Magnificent Moths of Upstate New York

05/21/2018
Story and photo by Gabrielle L. Wheeler

Spring flowers are blooming, and the insects are buzzing already. Bees are pollinating, and the moths are beating at my windows after dark. As a matter of fact, my son happened to spy a large “creature” flopping around in a flower pot the other day, to my surprise it was a wounded luna moth (Actias luna). Telling a coworker about the find the following day reminded me that there are numerous magnificent moth species that reside in the Finger Lakes Region.

  • Luna Moth – The sea green luna moth we found is one of the family of large moths known as giant silk moths. Last summer the kids also found another member of this same family, a polyphemus moth, which I wrote about in Winged Giants. Silk moths live only about one week as adults, during which time they do not eat. They use their feathery antennae to seek out members of the opposite sex to mate before passing on. Luna moths have a wing diameter of over four inches.
  • Hummingbird Moths – Another amazing moth that seems like it should be from the tropics and not the northern hardwood forest is the hummingbird moth (Hemaris sp.). These diurnal moths can easily be confused for a hummingbird if one is not paying careful attention as they hover around blossoms, sip nectar, and hum much like hummingbirds do. With a wing-span of a little more than 2 inches, this thick-bodied moth seems like an anomaly that it can even fly, let alone hover.
  • Rosy Maple Moths – The bright coloration of rosy maple moths (Dryocampa rubicunda) makes one wonder how it can even camouflage itself amongst the green of summer. These moths must use the pink and yellow triangular patters on their wings to hide in the dappled shadows of the maples they lay their eggs on. Also a member of the family Saturniidae, or the giant silk moths, rosy maple moths do not get to be nearly as large as luna moths with a wing-span of only about two inches.

Just like the hobby of birding, “mothing” is becoming more widespread. To go mothing requires nothing more than turning on an outside light after dark and a field guide to moth species. It can also be fun to hang a white sheet to which the moths can cling. Mothing allows the opportunity to get up close and personal with the creatures being viewed, and can be engaging for people of all ages. Maybe I’ll invite my coworker over for a night of mothing to explore New York’s magnificent moths.


Gabrielle Wheeler is a freelance writer from the heart of the Finger Lakes Region. She also works as a patient navigator/interpreter in a local health center and vlogs about nature with her kids on their YouTube channel, a “Place For Little Sprouts to Grow. “