Invasive Species Alert: Atlas Moth Found In United States For First Time

Readers of this blog will know we have spent a lot of time on invasive species worldwide. Invasive species come in all sizes and varieties and much of what they have in common is damage and displacement.

close up photography of atlas moth
An Atlas moth. If you look closely at the tips of the wings they resemble snake heads. This is thought to confuse and alarm predators.Photo by John on

Yesterday we once again discussed Florida Burmese pythons which are truly wreaking havoc in the Florida Everglades. In some areas small to mid -size mammals may have decreased by 98 percent. Hippos in Ecuador ,and feral housecats in Poland, are also on the list of damaging and potentially dangerous creatures let loose where they don’t belong.

Some hitch hike, some are released by irresponsible owners, and until recently some creatures were imported to solve one problem. Only to create another as did the mongoose in Hawaii. That ferocious predator was brought in to control rats in sugarcane fields. It ate the rats – and many other valuable and beloved creatures as well. Today it is endemic in much of the island state.

selective focus photo of gray mongoose on grass
A mongoose is a fierce small weasel. It was brought to Hawaii to kill rats but decimated other creatures as well.Photo by Omkar Vinchu on

Today the topic is a federally controlled insect pest the Atlas moth. One of the very biggest moths in the world. It has a wingspan of nearly 10 inches. Only two other known moths are bigger. So far only one has been spotted in Washington state. That state is also on the lookout for so-called “murder hornets.” Those hornets have been renamed as “northern giant hornets” and have been spotted in Canada as well as Washington.

The adult Atlas moths are harmless, even lacking mouths, but the juveniles are destructive to fruit trees and other agriculture. That is why authorities are concerned. According to Smithsonian Magazine, authorities believe someone was illegally raising the moths and selling cocoons. As part of an illegal pet trade. Federal law prohibits ownership, sale or raising of these moths. This moth is thought to have escaped. The Washington State Department of Agriculture is concerned that a breeding population might exist. Residents are urged to look for the insects and capture or photograph them and contact agriculture authorities. Since there apparently is an illegal trade in the insects, residents of other states are asked to be on the lookout too.

The problem is enormous. The United States Department of Agriculture maintains a list of plants, animals, insects, viruses and other beings that are invasive in this country alone. The list has nearly 200 creatures on it.

The mongoose is well known for its ability to kill large venomous snakes. n24_w1150 by BioDivLibrary is licensed under CC-PDM 1.0

Increasingly, nations are looking to scientific controls for invasions by creature large and small. A recent breakthrough in tick control may point the way.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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