Massive moth touches down on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo restaurant owner initially mistakes insect for a bird

It’s not often that restaurant owners will openly discuss bugs at their establishments, but when John Vassilopoulos, owner of the Bold Knight restaurant, spotted a massive moth hunkered down on his doorstep, he saw a subject for a good social media post.

Vassilopoulos noticed the insect last Saturday just around closing time when he stepped out of the restaurant.

Its size was so impressive he set a loonie down next to creature for scale and snapped a photo of it.

“I’d say easily, when the wings were all the way out, it was almost the size of the palm of my hand,” he said. “When I walked out of the restaurant as I was leaving I thought it was a small bird sitting there. I thought, ‘What’s a bird doing out this late at night?’ and then I went, whoa, and I had to take a photo.”

The creature Vassilopoulos encountered has large, reddish wings with distinctive markings.

Staffan Lindgren, former professor of entomology at University of Northern B.C., who has a PhD in entomology from Simon Fraser University and is the president of non-profit organization Nature Nanaimo, identified the moth as a member of the Hyalophora species, which belongs to the giant silk moth family that includes the eastern luna moth.

Hyalophora euryalus or ceanothus silkmoth is part of the Saturnidae family and is widespread on B.C.’s south coast.

“The adults are seen in late spring, early summer when they are attracted to sources of light,” Lindgren said in an e-mail. “As they sit still during the day, people often don’t notice them in spite of their size.”

The moths’ wingspans can range up to nearly 13 centimetres.

Tim Ebata, B.C. government forest health officer, also identified the moth from its photo as “a lovely example of a Saturn moth.”

“These insects are native, they have very large, often conspicuous caterpillars that are solitary feeders,” Ebata said in an e-mail. “Some are pests – like tomato hornworm – while most are just part of the insect community and have no commercial impact.”

He said Saturnidae represent a huge family of large moths.

“Sometimes nature is just surprising when you see the size and the sheer magnitude,” said Vassilopoulos.



photos@nanaimobulletin.com

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