One of the world’s largest known moths has been reported for the first time in the United States, and experts are now asking residents to report any other sightings of the insect.
Entomologists in Washington state confirmed the discovery of an atlas moth in Bellevue, located west of Seattle, earlier this month. The Washington State Department of Agriculture said the moth, found on the side of a garage, was reported by a University of Washington professor in early July.
After confirming the species with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, experts now believe this is the first time the moth has been detected in the U.S.
The atlas moth is a native of Asia, primarily from India to the Philippines and south to Indonesia, according to the California Academy of Sciences. Its wingspan of 10 inches is second only to the white witch moth of Central and South America, which has a wingspan of 14 inches.
Its wings are also mesmerizing to some and serve as protection from birds looking for a snack. When open, the atlas moth’s wings may appear to instead be two cobra heads, deterring predators.
Despite its size, the atlas moth doesn’t live long. As London’s Natural History Museum explains, the moth’s proboscis – what butterflies and moths use to drink nectar – is very small and unusable. Because it has no way to eat, the moth typically lives only one to two weeks.
The moth gains much of its sustenance as a caterpillar. During this phase, they will eat leaves of cinnamon, citrus fruit, guava, and Jamaican cherry trees. Moth caterpillars produce silk, and the cocoons they leave behind are sometimes used as purses, according to the Museum.
The atlas moth is a federally quarantined pest in the U.S., according to Washington State officials. This means it is illegal to have or sell live atlas moths, regardless of their stage in life, without a permit from the USDA.
This is the only atlas moth reported in Washington so far, meaning there is no evidence a population has been established in the state. Without a known way to trap the moth, officials are now relying on reports from the public to determine if there are more in the state.
Officials haven’t explained how the moth may have found its way to the U.S.
Because it is a tropical species, Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for the state’s Department of Agriculture, says its unclear whether the atlas moth could even survive the conditions of the Pacific Northwest.
“USDA is gathering available scientific and technical information about this moth and will 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,” Spichiger said in a statement.
If you spot this mesmerizing moth, you are encouraged to take a photo of it, note where you spotted it, and notify your state or local agriculture department.
This rare sighting comes as officials on the other side of the country are warning residents to kill a stunning but invasive bug that could drastically impact certain trees and even grape and wine industries.
Measuring about one inch in size, the spotted lanternfly, with its spots and pair of bright red wings, was first detected in the U.S. in 2014. It has since spread to 11 states, primarily across the Northeast. The spotted lanternfly is a native of China and feasts off of fruit, ornamental, and woody trees, especially the tree of heaven, a fellow invasive species native to China, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
If allowed to spread, experts say the spotted lanternfly “could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries.”
The Department of Agriculture considers most states at risk of being impacted by the spotted lanternfly. Using the department’s Pest Tracker, you can determine if your state could be a suitable home for the invasive bug, as well as 20 other “targeted Hungry Pests.”