Luna See in the Barn

With FD working from home under the COVID-19 Safer at Home guidelines, the pace of life around here has changed a little. It’s much more relaxed since FD doesn’t have to be dressed up for work, or preparing to fly off to some destination. I get up an hour later than usual, at 6:30 now, thanks to Oscar’s gentle pawing at the gate to our bedroom.  I let Oscar and Lollipop out to do their morning business, then get a cup of coffee going. By that time, FD is up and I get on the computer for a short time, finish my coffee and head out to do chicken chores and load the Kawasaki Mule with whatever tools I will be needing for the day’s work. I then pack a water jug and head out. FD needs quiet to conduct conference calls and meetings, so I leave the house to him. I cannot run kitchen devices or be clanging and banging around or otherwise carrying on inside, so I keep to the outdoors. Fortunately, spring work in the yard and garden is enjoyable this time of year, and there is plenty to do!

On my way to the barn last week, I was reveling in the cacophony of song from the birds. It had rained during the night and my boots made a squishing noise as I plodded between the two barns. Some big, yellow butterfly or moth was flying erratically in front of me, which I thought was a bit odd this early in the day. Generally, I find insects sunning themselves to warm their wings for flight in the early morning. Suddenly, I realized what I had just seen! It was – a Luna Moth (Actias luna)! I have only seen one of these beautiful moths in my life, and it was a dead one. Picking up my pace to follow the moth’s flight path, I saw it take a turn to the left, but as I rounded the corner to the metal barn, the Luna moth had disappeared. I assumed it probably dove into the tall phlox at the front of the building, so I looked a bit, but realized it would be impossible to find as thick and tall as the phlox was. I continued to the barn to get the chickens set up for the day. It was still quite chilly out so I opened the little chicken door, planning to return later to open the big windows.

At mid-morning, I returned to open the big windows and air out the barn. With forty-three chickens to tend to, the barn needed cleaning more frequently and I generally kept fans blowing on warmer days. Soon, the nighttime temperatures would be warmer and the windows could be left open continuously. As I arrived at the first window, I found the luna moth clinging to the corrugated fiberglass! “How did it get in here?”, I thought, as I reached for my iPhone to snap a picture – only to realize my phone was still in the house! Quickly, I ran back to the house, then to the barn, and captured a few photos. There was no way I would disturb the moth by dropping the window down, so I went to the bigger barn door to leave it open for the day instead. And there, on the inside of the barn door, was another luna moth! I took a few more photographs and realized something was going on. Mostly, I wondered why they were in the barn, and was not so sure that was a good place for them to be. Chickens eat insects, and though the luna moths were perched high enough to be safe, I wasn’t convinced this was a natural spot for them to be in. I decided to look for more lunas in other areas of the barn. Sure enough, I found another in the front part of the barn. This one on a glass window pane.

I took this first photo with natural light coming in the barn. The male Luna moth has thicker, heavier antennae “feathers” than females.
I used the flash to get a better view of this male Luna.

Once back in the house, quietly researching the luna moth at my computer while FD conducted a staff meeting via his iPhone, I realized this was one of two to three spring broods that occur in the southern United States, from March-September. I also discovered that host trees included persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), of which we had three on the property located near the barn. I learned to determine the male from the female by observing the thickness of their antenna “feathers”. With that knowledge, I determined there was one female and two males in the barn. I observed all three throughout the day, but they stayed where they were. I would have to wait and see what happened during the night. From my research, I learned that mating took place after midnight, so maybe in the dark they could find their way outside and keep safe from the chickens who would be roosting near the opposite wall of the barn.

Two of the persimmon trees on our property. Last year was the first year that known fruit was produced by either tree. It was enough to feed Tukker many snacks when the weather got cold.
I used the flash to show more detail on the female luna. Notice her thin antennae “feathers”. She was positioned near a large hole in the door, and also a large crack along the side of the door. I felt she would have plenty of area to escape outside in the night.
I found this male Luna in the feed section of the barn.
This image shows the size of the male Luna in the old barn window.

