Actias rhodopneuma — pink spirit moth

Actias rhodopneuma, or the “pink spirit moth”, is a spectaculair insect, that is very sought after by entomologists. The stunning pink and yellow males, and mint green/cyan females with pink wind edges, will make anyone’s heart beat faster – even the hearts of people, that usually don’t even appreciate insects. 

Actias rhodopneuma, male

Actias rhodopneuma has been observed in various countries in Asia; such as, I quote, central and northern Vietnam; southern China; northeast India; northern Thailand; Laos, Cambodia. This species is more or less concentrated around the tropical regions in Indochina, and is tied to mountainous habitats. The moths are usually encountered in the mountains on 1000 to 2000 metres altitude above sea level; sometimes up to 4000 metres. Here it is tied to a microclimate that offers them hot, tropical days but suprisingly cooler nights. It is unclear to me what their preferred host plants are in the wild, but captive breeding experiments have proved they are fond of the Anacardiaceae plant family, growing and developing very well on plants such as Rhus typhina (Sumac, Anacardiaceae) and Cotinus coggygria (Smoketree, Anacarciaceae) in laboratory conditions. In captivity, they also grow relatively well on sweetgum (Liquidambar sp.).

Actias rhodopneuma male (left; pink) and female (right; mint green)

Actias rhodopneuma show a high degree of sexual dimorphism (the males and females are quite different). While the males are pink and yellow, and slender with falcate wings, the females have rounded wings and are blueish/green. 

In the wild, Actias rhodopneuma is seasonal; it is mostly abundant in Februari and March in Thailand; although other sources report a June flight in China and Vietnam. How many broods they produce per year, and their peak flight season, potentially strongly varies per population, and their microhabitat (environment). In captivity, in room temperature conditions, if kept continously above 21 degrees Celcius, the moths breed continuously, producing 2-3 broods per year. However, in the wild, they are most likely supressed by cold temperatures and dry seasons, forcing them to adapt to the local microclimate; usually emerging around the rainy seasons, or avoiding cold periods. This species also demonstrates the ability to hibernate in captivity, if cocoons are kept around 12 degrees Celcius; pupae will remain undeveloped for months, and hatch into healthy adults when warmed up. Despite that, the species does not tolerate a prolonged diapause at colder temperatures – frost kills the pupae, and it is not recommended to cool them down to temperatures lower than 7C for too long. It is neither recommended to overwinter them for too long. It seems that this species is able to hibernate – but not too long, and not too cold. In Europe and the United States, breeders have succesfully hibernated cocoons from autumn to spring, at mild temperatures (12C) and dry conditions.

  • Difficulty rating: Moderate – this species is not recommended for beginners. But to an experienced breeder, they will not be very challenging. The caterpillars can be sensitive to disease, and a brood can get infected very fast. However, if kept clean and healthy, the caterpillars can be fast-growing, and moths are easy to pair.
  • Rearing difficulty: 6.5/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: 5/10 (Archieving copulations)
  • Host plants: Anacardiaceae plants; Cotinus coggygria (smoketree bush) and Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac) produce good result. They also appreciate Liquidambar (sweetgum).
  • Natural range:  Central and northern Vietnam; southern China; northeast India; northern Thailand; Laos, Cambodia. Only found in the mountains. Usually 1000-4000m above sea level
  • Polyphagous: yes; likes Anacardiaceae but also Liquidambar
  • Generations: Multivoltine. Continuously broods in captivity. Overwintering is optional, but possible.
  • Family: Saturniidae (silkmoths)
  • Pupation: Cocoon (silk encasing)
  • Prefered climate: Hot, warm days – and cool, to cold nights (tropical mountain forest)
  • Special notes: The caterpillars really like Cotinus and Rhus. Liquidambar also gives good result. But sadly, not many more host plants are known. It would be great if more people experimented; maybe they can be raised on many more types of plant(?) – right now, the options are limited. Rumours have it that they could feed on Pistachio lentiscus (unconfirmed) and Eucalyptus sp. (unconfirmed).
  • Estimated wingspan: 100mm – 135 mm / Medium sized for Actias sp.
  • Binomial name: Actias rhodopneuma (Röber, 1925)
Actias rhodopneuma eggs

The eggs of Actias rhodopneuma can hatch fast if kept warm around room temperature (10-14 days) but longer if kept cooler. They are round, and brown with creamy white markings. They can be hatched in a petri dish easily. No extra humidity is needed, but misting the eggs with water once they hatch helps caterpillars escape the eggshell more easily.

