Actias sinensis — “Golden moon moth”

Actias sinensis, the Golden moon moth or Chinese moon moth (multiple species share the common name ‘chinese moon moth’), is a species of moon moth found in northern China – namely in Guangdong and Guanxi, on mid level elevation (1000m-2000m) and occurs in subtropical forests. It is also found in Taiwan. This species produces atleast two broods a year in these hot, subtropical climates but do also actually overwinter during the mild winters these regions experience.

Actias sinensis female (blue/green) and male (yellow)

Records of their natural host plants are not very numerous, but mentioned are Chinese sweetgum (Liquidambar formosana) and camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora).  In captivity they seem to accept some variants of Eucalyptus such as Eucalyptus gunnii. I also have one unverified report of birch (Betula) being a potential host plant.

Actias sinensis male

In captivity, this species is rather easy to reproduce. They have swift and continuous generations. If kept warm, the cocoons will never hibernate and develop into moths in 3-5 weeks around room temperature. Larvae are fast-growing; on room temperature they can grow from egg to cocoons in 4-5 weeks, and if kept much hotter, there are even reports of larvae developing from the first instar to cocoons in just 3 weeks time (exceptionally fast for a Saturniidae this size). Pairing them is easy if males and females are put together in an aeriated medium sized pop-up cage on room temperature. The true challenge is hibernation; it’s difficult to overwinter them.

They have  strong sexual dimorphism; females are much larger, and mint green/cyan with rather pink ocelli. Males are smaller with more falcate wings, and are bright yellow, with brown ocellli.

  • Difficulty rating: Simple – easy to breed
  • Rearing difficulty: 5.5/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: 5/10 (Archieving copulations)
  • Host plants: Liquidambar formosana, Liquidambar styraciflua, Eucalyptus gunnii, Cinnamomum camphora are confirmed host plants in captivity.  Note: I have one unconfirmed report they could feed on Betula (birch) but since I have not recieved pictures as proof I will file this under ‘speculation’ (somebody please confirm for me). 
  • Natural range:  China (nominotypical subspecies) & Taiwan (ssp. sinensis subaurea).  
  • Polyphagous: yes  
  • Generations: Multivoltine (continuously brooded in captivity, atleast bivoltine in the wild)
  • Family: Saturniidae (silkmoths)
  • Pupation: Cocoon (silk encasing)
  • Prefered climate: Subtropical mid elevation forest. Hot days, cooler nights. A mild winter is present.  Quoted from Nanling Natural Forest Park (where a larger population in Guangdong lives:) “the highest temperature is 34.4 C. The lowest temperature is – 3.6 C. The frost period in winter is longer, and the longest year can reach 100 days.” This species experiences a hot, near tropical (subtropical) climate with a dip of temperatures in winter, but temperatures never sink very low. 
  • Special notes: Continuously brooded in captivity on room temperature. Pupae can be hard to diapause since they are sensitive to too much cold, but they still require colder temperatures to diapause (around 8C is recommended). Never diapauses if kept warm. 
  • Estimated wingspan: 85 – 115mm (medium sized for Actias sp.)
  • Binomial name: Actias sinensis (Walker, 1855)

The eggs of Actias sinensis are round (very slightly ovate) and creamy white, but have a mottled brown striped pattern, and a visible micropyle. They will hatch in 9 to 15 days on room temperature.

Actias sinensis eggs 

The first instar caterpillars of Actias sinensis are orange, with black stripes. Personally I prefer to use sweetgum (Liquidambar) to raise them, but other host plants are mentioned on this page aswell. The first few instars can easily be raised in plastic boxes and tolerate high humidity.

Actias sinensis L1

The second instar is bright orange.

Actias sinensis L2

And before you know it, they will turn bright green! Up until the third instar, they are fine in plastic boxes. After that, it’s recommended to move them to more well-ventilated environments, such as cages, or a large box with the lid removed (make sure they can’t scale the sides).

