Construction workers were busy erecting a new building at the Mount Cotton State School, located in the Redland Shire in the southeast of Australia when they were greeted by an unexpected visitor: a giant wood moth with a 10-inch (25 cm) wingspan.
Giant wood moths are native to the region spanning Queensland and New South Wales. Unlike most other sexually dimorphic species, the female is about twice as large as the male.
These giant moths are rarely seen by people due to their extremely short life cycle. Adults live for only a few days, during which they have to quickly make and lay eggs.
The fuzzy-looking gray moth was found on the side of the new building. “This moth was something that we had not seen before,” said Meagan Steward, the elementary school’s principal.
Although they may be huge, these moths are harmless. In fact, everyone was delighted by this amazing find, children included. Steward said that school children wrote fictional stories based on the moth, including a short story where one of the teachers is devoured by the giant insect. Yeah… of course.
Giant wood moths (Endoxyla cinereus) have very short lives as adults, but they can live up to three years as larvae inside eucalyptus trees, where they feed off the plant tissue. The larvae, known as witchetty grubs, at some point lower themselves to the ground to feed on the tree’s roots. When they’re close to maturing, the grubs undergo a fantastic metamorphosis, emerging as giant moths that can weigh as much as an ounce (30 grams).
While the grubs are voracious eaters, the adult moths don’t eat at all. During their metamorphosis, the moth loses all its functional feeding organs. Instead, huge fat stores provide the energy they need to mate and lay thousands of eggs over the few days of life they have left.
While the giant moth’s wingspan of 10 inches (25 cm) is staggering, it does not have the widest one. That distinction belongs to the white witch moth, another species of moth found in Mexico and South America, whose wingspan can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm).