects are generally fragile and even on the brink of being endangered, meaning keeping them at bay shouldn’t be too much of a fight for you.
On the same note, keep in mind that these insects are indeed close to being endangered and do not cause damage or harm to people, pets or property. With that in mind, avoid killing these caterpillars or luna moth eggs if you find them and see if you can’t relocate them to an area off of your property instead.
For tips on preventing a future luna moth caterpillar issue on your property, try:
Encouraging the Predators
Luna moths will likely steer clear of areas rich in predator activity. They have quite an abundance of predators as well including owls, Fiery Searcher ground beetles, parasitic wasps, bats, and bald faced-hornets.
While you may not want some of these predators hanging out on your property (here’s looking at you, bald-faced hornet), you can easily encourage the predators you want while keeping the others at bay.
Encourage owls or bats by introducing owl houses and bat roosting boxes on your property. If you’re curious about what these are, just scroll down. We will list some of our favorite products below for you to take a look at.
One of the benefits of having owls or bats near your home is that they eat tons of pests. Owls are wonderful for rodent control and feed on mice, rats, voles, and moles while bats are particularly good at catching flying insects like moths, mosquitoes, and June bugs.
Avoid Planting Trees and Shrubs Luna Moth Caterpillars Feed On
Remember, the luna moth caterpillar is born to eat and its mother often leaves it in egg form on her favorite trees like walnut trees, hickory trees, persimmon trees, birch trees, red maple trees American beech trees, white oak trees, black cherry trees, American chestnut trees, smooth sumac trees and willow trees.
If you don’t want to entice the luna moth to lay her eggs on your property, avoid planting these trees and shrubs in your yard or garden.
Relocate Luna Moth Caterpillars or Eggs If You Find Them
If you do come across a luna moth caterpillar or luna moth caterpillar eggs, try relocating them instead of destroying them. Doing this may be more time consuming for you, but in the end you are doing your part in helping to conserve a potentially endangered species. Good for you!
Keep Outdoor Light To A Minimum
Like most moths, the luna moth is highly attracted to light. In fact, they are most commonly spotted at restaurants, gas stations, or fluttering around brightly lit porches for hours on end. If you want to keep these moths away from your property and reduce the chances of them laying their eggs on your nearby trees or shrubs, try turning the lights off.
If you prefer to keep your lights on, you can invest in special types of light bulbs that are less attractive to insects like moths, flies, and June bugs.
Speaking of these types of light bulbs, let’s take a look at some products you can use to help repel and reduce your chances of coming across the luna moth caterpillar.
Amber yellow LED Light Bulb
Yellow-tinted light bulbs tend to help reduce pest activity on your porch. The yellowish tint of the above amber light will help keep pests at bay like mosquitoes, June bugs, moths and more. Other types of lights that repel pests and flying insects like the luna moth are yellow compact fluorescent lights, sodium vapor lights and halogen bulbs.
These lights are beneficial to use on your porch for insects like the luna moth because they do not harm or zap them. Instead, they simply do not attract them and often get overlooked. This is especially ideal for those looking to keep flying pests off of their property and porch without zap lamps and lanterns that make noise and kill pests, leaving them dead for you to clean up later.
JC’s Wildlife Owl Nesting Box
Decoys don’t often work as well for insects as they do for animal pests like snakes, lizards and rodents. For this reason, inviting the real deal to your home should help keep luna moths from laying their eggs on your property.
The above owl nesting box is designed to entice screech owls and Saw-Whet owls to your property by providing them with a comfortable and safe nesting space. You can place this nesting box in trees or around your property where you want to deter pests.
An owl nesting box like the one above will also help keep other pests under control like rats, mice, chipmunks, voles and moles.
Two Chamber Bat House
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Bat houses are beneficial additions to any property or yard because they not only help keep bats from roosting inside your property, but can also house bats nearby to help reduce pests like mosquitoes and other flying insects.
The above roosting house provides a safe space for bats to roost with their young in an area you can control. Doing this provides you with a natural form of pest control against plenty of flying insects and pests, especially the nocturnal insects like moths.
If You Want To Attract A Luna Moth Caterpillar…
The Willow tree is one of the luna moths favorite species of tree to lay her eggs on.
Have we gotten you on board with keeping the luna moth caterpillar around? If you’ve decided you would prefer to enjoy the luna moth caterpillar and watch it grow into a moth, then there are some tips and tricks you can use to help entice this insect to your property.
Plant The Luna Moth Caterpillar’s Favorite Trees And Shrubs
Luna moths are often found in densely forested areas that include its favorite trees and shrubs. Again, these trees and shrubs include walnut Trees, hickory trees, persimmon trees, birch trees, red maple trees American beech trees, white oak trees, black cherry trees, American chestnut trees, smooth sumac trees and willow trees.