Actias sinensis L3

The fourth instar has yellow thorarical tubercules, blue tubercles along their sides, and a row of red tubercles along their backs. They typically hang upside down, climging to the stem with their four terminal pairs of prolegs, the first pair and their head/legs raised from the surface. This is how a lot of species in the genus Actias typically rest.

Actias sinensis L4

The fifth instar is more or less a large version of the fourth instar. In total, the development from egg to cocoon takes 3 to 5 weeks time; the warmer, the faster. If kept hot, this species can grow exceptionally fast they’ve been recorded to develop from egg to cocoon in 20 days in hot circumstances). In this stage, they feed a lot and require basic hygiëne – prevent them from being overcrowded! If you did everything correctly, quite soon they should spin cocoons.

Actias sinensis L5

Actias sinensis L5

The freshly spun cocoons of Actias sinensis are flourescent  green! However, in the span of mere days, they dry up and harden, and turn silvery brown. The cocoons are typically spun in the middle of leaves that envelop (and hide) them effectively, although in captivity, larvae often also choose to spin cocoons in the corners of their cages.

Actias sinensis cocoon

Actias sinensis cocoons

The cocoons of Actias sinensis will eclose in about 3 to 4 weeks time, again on room temperature (21C). If not kept cold, they will always develop into moths, although it’s possible to suppress them in some cases with cooler temperature, and induce a short diapause. Be careful: the winters in the habitat of this species are mild, and breeders frequently make the mistake of keeping the pupae too cold. They need a gentle, preferably frost-free winter.

Actias sinensis male & female 

Actias sinensis male

The males are beautiful and golden; females are pale, and much bigger. The moths do not feed and live about 9 to 14 days usually. Pairings are easy to achieve, if kept (once again room temperature) in reasonable numbers; 1 or 2 females per cage, maximum – and 1-3 males per individual female. They prefer some airflow.

Actias sinensis females

Actias sinensis pairing

After pairing, the female will lay 50 to 100 eggs.

Actias sinensis should not be confused with the closely related species Actias parasinensis (Brechlin, 2009).

Actias parasinensis: “”A. sinensis seems to be restricted to China only (with s. subaurea on Taiwan), the species in Burma, Bhutan and Vietnam being A. parasinensis. In general habitus, A. parasinensis n. sp. has longer and narrower hindwing [hw] tails than A. sinensis. On the forewing [fw], the position of the basal line is more distal and the basal area larger than in A. sinensis. The direction of the (slightly less) curved fw-postmedial band is more straight and always parallel to the submarginal band in A. parasinensis, whereas in A. sinensis the postmedial line forms a short arc around the fw ocellus and is thus further from the submarginal line near the inner margin and the costa. The fw submarginal band is broader and more colourful, consisting of violet half-moons between the veins in sinensis that are not really visible in parasinensis. In addition the colour of this band is dark grey in parasinensis rather than the pink-violet of sinensis. Additionally, the shape of the dark central feature of the hw ocellus is V-shaped in parasinensis whereas in sinensis it is shaped more like a half moon. Male genitalia: There are some small but constant differences between A. parasinensis n. sp. and A. sinensis. The bifid uncus is slightly narrower and more open in parasinensis. The dorsal lobes of the valves are also narrower and longer in the new taxon. The two lateral branches of the V-shaped juxta are narrower and more widely spread in parasinensis. The saccus of the new species is smaller and narrower and has a waist basally. There are no visible differences in the phallus (= aedeagus) between the two taxa.””

Actias sinensis sinensis (China) is the nominotypical population, with subspecies Actias sinensis subaurea (Taiwan) from Taiwan ( = formerly Actias heterogyna subaurea, now a synonym of A. sinensis). Presumably specimens from Indochina are Actias parasinensis or other species from this species complex.

 

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Citations: Coppens, B. (2019); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations in literature and publications] 

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