Actias rhodopneuma L1

The first instar of Actias rhodopneuma is cream yellow, with black dots and tubercules. In this stage, they can best be raised in a small plastic box, with no ventilation holes, and fresh leaves of food plant.

Actias rhodopneuma L2

The second instar develops more bright tubercules. The second instar is also best raised in a plastic box, with no ventilation, and a few leaves of host plant. Make sure the leaves are not wet, and that the containers are clean.

Actias rhodopneuma L3

In the third instar, the caterpillars develop their typical look; neon blue tubercules on their body, but bright orange ones on top of their last two thorarical segments! The third instar can be kept in plastic boxes, but also a big ventilated cage. It is up to the preference of the breeder.

Actias rhodopneuma l4

In the fourth instar, the caterpillar become plump. The fourth instar prefers more space (don’t overcrowd) and can still be raised in plastic boxes and ventilated cages.

Actias rhodopneuma l5

The fifth instar closely resembles the fourth instar; except bigger and significantly more hairy. Usually I not recommend raising Saturniidae in plastic boxes for their entire life, but with this species, it is possible. Although I do believe ventilated cages are still better, because micro organisms thrive better in plastic boxes, increasing the risk of harmful pathogens. Despite that, the species can be tolerant to high humidity; although they are not tolerant to overcrowding and being stressed too much. Raise them in low densities, in plastic boxes or cages, a few larvae per enclosure preferably.

 

Actias rhodopneuma is not hard to breed. But it is also not a species for a beginner. The first two times I tried to breed it, my broods died from virus outbreaks. The third time I was succesful, and produced two generations in captivity. The trick was not to keep too many caterpillars in the same enclosure. They like privacy and space 🙂

If you did your best, your larvae will begin to spin papery brown cocoons between the leaves of their host plants! Be careful: sometimes the cocoons are very well hidden, check closely to avoid throwing one away! Other larvae preferred to spin in the corner of their enclosure.

Actias rhodopneuma cocoons (NOTE: cocoons were opened manually to inspect the health of the pupae)

Fun fact: the name “Pink spirit moth” is one I made up myself. This species lacked a common name! And on my various websites and channels I began to call it the “pink spirit moth”; and other people have started to use the name! My idea for this name isn’t entirely original. It started when I visited the UK to visit a good friend (hi Andrew!), and he explained to me he loved the scientific name of Actias rhodopheuma, because it translates beautifully: in Greek: “Rhodo” translates to ‘rose’ or ‘rose coloured’ (mostly pink) and ‘pneumos’ translates to the Greek word for ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’: essentially, “rhodopneuma” refers to “rose spirit” (pink spirit). I agreed that sounds beautiful, and ever since, have referred to the insect as the ‘pink spirit moth’ ever since. I have even been so bold as to edit the name into Wikipedia. If you ever see the name “pink spirit moth” think about me! I’ve done this with many species who lacked a common name, to make them more marketable online (Angulate Batwing anyone?). Essentially it is an interpretation of the scientific name, rhodopneuma.

Actias rhodopneuma male
Actias rhodopneuma male and female

Congratulations! You have raised an army of one of the most beautiful and exquisite species of moths that are available in captivity. Feeling statisfied? NO? Typical – the moth breeder is never statisfied in his quest to breed more species. And that my friend, is a good thing.

On room temperature, the cocoons can hatch very fast. I have experienced fresh pupae developing into adult, hatching moths in just 3 week during a heat wave in the Netherlands (it was 30C for over 8 days). However, pupae are not always eager to develop. This species sometimes seem to diapause for short periods. If they are not diapausing, expect to have your moths in 3 to 6 weeks. If they are diapausing, it can take longer (6 to 10 weeks) it seems, but they never diapause very long on room temperature. Thankfully, this species synchronises beautifully in captivity, and broods always seem to hatch from their cocoons together – so there are rarely problems with sporadic emergence. Cocoons like warmth and humidity. It is not a bad idea to spray with with warm water every 2-3 days to keep them hydrated. 

Actias rhodopneuma – female in the middle, surrounded by four males
They say pictures of moths on your hands, are ugly. I still think they are cool. I’m so sorry.

Actias rhodopneuma is easy to pair. In the wild, their habitat is hot during the day, but cold at night. The insects do not need tropical heat to pair. I managed to pair my moths in the Netherlands, indoors but also outdoors, in temperatures as low as 17 degrees Celcius. The trickiest thing about breeding Actias rhodopneuma is raising the sensitive larvae. But pairing is very easy.

