A Close Encounter With An Atlas Moth

An Atlas moth perched on the leg of a chair at a Hakka restaurant in Taoyuan, Taiwan.

Last week I went out for a day of exploration with Josh Ellis who brought me to the excellent Lǎotóubǎi Hakka Restaurant 老頭擺客家餐廳 in Lóngtán 龍潭, Taoyuan. This restaurant is operated out of an old farmhouse (or sanheyuan, a traditional Taiwanese courtyard home) so I wandered around to take a look at each room before our meal arrived. Stepping out into the courtyard an employee gestured toward a giant moth perched on the leg of a chair. I had seen Neil Wade post one just like it on Facebook a few days prior to this so I wasn’t exactly surprised—but wow is it ever large!

For comparison: my hand and the immense wingspan of an Atlas moth hanging out in northern Taiwan.

I have since read up on this creature and learned that the Atlas Moth, Attacus atlas formosanus in this case, is one of the largest in the world. In Chinese they are known as Huáng’é 皇蛾 (Emperor Moth) or Shétóu’é 蛇頭蛾 (Snakehead Moth) from the distinctive pattern on the wingtips. After emergence the adult only lives a few days. Here in northern Taiwan there are two mating seasons, one in May and June and the other in August and September, so it’s no surprise that we’d be seeing them now. Apparently Atlas moths were commercially exploited in Taiwan in the 1970s but I haven’t seen much evidence of this from a bit of sleuthing around. Anyway, I hope to see one of these majestic organisms again!