The impressive luna moth and preparing for a bio-diverse yard
By Ellen Nibali
Aug 22, 2019 | 7:00 AM
We found this giant in our garage. It was very docile and we put it outside. Never seen one before! It looks like someone outlined it with black marker and the antenna are brushy.
Luna moth (Actias luna), one of our native giant silk moths, is always impressive. You know it’s a moth by the feathery antenna. The gentle moths have no mouth parts, being intent on reproduction. When it was a caterpillar, it was big and green, too. Caterpillars click and regurgitate to deter predators. Later the moth’s wing eye spots confuse predators, while its long tails may have evolved to confuse the radar-like echolocation of hungry bats.
Though luna moths have two generations a year in Maryland, they are a more rare sight since a parasitic fly was introduced to combat the invasive gypsy moth. That had the unintended consequence of killing luna moths as well as other native moths.
Still, a luna moth momma can lay from 200-600 eggs. Caterpillars wrap their cocoon in leaves for extra protection as they go through the vulnerable process of changing into a moth. So the next time you see something wrapped in a leaf, don’t assume it’s bad. It may be one of these beauties about to emerge.
Our place is almost entirely lawn, and we want to convert the yard into a bio-diverse native habitat for birds and butterflies. Since it is almost fall, do we cover the grass areas with newspaper and then mulch on top, or leave it till spring. How do we prepare the ground for planting in spring? Can we plant things now?
If you already have decided on the beds or habitat areas, then killing the grass now is an excellent idea. Mow as low as you can. Newspaper and mulch (especially leaf mulch available in fall) should work well. Use several layers of newspaper under the mulch. Do a soil test now.
Fall is a great time to plant woodies and perennials. However, unless you must plant now (gift plants, donated plants), you may want to wait until you have a planting plan designed for each bed. Winter is an excellent time to plan.
University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.