Atlas moth with wingspan as wide as a dinner plate spotted loose in U.S. for what’s believed to be 1st time | CBC News

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One of the world’s largest moths has been sighted in the northern U.S. for the first time — and the gentle flame-winged giant is creating a flap.

The striking 25-centimetre wide atlas moth was spotted on a homeowner’s garage in Bellevue, a city about 16 kilometres east of Seattle.

It was hard to miss, with a wingspan as wide as a dinner plate.

It’s believed this is the first atlas spotted loose in the U.S. and it’s wowing even those not into insects.

“This is a ‘gee-whiz’ type of insect because it is so large,” said Sven Spichiger, entomologist with Washington State in a release from the state authority.

“Even if you aren’t on the lookout for insects, this is the type that people get their phones out and take a picture of — they are that striking.”

No danger to humans

So far there have been no further sightings, but Washington State Department of Agricuture (WSDA) entomologists are asking the public to report any glimpse of the huge atlas moth that poses no public threat.

It is not dangerous, just not indigenous.

So far there is no evidence that an atlas moth population is established in the U.S. state south of British Columbia.

The impressive insect was initially reported to state authorities by a University of Washington professor on July 7.

After it was initially identified, the creature was sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which confirmed the specimen was an atlas moth on July 27.

According to U.S. authorities it’s believed to be the first confirmed detection of an atlas moth in the country.

The sighting in Bellevue is believed to be the first confirmed detection of an atlas moth in the country, according to U.S. authorities. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)

Moths are considered a pest in U.S.

Residents are encouraged to photograph, collect and report atlas moths if they are seen.

Atlas moths are named after the Atlas, the Titan in Greek mythology, a nod to their impressive size.

They belong to a family of giant silkworm moths and are also known as “snake head moths” for the markings and extensions on some of the species’ forewing that resemble the eyes and head of a snake.

They are generally found in Asia — from India and the Philippines and as far as Indonesia. 

They are also a federally quarantined pest in the U.S.

It is illegal to obtain, raise or sell live moths as eggs, larvae or pupae without a permit from the USDA.

Entomologists believe apple and cherry plants may be able to host the non-native species of insect.

“This is normally a tropical moth. We are not sure it could survive here,” Spichiger said, noting the USDA is gathering information to provide response recommendations. 

“But in the meantime, we hope residents will help us learn if this was a one-off escapee or whether there might indeed be a population in the area.”

Short-lived beauty

There are social media atlas moth enthusiast clubs that show people raising the species in their homes.

The moths only live long enough to mate and lay eggs — between five and 14 days — as they are born with no ability to eat and must survive on food reserves that it stored as a caterpillar.

The atlas moth eclipses other large moths found in the U.S. according to this graphic from the Washington State Department of Agriculture. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)

The greenish white caterpillars of atlas moths have a characteristic red and blue spot on their hind feet.

Unlike the moths, the caterpillars are ravenous eaters, preferring privet, citrus, cinnamon and mango trees — and a species called the Tree of Heaven.

But the caterpillers are not so picky that they wouldn’t adjust to North American plants, which is why they are of interest to agriculture authorities tasked with pest control.

The rusty brown-to-orange-coloured atlas moth wings can have yellow, red, purple, black and pink accents with triangular translucent windows.

Anybody who sees this moth is encouraged to send a photo and location of where it was spotted to the pestprogram@agr.wa.gov for identification.



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