Try planting these trees and shrubs in your yard to emulate the type of environment these moths prefer which will not only entice them but also protect them from predators.
Keep Predators At Bay
Another way to keep predators at bay is to reduce other pests these predators may feed on around your property. Remember, the most common predators of the luna moth caterpillar are owls, bats, bald-faced hornets, parasitic wasps, and ground beetles.
These predators feed not only on luna moth caterpillars but also other pests like mosquitoes, June bugs, rodents, and a number of other insects. You can help keep pests and predators at bay while nurturing your luna moths by using routine pest control around your home that is natural and is not harmful for beneficial insects like bees and butterflies, which we’ll cover below.
Leave Lights On In Your Yard
Luna moths love light! You can purchase garden lights or tree lights to help encourage them to stick around your home-grown forest on your property and to increase your chances of having a luna moth lay her eggs in your trees.
Wondering which garden lights might help entice the luna moth caterpillar? We have some of our favorite lights and other products you can use to keep the luna moth caterpillar on your property below.
ZUCKEO Garden Lights
Most moths are attracted to light and the luna moth is no exception. If you want to have a better chance at seeing the luna moth in action or help bring the luna moth to your property, try putting out more lights.
We like these garden lights by ZUCKEO because they are designed for outdoor use, meaning they are waterproof. They also have a spotlight-type design, which you can use to your advantage when it comes to attracting luna moths, especially if you point these lights at lighter colored surfaces such as garage doors or even a sheet hung up in a tree.
Live Red Maple Tree
The red maple tree is a gorgeous tree which has leaves that change color from green to red depending on the season. In the summer, when the luna moth and the luna moth caterpillar are most active, the leaves will be a lively green to help camouflage these beautiful insects.
In the fall, the red maple’s leaves turn red, as its name suggests. Growing this tree is a fun way to attract luna moths to your home, though we do suggest you do your research before you order it as not all states allow certain species of trees to be brought in. For example, the red maple is not permitted to be brought into California.
Live American Beech Tree
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Planting American Beech Trees will not only help entice the luna moth to your property but also provide you with a gorgeous set of trees. The above order includes five seeds and includes details on when it is best to plant these trees and how to care for them.
While the American Birch Tree is easy to care for and grow, keep in mind it may take a couple of years to grow to the point that luna moths will be enticed to your property.
The Luna Moth Caterpillar – Fast Facts You Should Know
The Luna moth is one of the largest silk moths in North America.
Love them or hate them, the one thing most of us can agree on when it comes to luna moth caterpillars is that, once fully matured into moths, they are stunning. Let’s take this time to learn a few fun and fast facts about the luna moth and the luna moth caterpillar.
The Luna Moth Is Named After The Moon
Luna, which means “moon”, is the name given to the Luna moth for a few different reasons. The first reason is because this moth is nocturnal. It flutters about at night with iridescently scaled wings, giving it an almost ethereal appearance to those who are lucky enough to see it.
Another reason the Luna moth is called the Luna moth is because of the crescent shaped eye marks on the lime green wings.
The Luna Moth Does Not Feed As An Adult Moth
The reason the luna moth caterpillar must eat so ravenously in its larvae stage is because it stores all the nutrients it gets in order to not only survive as it overwinters in its cocoon, but also to survive once it reaches it’s moth stage.
Luna moths do not have mouth parts and do not feed at all, relying solely on the food it stored up as a caterpillar.
The Luna Moth Caterpillar Experiences Five “Instars” Before Becoming A Moth
When newly hatched, the luna moth caterpillars are much smaller than they will be fully grown before they pupate. In order to reach the size they will need to become to make their cocoon and go through their metamorphosis, the luna caterpillar must go through five different instars. These instars happen when the caterpillar sheds its skin as it grows.
The Luna Moth Caterpiller’s Bright Green Color Stays With It Until Adulthood And Is A Form Of Camouflage
One of the luna moth caterpiller’s most striking features is its incredible lime green color. It keeps this color into adulthood, or moth-hood, if you will. This color plays a very important role, which is protection.
The lime green color of both the luna moth and the luna moth caterpillar closely resembles the color of the leaves on the luna moth’s favorite trees. This allows for the luna moth to camouflage itself against the leaves when mating and laying eggs, and allows the luna moth caterpillar to hide as it feeds.
Luna Moths Also Defend Themselves By Clicking Their Wings and Regurgitating
Luna moths don’t solely rely on their green wings to defend themselves against predators. When threatened, an adult luna moth will click its wings and regurgitate a foul fluid that will often deter predators. Amazing!
