Attacus atlas

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Atlas moth
Attacus atlas qtl1.jpg
Atlas moth (adult female)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Saturniidae
Genus: Attacus
Species: A. atlas
Binomial name
Attacus atlas
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Attacus atlas distribution.png
Atticus atlas habitat range

Attacus atlas (Atlas moth) is a large saturniid moth endemic to the forests of Asia.


Atlas moth compared to human hand

Atlas moths are one of the largest lepidopterans in the world with an average wingspan of 25 cm (9.8 in) and an average wing surface area of 400 cm2 (62 in2). [1] A record specimen from Java had a wingspan measuring 26.2 cm (10.3 in). [2][3] It is only surpassed in wingspan by the white witch (Thysania agrippina) and in wing surface area by the Hercules moth (Coscinocera hercules). Females are noticeably larger and heavier than males, while males have broader antennae.


Habitat on Mount Kinabalu

Their habitat is primarily dry rainforests, secondary forests, and shrublands across South, East, and Southeast Asia, including the Malay Archipelago.[4]


Forewing extension close-up

Atlas moths are named after either the Titan of Greek mythology (due to their size) or their map-like wing patterns. In Hong Kong, the Cantonese name translates as "snake's head moth," referring to the prominent extension of the forewing which bears resemblance to the head of a snake.[5]

Relationship with humans[edit]

Japanese stamp featuring Atlas moth

In India, Atlas moths are cultivated for their silk in a non-commercial capacity. Unlike silk produced by the related domestic silkmoth (Bombyx mori), Atlas moth silk is secreted as broken strands. This brown, wool-like silk, known as "fagara," is thought to have greater durability.[6] Atlas moth cocoons are sometimes used as small pocket change purses in Taiwan.[7]

The Japanese subspecies A. a. ryukyuensis, native to Yonaguni in the Yaeyama Islands, may have served as inspiration for the movie monster Mothra.

Similar taxa[edit]

The term "Atlas moth" is sometimes used mistakenly as a name for any species in the genus Attacus, of which there are over 20 named species and subspecies. A few New World species can be mistaken for Atlas moths, specifically members of the genus Rothschildia. Very similar in appearance to the Asian Atlas moth, Rothschildia aurota is one of the largest members of its genus and a neotropical relative.

Life cycle[edit]

Holometabolism (complete metamorphosis)
Atlas Moth EGGS.jpg Attacus atlas cat.jpg Attacus atlas-botanical-garden-of-bern 10.jpg EMEMRGING MOTH.jpg Attacus atlas London Zoo 01118-2.jpg
Eggs Larva Pupa within cocoon Emerging from pupa Imago


Mating pair on guava leaf (male on right)

Females are sexually passive, releasing powerful pheromones to attract a mate. Males can detect and home in on these pheromones from several kilometers away with the help of chemoreceptors located on their feathery antennae.[8] Atlas moths are weak, unsteady fliers, and the female does not stray far from the location of her discarded cocoon. She seeks out a perch where the air currents will best carry her pheromones.


Atlast moth larva

Once fertilized, the female lays a number of spherical eggs, 2.5 mm (0.098 in) in diameter, on the undersides of leaves. Dusty-green caterpillars hatch after approximately two weeks and feed voraciously on the foliage of citrus, cinnamon, guava, and evergreen trees.[9] The caterpillars can grow to 11.5 cm (4.5 in) in length and 2.5 cm (0.98 in) in thickness. They are adorned with white, waxy, fleshy spines along their backs, which become more prominent at later instars.


After reaching a length of about 11.5 cm (4.5 in), the caterpillars pupate within a papery cocoon interwoven with desiccated leaves. The adult moths emerge from the cocoon after approximately four weeks.


Atlast moth (adult male)

Adult moths lack fully formed mouthparts and cannot eat. They subsist entirely on fat reserves accumulated during the larval stage. As a result, the adults live for only a few days during which their sole objective is seeking out a mate. To conserve energy, the moths rest during the day and fly at night.


  1. ^ Watson, A. & Whalley, P.E.S. (1983). The Dictionary of Butterflies and Moths in colour. Peerage Books, London, England. ISBN 0-907408-62-1
  2. ^ Robert G. Foottit & Peter H. Adler. 2009. Insect Biodiversity: Science and Society. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-405-15142-9
  3. ^ Rainier Flindt. 2006. Amazing Numbers in Biology. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. ISBN 3-540-30146-1
  4. ^ Holloway, J.D. (1987). The Moths of Borneo, part 3: Lasiocampidae, Eupteroptidae, Bombycidae, Brahmaeidae, Saturniidae, Sphingidae. Southdene Sdn. Bhd., Kuala Lumpur
  5. ^ Yiu, V. (2006). Insecta Hongkongica. Hong Kong Discovery. Kowloon, Hong Kong. 655pp. ISBN 988-97173-9-5
  6. ^ Jolly, M.S., Sen, S.K., Sonwalkar, T.N. & Prasad, G.S. (1979). Non-mulberry silks. Food & Agriculture Organisation. United Nations, Serv. Bull. 29. Rome. xvii + 178pp
  8. ^ Shepherd, G.M. (1994). "Chemical Senses". In Neurobiology 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press
  9. ^ Robinson, G.S., Ackery, P.R., Kitching, I.J., Beccaloni, G.W. & Hernández, L.M. (2001). Hostplants of the moth and butterfly caterpillars of the Oriental Region. Southdene Sdn. Bhd., Kuala Lumpur & The Natural History Museum, London. 744 pp. ISBN 983-40053-3-4

External links[edit]