Actias rhodopneuma copula (pairing) in captivity. Conditions: indoors in front of an open window – temperature 19.5C / 76% RH (relative humidity).

Reduced fertility? Many breeders have problems with Actias rhodopneuma in captivity when it comes to fertility. Sometimes the moths will pair, but the female will lay infertile eggs, that do not develop. This problem is pretty specific for the species Actias rhodopneuma and does not seem to happen easily with other Actias species.

One theory, is that American and European breeders overwinter the cocoons too cold. In the wild, the species can also diapause, but their “””hibernation””” is very short with mild temperatures. But perhaps in the western world, people overwinter the cocoons too much like a temperate species. There is a chance that either an A. too cold or B. too long hibernation will result in normal looking, but infertile specimens.

My second theory is that perhaps, the species does not resist inbreeding very well, and that pairings from brothers and sisters can result in infertile specimens. However, some breeders have been able to breed Actias rhodopneuma up to five (5) generations in captivity with the same bloodline. So who knows?

NOTE: All of this is simply my speculation. I could be completely wrong. Maybe it is another factor I never thought of (food plant, temperature?) or maybe the moths don’t tolerate being disturbed when they pair? The fact is, that many breeders pair these moths and sell their eggs, only for the customers to be dissapointed with infertile eggs that never hatch. The cause of this is unknown, but there are different theories about this.

Thank you for reading my Actias rhodopneuma caresheet and visitng my website.

Actias rhodopneuma female

Where to buy them? Please also note that it is illegal to import exotic insects to your country, in many places. If you live in the United States of America, you need a USDA permit to legally import any type of foreign insect – if not, the specimens are obtained illegally, and you can get in legal trouble. But also in many countries like India, Brazil, Mexico – where I get requests from – importing non native insects is banned, and perhaps, a very bad idea (it’s very dangerous to transport tropical insects to new tropical locations – where exotic pets have a higher chance of surviving if escaped).

Wow, you’re a bootlicker! Please note, before you accuse me of being a ‘bootlicker’, that I am affiliated with natural history museums, the butterfly farming industry, and many instances that have a public function. Working in scientific collections, or importing and transporting live cocoons to butterfly houses, requires me to abide by the law in all cases. These museums could cut ties with me, or refuse to work with me or collaborate, if it is found out I am promoting the illegal trade of insects online. This could destroy my business and my career. This disclaimer is self protection, because my caresheet of “Actias rhodopneuma” has generated many requests for live material. I hope my dear readers understand my motivation.

A rarity – or is it?  This species is not very rare in the wild, but it is uncommonly collected by humans. This is mainly due to several complicated factors. It is hard to legally export material from the countries where it flies, in some occasions.  For example, in Vietnam and Thailand, two countries where it flies, the insect is protected. In India, there are many laws and regulations in place that make it difficult to obtain collecting/export permits. In Myanmar/Burma and Laos, it can be hard for tourists and visitors to penetrate the rural / remote place where they fly (mountain forest) and moth trap. In China,  permits are required and only granted if you have Chinese collaborators, which are often required to accompany you in the field (the same is true of national parks in Cambodia). On top of that, the insect can be strongly seasonal, and requires one to be at the right time of  the year, at the right place (flight time often differs per country) and flies on higher altitudes in the mountains, that make it logistically more challenging to trap moths there.  Even then, they do not come to lights abundantly – females are more shy than males and are more rarely collected. That being said, please consider this species has a large distribution – all the way from China to Thailand to Cambodia to India – a distribution that covers more ground than a lot of Saturniidae species we consider to be “common”.   Please keep in mind that “rarity” is often a very artificial concept, that has more to do with various logistical challenges that makes certain species  more difficult to capture for human beings –  it is not a concept with any biological value that pertains to their ecology.  That being said, Actias rhodopneuma is uncommonly collected, and sadly, their populations are very much declining because of deforestation (they need mountain forests) in Asia.  But despite that information, as of today, it’s important to remember the species has a wider distribution than many more rarely collected Saturniidae that recieve less special attention. 

Actias rhodopneuma male 

Thank you for reading my article. This is the end of this page. Below you will find some useful links to help you navigate my website better or help you find more information that you need about moths and butterflies. 

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Citations: Coppens, B. (2020); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations in literature and publications] 

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