Other Tips On Protecting Your Yard and Garden From Pests
Luna moths are not usually considered pests, but many other types of moths are.
The luna moth caterpillar and the luna moth may not be considered pests, but what about the other insects that plague your garden during the spring and summer? If you want to know how to further protect your garden and property from annoying, damaging pests, we have you covered with these tips and tricks.
Use A Natural Pest Control Remedy Year-Round
One of the most effective ways you can go about protecting your yard from pests year-round is to use an insect repellent or natural form of pest control on a consistent basis. While there are different types of pest control options out there, we recommend using natural methods as you will be using them more consistently.
Natural pest control remedies can help repel unwanted pests often without causing harm to beneficial insects. Furthermore, many natural repellents and products are safe for people, pets and the environment.
Wondercide Outdoor Garden Spray
One of our favorite natural pest control sprays you can use year-round is a perimeter spray called Wondercide. This spray uses essential oils like cedar oil, peppermint oil, lemongrass and rosemary oil to repel pests and keep your garden and yard healthy.
This product is safe enough to use in areas where children and pets play. It is also perfectly safe for the environment and gentle enough to be sprayed directly on garden plants to keep damage-causing pests under control.
Keep Your Yard and Garden Landscaped
Many garden pests are attracted to yards that are overgrown with tall grass, moisture and weeds. You can help reduce unwanted pests like mosquitoes, earwigs, and ants by keeping your lawn mowed and your garden nice and tidy.
Remove debris like decaying wood and leaf litter, and use straw instead of mulch, which can entice insects like earwigs and roaches. Landscaping your yard will also make for a better garden, as your plants will have richer soil and more surface area to grow and thrive.
Encourage Beneficial Insects
Not all insects are pests. In fact, many insects are highly beneficial and can help your garden to thrive. We recommend encouraging insects like honey bees, lady bugs, and beneficial nematodes.
Honey bees are beneficial pollinators while ladybugs help control pests like aphids from destroying your plants. Beneficial nematodes are beneficial parasitic worms that help reduce soil insects that can damage plants from the root up. You can encourage these beneficial insects by providing them ladybug houses, bee houses, and by purchasing beneficial nematodes online or at your local garden shop.
Honey Bee House
Inviting bees into your yard and garden using a bee house will help you control where these bees are living, help reduce the chances of other bee nests from forming on your property, and encourage the health of your garden.
Honey bees are beneficial pollinators and will enjoy having their own space near your garden where they can live safely and happily. Just make sure you put this bee house in a safe space where children and pets won’t get stung.
A ladybug house is similar to a bee house in that it provides a protected structure with different chambers where ladybugs can reside safely. Keeping ladybugs in your garden can be more difficult than keeping bees and other beneficial insects as they are quick to fly away if they don’t have proper food or shelter.
You may be able to extend the amount of time ladybugs live in your garden when you provide them with a ladybug house, though you may also need to reintroduce them from time to time as well.
Nature’s Good Guys Beneficial Nematodes
Beneficial nematodes will help safely and effectively get rid of soil pests like fleas, fungus gnats, Japanese beetles, and flies. They are wonderful for the garden and great for the environment, and will not harm beneficial insects like bees, ladybugs and the luna moth caterpillar.
Five million beneficial nematodes can protect up to 2,000 square feet, so you can order as many as you need depending on the size of your garden.
Plant Pest-Repellent Plants and Flowers In Your Garden
Last but not least, perhaps one of the most fun ways to repel garden-destroying pests while not harming insects like butterflies, bees, or the luna moth caterpillar, is to plant pest repellent plants in your yard or garden.
Pest repellent plants are not only effective in protecting your yard from destruction but they are also often beautiful additions to flower beds and home perimeters. Some of the most effective pest-repellent plants you can use in your garden include:
- Lemon Balm
- Lemon Thyme
- Dill Allium
- Bay Laurel
- And Oregano
While we do like the idea of using plants to help repel pests, we should also note that some of the pest-repellent plants listed above can be harmful to people and pets if ingested. Before you decide on the plants you want to add to your garden to keep certain pests at bay, we suggest doing plenty of research, especially if you have curious kiddos or pets at home.
And that’s that.
So, what do you think about the luna moth caterpillar and the luna moth? Would you like to keep it around and catch a glimpse of this elusive creature, or would you prefer to keep the luna moth caterpillar out of your yard in the future?
Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
Jack founded our blog after two decades of working in the pest control industry. His vast experience dealing with a wide array of pests allows him to diagnose issues quickly and get to the heart of pest problems quickly and effectively. He has serviced more than 2,000 homes over his career and there is hardly any pest situation that he has not seen before.