The Atlas moth is the world's largest moth in that
it has a total wing surface area of up to 62 square
inches. It also has one of the largest wingspans of
all the moths in the world, measuring over 10 inches
long. The Atlas moth derives its name, quite appropriately,
from the Titan Atlas of Greek Mythology, a huge deity
supposedly responsible for holding the planet Earth
on his shoulders. Size varies within the species in
that female Atlas moths are significantly larger and
heavier than males.
Atlas moths tend to be yellow- or orange-brown to
maroon in color. The patterns found on their wings
may vary significantly between moths, except for four
figures outlined in black that many see as "eyes."
These "eyes," common to all Atlas moths, most likely
make the Atlas moth appear larger, more intimidating,
and watchful of any potential predators.
Atlas moths generally live in tropical and subtropical
forests, particularly broadleaf forests, and shrublands.
They tend to be fairly passive members of the food
webs of their ecosystems, being preyed upon by other
organisms. In addition to the "eye" pattern found
on the wings of adult Atlas moths, Atlas moth caterpillars
are able to secrete a strong-smelling substance a
relatively far distance to repel any predators and
combat their susceptibility to otherwise being prey.
The earlier parts of the Atlas moth's life cycle
are fairly characteristic of those of the average
butterfly or moth. A parent moth lays several sphere-shaped
eggs on the underside of a leaf. Once these eggs have
hatched, larvae voraciously consume just about every
leaf they encounter. As larvae, Atlas moths are light
in colour, and their backs are covered with prominent,
fleshy spine-like structures that are covered in a
white, waxy substance. Once larvae are fully grown,
they form chrysalises in which they develop into an
adult Atlas moth.
Atlas moths lead short and fairly uninvolved adult
lives, surviving only one to two weeks each after
emerging from their respective chrysalises. Females
tend not to travel far from the site at which they
became adult butterflies, and produce and secrete
pheromones that attract males to them. Despite Atlas
moths' being fairly poor and unstable fliers, male
moths will find and fly to mates by tracking pheromones.
Adult Atlas moths also have no mouths as adult moths,
and subsist on only larval fat during their brief
Atlas moths are most commonly found in the Malay
Archipelago, and also reside in Southeast Asia and
Brazil. Atlas moths are also cultivated in India so
that their silk may be harvested, as their silk is
known to yield a more durable fabric than that of
silkworms does. Their cocoons have also been used
as purses in Taiwan.