Hello there! I was curious, what is the difference between a luna moth and a moon moth? Or are they just different names for the same moth? Thanks! :)
Common or generic insect names are useful for non-entomological people to describe insects but are generally very confusing, variable and differ from region to region both within countries and between countries and parts of the world.
Many North Americans are familiar with their Luna Moth (Actias luna, family Saturniidae). Described and named (as Phalena plumata caudata) by Petiver in 1700, the Luna Moth was the first North American Saturniid to be reported in the literature (Tuskes et al. 1996). The original Latin name of the Luna Moth (which referred to the long tails) was lost when Linnaeus converted the name to a binomial with the specific epithet luna in 1758.
The family name Saturniidae is based on the eyespots of some members of the family that contain concentric rings reminiscent of the planet Saturn (Powell 2003). Hence, Linnaeus gave the Luna Moth it’s species binomial of Actias luna based on its moon-like spots. (New Latin lūna, meaning moon. In current English, this would be lunar). So it is justified that Actias luna has the common name of Luna Moth.
However, North America does not have a monopoly on Saturniid moths (in fact far from it). Very similar Saturniid moths exist particularly in the tropics globally including many in the same genus of Actias. They are all Moon Moths by virtue of their classification, including Actias luna, the Luna Moth. But because of the luna in it’s scientific name, the title of Luna Moth probably (but not officially) belongs to the North American species.
So to answer your question, Luna and Moon Moths all belong to the same family of moths. The names are interchangeable depending on who or where you are. But it makes sense that Actias luna be called the Luna Moth. But it is just one of many Moon Moths.