The Atlas Moth is a very large, iconic insect with a wingspan of approximately 17cm. It is rusty-brown in colour, with a double white band and a large white spot on each wing.
Eggs are white and almost spherical, each laid singly on a leaf
Caterpillars can be white to green, 10cm or longer, with floppy spines
Breeding colonies are very local in distribution. Adults are nocturnal and seasonally abundant, having been recorded during the wet season from January to March. Their life cycle takes approximately 3 months, however pupae may remain dormant for a year. Its range is restricted to coastal monsoon forest, where the preferred larval food plants and breeding habitat occurs.
What to Observe
Presence (adult, caterpillar, chrysalis or eggs)
ClimateWatch Science Advisor
The Atlas Moth occupies critical habitat that is threatened by prolonged dry seasons and increases in stochastic events (fires!). Destructive fire can penetrate forest edges, destroying or altering habitat and killing developing pupae.
We expect moths to alter their activity patterns due to climate change warming the Earth and altering precipitation regimes.
There is a strong connection between emergence times and temperature, and over the past few years some moth species have been observed flying about 14 days earlier than in the past (C Dwyer 2008, personal communication).
Help scientists answer the question: "How are our animals, plants and ecosystems responding to climate change?"
When To Look
Eggs, chrysalis and caterpillars can be seen year-round. Adults can be seen during the wet season (January to March) with increased sighting during the night.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in the timing of these events so remember to keep a lookout all year!
Where To Look
Endemic to the northern end of Northern Territory. Eggs, chrysalis and caterpillars can be found on Croton habrophyllus plants in coastal dry monsoon forest and near coastal wet monsoon forest. Look for adults during the wet season, and at night.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes outside of their known ranges so remember to keep a lookout beyond these regions too!
The map below displays the accumulated observations of these species as reported by ClimateWatch observers, together with the layer showing how the range of the species might change between now and 2085, with orange areas indicating where the species might disappear, and green areas where the species range might expand.
- Brady, M, Nielsen, J 2011, Review of the conservation status of the Atlas Moth, Attacus wardi Rothschild, 1910 (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) from Australia, DOI 10.1007/s10841-011-9402-y
- NT Government, Threatened Species of the Northern Territory; Atlas Moth
- Experts consulted: ClimateWatch Science Advisory Panel, City of Darwin
The Hercules moth is similar in appearance and pattern; however its range is restricted to Far North Queensland and Papua New Guinea. The Hercules moth can be distinguished by an extended tail on each hindwing and overall larger size. Hercules moth eggs are also rusty red in colour that is strikingly different to the Atlas moth.
Did You Know?
- Of the family Saturniidae, the Atlas Moth it is the second largest species in Australia! Hercules Moth is the largest.
- The Atlas Moth is locally extinct in Darwin (with the nearest known population at Dundee Beach.
- City of Darwin has actively re-estblished host plants eg. Litsea glutinosa (another ClimateWatch monitored species) at East Point Reserve with a long term view to reintroduce the Atlas moth to its natural home range.