On July 7, 2022, a giant moth with a ten-inch wingspread was discovered in a garage of a home in the state of Washington. Thankfully, the moth species does not pose a public health threat. The Atlas moth originates from the tropical forests of Asia and has not been seen before in the U.S.
It is not clear how this moth found a way to get to Washington. However, scientists found on eBay, an e-commerce company, an account selling Atlas moth cocoons for $60 each. This account was later taken down because the Atlas moth is a quarantine pest, meaning it is illegal to obtain, sell, or harbor, no matter if they are adults, eggs, larvae, or pupae.
In spite of that, the individual sighting does not mean that there is a population of the Atlas in the U.S. The state’s agriculture department asks the public to take photographs and collect Atlas moths if they find one. This would help determine whether there is a population or not. If there were an infestation, it would be harmful to the region’s fruit-growing industry because like other moths and caterpillars, they enjoy feasting on the leaves of cherry and apple trees.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) suggests that the public should report any sighting of the moth. The moths' big and unique wing patterns are hard to miss. Even visitors from out of the country should report any sights of this moth to the WSDA.
When species invade new habitats, it can cause problems when it comes to resources. Sometimes, there aren’t any natural predators for that species which can lead to quick overpopulation. Also, even if this moth species finds food, the fruit-growing industry will not be prepared for the moth’s invasion, which will pose a threat to the state’s fruit growers.
Sven Spichiger, WSDA’s managing entomologist, in a statement said, “This is a ‘gee-wiz` type of insect because it is so large, even if you aren’t on the lookout for insects, this is the type that people get their phones out and take a picture of—they are that striking.”
The WSDA asks people to help solve whether the Atlas moth is still throughout the state in Washington.