Luna Moth



The complete scientific taxonomic classification of Actias luna, otherwise known as the luna moth, is as follows:
female luna moth

Domain:       Eukarya
Kingdom:     Opisthokonta
Phylum:        Arthropoda
Class:           Insecta
Order:          Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Bombycoidea
Family:         Saturniidae
Subfamily:    Saturniinae
Genus:         Actias
Species:      Actias luna (Linnaeus 1758)


But what does it all mean??

       Actias luna is in the domain Eukarya because its organelles, or cell parts, are bound and protected by some sort of membrane. It falls into the kingdom Opisthokonta due to its possession, at some point in its life, of swimming cells that have a posterior (opistho) flagella (kont). These "swimming cells" are most likely male sperm cells. A. luna is considered an arthropod because it has a segmented body completely covered with a chitinous exoskeleton, it molts (sheds its exoskeleton) at least once in its life cycle, and it has jointed (arthro) feet (poda). Even though they are in the same phylum, the snow crab and luna moth have extremely different looking exoskeletons! Actias luna organism can be classified in the class insecta because they have a compound eye, two pairs of wings, one pair of antennae and three body parts: head; thorax; and abdomen. Other organisms in this class include the cicada, different types of flies, beetles, and hornets. The luna moth is in the order Lepidoptera because it is a moth and has wings covered with scales, although these scales are much different than those we might associate male Actias luna antennaewith a snake or fish. Bombycoidea is the superfamily taxon because males of this organism have much larger bipectinate antennae than females. This difference can even be seen with the naked eye, and is also very helpful 5th instar Actias luna caterpillarwhen trying to distinguish between male and female. The family name Saturniidae is fit for Actias luna due to the organism's dorsal eyespots and large caterpillar characterized with unique spiney projections. Another moth that falls under this family is the moth. The luna moth is in the subfamily Saturniinae because it is considered to be a giant silkworm moth. The genus Actias and the species name Actias luna represent this moth's interesting lifestyle of being mainly active at night, specifically in the hours immediately following midnight.


Let's take another approach!

      Each of the different characteristics of Actias luna make it an extremely unique organism, but also aide us in classifying where it belongs in relation to organisms and species through taxonomic classification. Another look at how the luna moth is related to other organisms can be seen in a cladistic phylogenetic tree.

General Phylogenetic Tree

This phylogenetic tree shows the general divergence pattern of the luna moth and where it fits in compared to other organisms on planet earth. This general tree is based off both morphological and molecular data that has been researched and put together by scientists and is widely used in today's science world. Each node on the tree represents the most recent common ancestor of every organism that follows it. When  looking at this tree I created, we can see that the royal moth and the luna moth have a more recent common ancestor than the morcella and the luna moth, which means that the royal moth and the luna moth are more closely related. The luna moth and E. coli, a commonly known bacteria, have the most ancient common ancestor, and are therefore the least related according to this technically hypothetical tree.

This next tree just looks at the order Lepidoptera, otherwise known as moth. Every single one of these moths shares a common ancestor, but some share a MORE RECENT common ancestor than others. For example the rosy maple moth and the luna moth are in the same family and share a more recent common ancestor than the hummingbird clearwing and the luna moth. The hummingbird clearwing and the luna moth are in the same superfamily Bombycoidea. According to this tree, the polyphemus moth is the most closely related to the luna moth and is in the same tribe (

Moth phylogenetic tree

Note that phylogenetic trees can be very accurate, but are still only considered a hypothesis. Meaning although there has been an exponential amount of evidence, research, and support for the patterns of these trees, they are not set in stone and can easily change with a new discovery!

To link back to the luna moth Homepage, click here.
To learn more about the interactions of the luna moth with other organims, click here.
To find out where you can spot a luna moth, click here.
To view the gallery, click here.