The next morning, the female had vanished. The two males were still at the windows in separate areas of the barn, and still clinging in the same locations. One looked as though it had tried to get out through a crevice but was not successful. At that point, with the female gone, FD and I decided that the males may need help finding their way out of the barn and needed to be outside where they stood a better chance of mating. We prompted them to make flight without touching them, allowing them to exit the barn into the yard and away from the chickens. One flew to an oak tree and the other to a nearby maple. Both blended in with new leaves. I wondered if we had done the right thing? I hoped so.

When I checked on the Lunas on morning two, this male was hanging upside-down, and with the flash I could see his underside much better.
Same male Luna only taken looking up from the floor. It appeared he was trying to find a way outside through a small crack between glass and wood (where the glazing fell out). The antennae are wedged under the glass pane crack.
Chickens are ferocious about eating insects and even mice and small snakes. This is why I worried about the Lunas being in the barn.

Yesterday, I no longer lamented about our decision to “help” the male Lunas escape the barn. While fetching eggs from the chicken nest boxes, I spied a bit of green color in the straw on the floor. On closer inspection. I realized it was what was left of the female luna.  A cluster of dried eggs were exposed, and one slender antennae still remained with tattered wings. I removed her from the barn, and laid her near the base of the persimmon tree. I knew the eggs were probably not viable, and the persimmon leaves had been knocked back from a recent, late freeze, but I felt this is where she belonged. I wished I had thought to set all three lunas free from the barn that first day. I am thrilled, though, for the experience the lunas provided and what I discovered about the life cycle of these beautiful woodland moths.

I will never know if the chickens killed the female or if she simply perished and insects got to her. Sadly, she never made it outdoors to lay her eggs.

© 2020 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 


31 thoughts on “Luna See in the Barn

  1. Wow, I’ve never seen one of those in real life or pictures. So beautiful.
    I laughed when I read that you get up an hour later at 6.30. My husband has been working from home since lockdown here on the 15 March and I get up an hour earlier at … 7.30 😀.
    I hope you and your families are well xxx

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    1. It sounds like all is well in your neck of the woods. Everything is good here and also with our families. I can tell you one thing, I do not miss having to iron FD’s dress clothes at all. That opened up my schedule big time! Ha ha!

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  2. I would have been beyond excited to see this gorgeous creature! I’ve only ever heard of them and had no idea they were so beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing the photos and the story. It’s a shame the female didn’t make it, but hopefully there are more out there and they will reproduce so you have a chance of seeing them again. xx

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    1. I can tell you I was so excited that I went running to the house for that cell phone for photos! I wonder if the first one I saw flying was just trying its wings out for the first time. It didn’t have good control at all. But then I wondered if that kind of flight was normal with that great tail being involved. I feel special to have seen four lunas in one day. I understand in the southern US we can have up to three broods of them. It would be wonderful to follow up on another brood. I’ll be watching those persimmon trees!!

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  3. Oh how I love this post, and Luna moths! There are some sweet childhood memories, and (pre-covid) I volunteered at our local Butterfly House at the botanic gardens here in Fort Collins, CO. They received a big batch of Luna moth leaf wrapped cocoons – and I got to see one emerge and expand its wings in perfection. Your photos are beautiful! 🌝💚

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    1. Oh my, Margaret!! That would be exciting to watch them expand their wings. I understand it can take several hours. I’m hoping to see another brood and perhaps even the caterpillars. Suddenly I’m very interested in our three persimmon trees!

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  4. So interesting you mentioned listening to birds. This end we’ve been surrounded by unusual quiet and have been sitting outside listening to birds. Yesterday was especially entertaining as two woodpeckers banged away up on the telephone poles. A great symphony. The photos of the luna moth are amazing, including the last sad one. It’s too bad she didn’t make it. Thank you and stay safe.

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    1. Good to hear from you, Paulette. Since we are on the edge of the woods, we see many species of bird. Woodpeckers are common and we’ve seen a giant Pileated pair for the last ten years. This evening we saw fledgling Bewick’s Wrens learning to fly. Fortunately they were in the deer pen area so a night prowler isn’t likely to get them (unless the Barred owls show up!). Town traffic is way down. It’s very quiet here too, except for the critters. Tukker is growing antlers now and he’s frisky. I sometimes think I need eyes in the back of my head!

      I wish I had known the female Luna was in the barn. I would have looked further. I always feel there is something to be learned and even in death there is a gift of something.

