Saturniidae (Silkmoths)



Silkmoths are a large family of moths that can be found all over the world, with over 2000 species.

They belong to the biggest and most impressive Lepidoptera in the world, including the famous giants that can reach a wingspan between 25-30cm and are among the largest insects of the world, such as the females of Attacus atlas, Coscinocera hercules and others. Also including the famous moon moths and comet moths commonly spotted in butterfly houses, photographs and insect collections alike. Saturniidae have also been very important in history and sericulture, being one of the first species to be bred by humans for silk thousands of years ago, including Antheraea and Samia silkmoths from Asia, a purpose for which they are still bred today.

A trait of Saturniidae are the reduced mouth parts: the adult moths are despite their large size, very short lived, as they are unable to feed. These reduced and dysfunctional mouth parts still serve one tiny but important purpose though: upon emergence, they secrete an enzyme (serrapeptase) which dissolves silk, and allows the moth to create an exit hole in the cocoon it has to emerge from. Despite this, they are unable to eat, and run out of energy very swifly, often not living longer than 7 to 14 days. This is enough time for them to find a partner and reproduce though. To compensate for this, larvae often build a large fat reserve, feeding almost non-stop, and being one of the most remarkably fat larvae in the insect world.

Their feather-like antennae are very strong chemoreceptors. Males can smell a female from a distance of over a kilometre. This is possible due the female’s pheromones, a chemical the females secrete at will from the tips of their abdomen, that may disperse with the wind, effectively signalling males to locate her for a pairing. Females are usually very passive unless fertilised, preferring not to move, and remain motionless in a good spot for days whille calling for a male by secreting her sex pheromone at night (or day in some species). It is not until after a pairing has occurred before females start to become more active. At this stage they are possibly seeking out the best place to deposit her eggs, on a host plant or any random surface like tree bark or a wall. Despite this, they aren’t picky due to their very short,limited lifespan (they are in a hurry to reproduce after all), and females can sometimes be seen randomly laying and dumping eggs everywhere. Sometimes in a neat package, and sometimes one at a time.

They are generally easy and beautiful species to breed.

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The aim of this website is to provide information about many species of moths and butterflies around the world, with a slight focus on rearing them in captivity.

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