5 Silk Moths That Might Be In Your Garden

Just in time for National Moth Week 2017, learn about the amazing silk moths you can expect to find in eastern U.S. and Canadian gardens.

Silk moths blow away every belief you’ve ever had that all moths are small and dull. These large vibrant moths can have wingspans over 6 inches, and come in colors including red, pink, and green. Here are a few general facts about silk moths, and a list of five common ones you might find in your garden.

Silk Moth Actias Luna
Luna Moth
  • Adult silk moths have no functional mouthparts and do not eat. They fly for only 4 or 5 days, just long enough to mate and start the next generation.
  • In contrast, silk moth caterpillars are voracious eaters, because they must store up all the fat reserves the adult will need. They generally feed on leaves of various trees, which provide plenty of the food they need.
  • Many silk moths spin cocoons around themselves before undergoing metamorphosis. Commercial silk is produced by the Domesticated Silkmoth caterpillar, Bombyx mori. B. mori does not live in the wild, and in fact could not survive in the wild because the adult moth is flightless. The caterpillars are raised in large factories where they are fed White Mulberry (Morus alba) leaves up to eight times a day.

Luna Moth (Actias luna)
Found throughout the eastern United States and Canada, this silk moth’s unique pale green color and long tails make it easy to identify. Luna Moth caterpillars eat mainly leaves from white birch trees (Betula papyrifera) in the north. In southern areas, where birch is not available, they prefer leaves from sweet gum, hickory, walnut, or sumac.

Silk Moth Polyphemus
Polyphemus Moth

Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)
The Polyphemus Moth is also common in the east, but can be found as far west as California. The large eyespots on their wings help scare off predators. If you look closely at these eye spots, you’ll notice the centers appear clear or see-through. These areas lack wing scales, allowing you to see the clear membrane beneath. Polyphemus caterpillars eat a wide variety of tree leaves, including oak, maple, willow, wax myrtle, and more.

Silk Moths Io Moth
Io Moth

Io Moth (Automeris io)
Speaking of silk moths with stunning eye spots, Io Moths are known for their venomous caterpillars. These brightly colored larva are equipped with urticating hairs, which release a toxin when brushed. This toxin causes unbelievable pain in humans, so imagine what it would do to a predator like a bird or small mammal. Io Moth caterpillars eat willow, hackberry, redbud, and blackberry.

Moth Myths Regal-Moth-K-GilpinK. Gilpin
K. Gilpin Regal Moth

Regal Moth (Citheronia regalis)
Also known as the Royal Walnut Moth, this species has one of the craziest caterpillars you’ve ever seen. Called Hickory Horned Devils, these creatures grow to the size of small hotdogs and boast spikes that would terrify any predator. The caterpillars eat the leaves of hickory, walnut, pecan, sumac and others.

Silk Moths Imperial Moth Kristen GilpinK Gilpin
K Gilpin Imperial Moth

Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis)
Imperial Moths are found throughout the eastern U.S., but are much more common in the southern parts of their range. Their spiky caterpillars are harmless to humans but do an excellent job of deterring predators. Rather than spinning a cocoon, Imperial Moths burrow in the ground beneath their host trees (pine, oak, maple, and more). They overwinter there, emerging the following summer.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.