The Atlas moth has a wingspan of almost 10 inches and the tips of those wings look like the face of a cobra. This helps them scare off predators in their native environment in India, the Philippines, and other tropical parts of Asia. But it definitely makes them stand out in the Pacific Northwest, where one was recently spotted. The Washington State Department of Agriculture has asked the public to be on the lookout for the moth after one was spotted in Bellevue, a suburb just east of Seattle. They’re not dangerous and only live a few weeks as adults. But as caterpillars they are very hungry and could make quick work of apple and cherry trees in the area.
Scientists don’t think the Atlas moth got to the United States on its own. It’s illegal to own them but officials think the one found in Washington likely escaped from a breeder, someone raising them to sell as pets. Because apparently there’s such a thing as a black market for moths. In fact, according to the Seattle Times, a local seller on eBay was offering Atlas moths as recently as this summer. We saw the news on Smithsonian Magazine.
Atlas moths are one of the largest species of moths. There are at least 160,000 types of moth on Earth, with new ones discovered often. Insects have all kinds of adaptations in order to survive and caterpillars come in all shapes and sizes. There is the hairy monkey slug moth that looks like a tarantula. Looking like a snake is not unique to the Atlas moth. The hawk moth’s caterpillar also mimics a snake to scare off predators.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.