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Satin Moth (Leucoma salicis)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Satin Moth

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Image Credit: Jennifer B. from Reading, PA
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Image Credit: Jennifer B. from Reading, PA
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The white Satin Moth looks like an angel, but in large numbers, it spells impending trouble for poplars and willows.

Updated: 01/05/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Satin Moths are completely white with an exception for their legs. Their legs are checkered in black and white. It seems inconceivable that such a lovely, satiny moth would cause problems, but this species gives rise to many hungry caterpillars. Satin Moth caterpillars are voracious eaters of poplar and willow leaves, and after an initial round of feeding in the spring, more come back in late summer. They eat tree leaves, leaving only the main vein and petiole behind. This damage is visible as more sunlight gets through to the ground, and the tree canopy starts to look like it is disappearing. Heavy feeding in the early summer by a large number of caterpillars can completely defoliate a tree. Without leaves, a tree must resort to its food stores to survive until a new batch of leaves can grow. Unfortunately, by the time new leaves grow, another batch of larvae hatch and eat away at them, though not as vigorously as the early generation. After a few years of this level of stress, trees die.

Satin Moth adults emerge in summer. Males and females mate in mid-summer, and females lay light green eggs in oval-shaped groupings on leaves and branches among the poplar trees. About a month later, these eggs hatch and larvae begin to feed on leaves until they prepare for winter. They move to the tree trunk and wrap silk around themselves to protect them from the cold winter months. They emerge from these cocoons in spring to continue eating and developing. It is this group of caterpillars that does the heavy damage to tree foliage. Once they have matured enough, they pupate, becoming a new generation of adults that produce offspring in late summer. There is no way to keep Satin Moths from accessing poplar trees. Maintaining superior tree health and introducing natural predators to the area may help reduce tree defoliation and stress. Certain insecticides that are sprayed in the spring, when the caterpillars are coming out of hibernation, can also aid in limiting damage.

Satin Moths can form large populations and adults are attracted to lights. They may cluster in an area so closely that they look like a blanket of snow. Caterpillars are 35-40 mm (1.5 inches) long and have black bodies with large pale yellow/white dots on their dorsal (spine) side. Each pale spot is flanked on both sides with a round, red bump. Red bumps also run down toward the ventral side by the feet. Yellow tufts of spiky hairs protrude from them. They may be seen crawling around the ground as they move to other trees. They may also roll leaves and secure them with silk to form a retreat in which to pupate.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Pest insect icon
Shiny insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Erebidae
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          Genus: Leucoma
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            Species: salicis

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Leucoma salicis
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 24mm to 50mm (0.94" to 1.96")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: white; black
Descriptors: satin; sheen; shiny; glossy; flying; destructive; pest; checkered legs

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 24mm (0.9in) and 50mm (2.0in)
Lo: 24mm
Md: 37mm
Hi: 50mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Satin Moth may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Satin Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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