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Care Guide: Saturniid Moths

Living Care Information

Saturniid Moth
commonly known as Luna moth,
Promethea moth, Ailanthus silkmoth, Polyphemus moth

Quick Start Information

  • Upon receipt, remove cocoons from packaging and soak them in room temperature water for 30 to 60 seconds.

  • Set the habitat up for the moths before you receive them as cocoons.

  • Keep the habitat in a warm area where it will not be disturbed.

About the Organism

  • Saturniid larvae will eat the leaves of many common plants, including sweet gum, maple, and birch.
  • The moths do not eat as adults. They subsist on fat stores from the larval stage.
  • There are 2,300 species of saturniid moths found worldwide.
  • Male moths have long, broad antennae.
  • Some saturniid larvae will produce clicking sounds using their mandibles when disturbed. This behavior is thought to be a defense mechanism.
  • Domain: Eukarya
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Saturniidae


You will receive your moths as pupae. Depending on your location, you will receive one of the following species: Actias luna, Callosamia promethea, Philosamia cynthia, or Telea polyphemus.

After pupating, saturniids will sometimes enter diapause (hibernation). Diapause is an evolutionary response induced by environmental conditions the larvae experiences during its life. Diapause causes the larvae to remain in the pupal stage until conditions are favorable for newly emerged adult moths to survive and reproduce. To get your adult moth to emerge, you will need to break diapause. (Refer to the FAQs for conditions necessary to break diapause.)

Once adult moths emerge, they will live for about a week. During this time, the moths will mate and lay eggs if an appropriate host plant is provided for them. Suitable host plants include sweet gum, red maple, American beech, hickory, white oak, black cherry, willow, chestnut, or smooth sumac. Be sure any leaves you offer have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides that could harm the adult moths or any larvae that emerge.


A mesh butterfly habitat works well for housing saturniid moths.

Place cocoons on a paper towel on the bottom of the habitat. Lightly mist the cocoons daily with room-temperature water. When the moths are ready to emerge, they will attach themselves to one end of their cocoon, rip the silk using hornlike projections, and secrete a substance that breaks down the silk’s binding. The moths often make a lot of noise during the process.

Adult moths usually emerge mid-morning. They release built-up liquid waste from the pupal stage.

Because adult moths expand and stretch their wings as soon as they emerge, provide adequate room to avoid deformed wings. Moths need a piece of screen or cheesecloth to climb onto. They will stay on this surface until their wings have dried and hardened. After this point, the moths will rest until nighttime, as they are nocturnal. At night, they fly around in search of mates.


Adult saturniid moths do not need to be fed. They subsist on fat stores left over from the larval stage.

Larvae will need to have access to a source of fresh foliage from a host plant. Suitable host plants include sweet gum, red maple, American beech, hickory, white oak, black cherry, willow, chestnut, or smooth sumac. Be sure any leaves you offer have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides that could harm the adult moths or any larvae that emerge. Replace plants with fresh material as consumption dictates.

Maintaining and culturing

Saturniid larvae pass through a series of 4 to 6 molts before entering the pupal stage. Just before pupation occurs, you may observe a color change and the larva may start to wander about the habitat. Most species spin a silken cocoon inside the leaves of a host plant or in leaf litter on the ground. Typical larvae undergo metamorphosis for approximately 4 to 8 weeks, at which point they either emerge as adults or enter diapause.


We strongly recommend giving any unwanted organisms to another individual if you do not wish to keep them. We do not advocate the release of organisms into the environment. Please contact your local (state) Department of Agriculture for any restrictions on the release of organisms. As a last resort, place unwanted organisms in a sealable container and freeze for 48 hours. Dispose of the organisms in the regular solid waste.


No Biosafety information needed for this organism.


No suggested Video or Video Playlist available for this organism.


How do I know if a pupa is dead or just in diapause?

Gently shake the cocoon. If the pupa is alive, you will hear a rattle as it bumps against the wall of the cocoon. If the pupa has died, only a thin shell will be left and you will not hear a rattle.

How can I break diapause?

If the cocoons do not produce moths within 4 to 8 weeks, they are probably in diapause (hibernation). To break diapause, refrigerate the cocoons for at least 2 weeks at 7° C (45° F) and allow another 2 weeks at room temperature. If moths still have not emerged, call us for a replacement.

Need help?

We want you to have a good experience. Orders and replacements: 800.334.5551, then select Customer Service. Technical support and questions: caresheets@carolina.com