A moth species with a wingspan of nearly 10 inches ― one of the largest moths in the world ― has been found in the United States.
Entomologist Patrick Tobin got an email last month including a photo of what he immediately recognized as an Atlas moth on a garage door in Bellevue, Washington, he told The Seattle Times. Wildlife officials believe this is the first time the moth has been spotted in the U.S.
“This is a ‘gee-whiz’ type of insect because it is so large,” Sven Spichiger of the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) said in a news release about the winged creature. “Even if you aren’t on the lookout for insects, this is the type that people get their phones out and take a picture of – they are that striking.”
Atlas moths are a tropical species native to Southeast Asia. Its wingspan can be up to 10 inches long, with large, distinctive markings that scientists believe are meant to mimic the heads of snakes to scare off predators like birds.
The particular moth seen in Washington had a wingspan about the length of an adult man’s hand. The moths don’t pose a risk to human health, but their caterpillars could threaten plant life like apple and cherry trees. They are legally a “federally quarantined pest,” meaning it’s illegal to “obtain, harbor, rear, or sell live moths” at any life stage, according to the WSDA.
The origin of the moth seen in Bellevue is unknown at the moment. However, news station KUOW reported that a now-deleted local eBay account had been claiming to sell Atlas moth cocoons online.
Tobin killed the moth by putting it in the freezer and sent it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which confirmed it was indeed an Atlas moth.
Anyone in Washington state who thinks they’ve seen one of these moths are encouraged to report it to [email protected] with information on where they saw it and a photo, if possible. Anyone who sees one in the U.S. outside of Washington can report it to their state plant health director.
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