The Atlas Moth – One of the Largest Insects in the World

The Atticus Atlas Moth is one of the largest lepidopterans(butterflies & moths), featuring a wingspan averaging up to 24 cm (9.4 in) & a wing area of about 160 cm2 (~25 in2). It’s only surpassed in wingspan by the white witch (Thysania Agrippina), the Attacus caesar, and the Hercules moth (Coscinocera Hercules).

As in most Lepidoptera(moths & butterflies), females remain noticeably larger & heavier than males, while males hold broader antennae.

The body is disproportionately tiny compared to the wings. The wings’ top side is a red-brown colour, including a pattern of black, white, pink, & purple lines & three-sided, scale-less windows bordered in black.

The undersides of the wings are lighter or more faded in colour. Both forewings have a noticeable extension at the tip, marked to mirror the snake’s upper body or head. This resemblance is intensified by movements of the wings when the moth is faced by potential predators.

The Atticus atlas moth has no mouth, & they don’t eat once they’ve appeared from the cocoon, counting on fat storage for energy. Every flight consumes valuable energy & may take days off their relatively short lifespans of around 1 – 2 weeks.

They conserve energy by flying as little as possible. A female will keep a lookout for a male to come back along, be fertilised, lay eggs, & die.

Atlas moths Habitat

The Atlas Moths Habitat is generally dry tropical forests, secondary forests, & shrublands over South Asia, East Asia, & Southeast Asia, including Borneo. However, one specimen, a mature female, was found in 2012 in Ramsbottom, England, after it arrived on a windowsill, & it’s presumed to have escaped from a private collection.

Atlas moths – Where Did the Name Come From?

Atlas moths are named after either Atlas, the titan of Greek mythology (due to their size), or their map-like wing patterns. In Hong Kong city, the Cantonese means “snake’s head moth,” of the forewing’s prominent extension, which bears similarity with a snake’s head.

One of the insect realm goliaths, the Atticus atlas moth, is a gentle giant – but behind each oversized moth is a ravenous caterpillar.

The Atticus atlas moth is one of the largest insects on earth, with a wingspan spanning up to 27 centimetres across – that’s broader than a person’s handspan.

The caterpillars of Atlas Moths reach up to 12 centimetres long, employing every spare second eating.

It is impossible not to be captivated by the Atticus atlas moth. This is often thanks to its beauty, the detail on its wings, & its sheer size at every stage of its life cycle.

Atlas moths – The race to Grow

Adult atlas moths can be massive, but they do not feed after they have emerged from their cocoon.

The proboscis or nozzle, which other butterflies & moths use to drink nectar, are small & don’t work. Without the ability to feed, atlas moths only manage between one week & a fortnight of life before the energy to power their huge wings runs out. They rely on the energy stored in their bodies from the food gorging in their caterpillar stage.

In the wild, Atticus atlas moth caterpillars eat the leaves of cinnamon, citrus, guava, & Jamaican cherry trees. Indigenous to China, Malaysia, India & Indonesia, the moth shares a source with Atlas, the Titan god of Greek mythology.

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Atlas was charged with holding up the heavens for all eternity & has become regarded as the large god of endurance & astronomy. One of the world’s largest moths should share a link with Atlas, but it’s unclear whether the insect was directly titled after him.

Scientists have considered that the moth could have been named or given its name due to its wings’ patterns, which also look like a paper map. The moth’s Cantonese name interprets as a snake’s head moth because the tips of its wings look essentially like the top of a deadly cobra snake.

When threatened or ambushed, the moth will drop to the ground & writhe around, slowly flapping its wings to imitate a snakehead & neck movements & frighten off predators.

Atlas Moths facts

Are Atlas moths dangerous?

You don’t have to fret about the Atlas Moth chewing on the clothes in your closet. Despite their humungous size, they have no mouths & don’t eat once appearing from their cocoons, relying on fat storage from their immature life stages.

How long do Atlas moths live for?

5 to 7 days
The Attacus atlas species do not have a mouth & consequently cannot feed. They live off the energy reserve that they got as a caterpillar. This means they do not live that long, generally only 1 -2 weeks.

Why Don’t Atlas moths Have Mouths?

The Atlas moth has a relatively short, vestigial proboscis. They do not eat once they have appeared from the cocoon, relying on fat storage for energy. Every flight takes precious energy & can take days off their already short lives, as it has a brief life span of only one to two weeks.

What’s the biggest moth in the world?

One of the insects’ goliaths, the atlas moth, is a gentle giant – but behind every oversized moth is a ravenous caterpillar. The atlas moth is among the most giant insects on the planet, with a wingspan stretching up to 27 centimetres across – that’s wider than a human handspan.

Where do you find Atlas moths?

The Atlas Moth can be found in Southeast Asia’s tropical & subtropical forests. The Atlas Moth has wing colours of rusty brown, light yellow, red, purple, and black. There are two triangles shaped like windows made of translucent material on the front and back of the wings.

Are Atlas moths nocturnal?

Most moths are nocturnal, so they rest during the daytime & fly at nighttime.

Further reading

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Atacos atlas - one of the largest moths in the world