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  5. What an adventure you had with those giant green moths. The fact that you got some pictures proves it was definitely “luna see” rather than “lunacy.” It’s good that you came to the rescue, even if not for all three.

    I think it would be great if no one ever had to dress up for work.

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    1. There is always adventure here, Steve. Lunacy too sometimes. As for dressing up for work, I couldn’t agree with you more. I iron all of FD’s work clothes. I haven’t missed ironing one minute. I worked in professional settings until we moved here. I feel quite at home in work pants, an old t-shirt, and comfortable boots. By the way, I wear Danner police tactical boots – lightweight and tough. I have to be nimble on my feet when running with my camera, chasing down deer, foxes, squirrels… and moths!

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    1. You’ve got that right, Ellen! It was an exciting morning. Who would ever have thought I’d see four lunas in one morning? There is always some kind of adventure here. I just never know what will present itself.

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  6. What incredible moths, but such a shame about the female! Unfortunately that’s nature, and nothing you did would have made her survival more likely.

    Some of my friends keep weird an wonderful pets: one friend is waiting for some Atlas moths to hatch. Have you seen them? Amazing creatures, the size of dinner plates!

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    1. We have seen lots of interesting insects here. Spiders amaze me the most, though I have to say these giant silk moths are most beautiful! We have also seen some Polyphemus Moths and an Io Moth. It’s always a surprise to find one of these giant moths, usually in the early morning hours. I’m glad I’m an early bird!

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    1. I learned a lot too, Linda. Any time I am able to observe something new to me, I do research to understand better. I may get another chance to view the Lunas since they could have another brood or two this spring and summer!

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  7. What a cool encounter you had with the lunas! I only saw them for the first time last summer and will never forget how stunning they were. Your photos are wonderful!

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    1. Thank you, Kim. I was like an excited kid that morning, running back to the house for my cell phone! I couldn’t believe I had three of them in the barn!

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  8. Wonderful photos. Luna moths are beautiful and somewhat otherworldly in appearance… the name Luna suits them. How very special that you were about to record and share their visit.

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    1. It was a special encounter for me. It pays to be an early morning person – I do see some unusual things being out and about when the sun is just rising. I love the word “otherworldly” in your description of the luna.

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    1. Thank you, Liz. The first bird song can be heard long before daylight here. Mockingbirds and Cardinals are generally the first to burst into song. We have seen some unusual moths in the thirteen years we’ve lived here. I really need to look up the older photographs and do a post on some other woodland beauties.

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  9. Lucky you. I have never seen a luna despite their being relatively common here. It’s always a tough call what to do about wild things seemingly in peril. Most often our tenderness wants to help but we know we should let nature take its course. OTOH,”chasing” the males out of the barn saved them potentially from the same fate as the egg laden female.
    We trap mice in a havahart unit and I rehome them to a meadow a mile or so from here. I used to just put them outside but I think they beat me back into the house so they go for a ride. I was watching a YouTube video once of someone doing the exact same thing. As the mouse ran he turned around and in that instant a hawk nailed the mouse. How ironic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VyQipO4miw We try but that’s the best we can do.

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    1. I felt very lucky that morning I discovered the lunas! I can tell you I ran back to the house like an excited child to get my cell phone. We have seen many beautiful and unusual woodland moths over the years. I shall have to look back on my photos and do a post on some of the other moths we have observed.

      We have had trouble with raccoons in the past – they are clever at finding ways into the old barn and killing our chickens. We generally capture them in live traps, and like you, have discovered that it’s best to haul them off a distance. We watch the raccoons on game cameras, making sure that we trap at appropriate times. We try to be cognizant of not separating mothers from babies and also about locations to release them in a safe manner. Fortunately, we haven’t had any issues with raccoons in the last year. We’ve beefed things up around here since FD’s mother passed, securing better fencing and also making some repairs to the barn. It’s about working for the good of everything,

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      1. I would do the ame were I to find a luna. I did the same the other day for a brown but very attractively patterned moth but, of course, by the time I ran in a got back out with a camera it had flown. I usually have the phone in my pocket but was splitting and stacking so thought it best to not have it in harm’s way. Oh well. 🙂

        Everything has its place and there is a place for everything but not mice in the kitchen or raccoons in the henhouse. We have to cage our veggies in the garden with chicken wire around the raised beds to keep the hungry critters from ruining our salads.

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