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Atlas MothAttacus atlas (Linneaus, 1758)

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Figure 1: Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas). Photo credit: Leon Krancher (Permission Obtained)


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[1.0] Overview


Table of Contents

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Ever wonder what’s that organism(s) perching up there? A bat? A moth? Take a guess before checking the answers below!

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Figure 2: Photo credits: Sebastian Ow (left); Angela Chan (right)(Permission granted)



Lesser dog-faced fruit bats (left) and an Atlas moth (right) hanging out in the same area! Did you get them right?


You have just stumbled onto a moth that is as large as if not larger than some birds and bats! Not convinced? Take a closer look!

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Figure 3: Size comparison between a bird, a bat and the Atlas moth! Image adapted from various sources

Footnote Macro

Ng, P. K., Corlett, R., & Tan, H. T., 2011. Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. Editions Didier Millet.

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Footnote Macro

Kritsky, G., & Cherry, R., 2000. Insect mythology. iUniverse.

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Footnote Macro

Hamilton, E.,1942. Mythology. Little, Brown and Company.



More recently, the massive caterpillars of this moth inflicted terror and struck fear into the hearts of Yishun Town residents in April earlier this year, gobbling up the leaves of some of the trees there leaving behind several barren trees.

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Figure 4: The Invasion of Yishun? Photos credit: Christopher Yap (Permission obtained)



It even joined the ranks of terrifying occurrences that had happened in Yishun estate such that it made it into a movie trailer (parody)! Check out the trailer below (1mins 22s) even though the caterpillar they featured is wrong......


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Yishun terrors! Original video from YouTube by JUO Productions
Are you intrigued by this animal? Wait no longer and continue to read up more about this fascinating creature!Short for time? No worries and click here instead to simply read up the fun facts!

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Footnote Macro

Ng, P. K., Corlett, R., & Tan, H. T., 2011. Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. Editions Didier Millet.

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Figure 5: Check out the magnificience of the Atlas moth! Photo credit: John Horstman (Permission pending)

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Footnote Macro

Kritsky, G., & Cherry, R., 2000. Insect mythology. iUniverse.

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Figure 6: The titan Atlas, bearing the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Photo credit: GemaLe (Creative Commons)

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. Through the common names of the moths, Atlas, Hercules, Io and Prometheus have been reunited in the same family, Saturniidae.

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Figure 7: Saturniid moths and their common names being involved in family squabbles in Greek Mythology! Image adapted from various sources

Footnote Macro

Macrone, M., 1992. By Jove! Brush up your mythology. Cader, New York

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Yiu, V., 2006. Insecta Hongkongica. Hong Kong Discovery. Kowloon, Hong Kong. 655pp

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Peigler, R. S., 1989. A revision of the Indo-Australian genus Attacus. Lepidoptera Research Foundation.

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Nath, C., Bordoloi, P. K., Chutia, B. C, Gogoi, L. & Goswami, B., 2016. A new record of six larval instars in Attacus atlas L. (Saturniidae) from North Eastern India. Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies. 4(3): 399-401.

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Bhawane, G. P., Mamlayya, A. B., Koli, Y. J., PHONDE, Y., ALAND, S., & GAIKWAD, S., 2011. Life History of Attacus atlas Linn. (Saturniidae: Lepidoptera) on Sapium Insegne Benth. From Western Ghats, Maharashitra. Life,6(3), 497-500.

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"Atlas moth" by Tan, R., 2008, Wild Factsheets, WildSingapore, URL: http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/insecta/atlas.htm

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Foo, M., 2017. An atlas moth infestation at Yishun. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2017: 80-81, URL: https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/app/uploads/2017/09/sbr2017-080-081.pdf

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 "The Atas Moth Chronicles Episode 1: The Arrival of the Moths" by Wee, Y. C., 2012, Hosted on Butterflies of Singapore: http://butterflycircle.blogspot.sg/2012/08/the-atlas-moth-chronicles-episode-1.html

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Kons, H., 1998. Chapter 32: Largest Lepidopteran Wing Span.University of Florida, Department of Entomology & Nematology. URL: http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/walker/ufbir/chapters/chapter_32.shtml

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Footnote Macro

Macrone, M., 1992. By Jove! Brush up your mythology. Cader, New York

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Figure 8: Atlas the Titan portrayed as holding on to a globe instead of the heavens. Photo credit: Biatch (from Wikimedia Commons)

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, which can be observed in the wing tips of the moth resembling that of a deadly cobra.


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Figure 9: Can you see the resemblance! Image adapted from Foo Maosheng (Permission granted) and Mpala Live! (Permission pending)



Ready to move on to the next interesting fact? Let's go!!!

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[4.0] Morphology



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Figure 10: Image adapted from Foo Maosheng (Permission obtained)

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Footnote Macro

Nath, C., Bordoloi, P. K., Chutia, B. C, Gogoi, L. & Goswami, B., 2016. A new record of six larval instars in Attacus atlas L. (Saturniidae) from North Eastern India. Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies. 4(3): 399-401.

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Figure 11: Check out the ventral side of the Atlas moth! Photo credit: Foo Maosheng (Permission obtained)

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. (More of the feeding behaviour in later sections!)



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Figure 12: Check out the proboscis of a typical moth (left) compared to the reduced mouthparts of the Atlas moth (right)! Photo credit: (left) Grover Schrayer (Permission pending) (right) Foo Maosheng (Permission obtained)

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Footnote Macro

Foo, M., 2017. An atlas moth infestation at Yishun. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2017: 80-81, URL: https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/app/uploads/2017/09/sbr2017-080-081.pdf

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Figure 13: A pair of Atlas Moth copulating. Notice how much larger the female (left) is as compared to the male(right)! Photo credit: Khew SK (Permission granted)



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Figure 14: Comparing the antennae of the male (left) and female (right) Atlas moths. Photos credit: Foo Maosheng (Permission obtained)



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Figure 15: Comparing the fenestrae of the male (left) and female (right) Atlas moths. Photo credits: Foo Maosheng (Permission obtained)

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, the White witch moth (Thysania Agrippina)!

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Figure 16: The White witch moth (Thysania Agrippina). Photo credit: Chris Engelhardt (Permission pending)

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, the Hercules moth (Coscinocera hercules)

Let the showdown begin!!!


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Figure 17: The Hercules Moth (Coscinocera hercules). Photo credit: Jennifer Marohasy (Permission pending)

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. Therefore, the champion for the largest moth wingspan is undisputedly the White Witch moth!

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Figure 18: Congrats to the White witch moth for being the largest moth in the world in terms of wingspan! Image adapted from various sources

Footnote Macro

Carwardine, M., 2008. Animal Records. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc..

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Flindt, R., 2006. Amazing numbers in biology. Springer Science & Business Media.

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Chakravarthy, A. K., & Sridhara, S., 2016. Arthropod Diversity and Conservation in the Tropics and Sub-tropics. Springer.

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! As such, currently, the largest moth in the world in terms of wing area is the Atlas Moth (until more updated literature suggest otherwise).




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Figure 19: A close call, but the Atlas moth managed to clinch first for the largest moth in terms of wing area! Image adapted from various sources

Footnote Macro

Carwardine, M., 2008. Animal Records. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc..

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Footnote Macro

Flindt, R., 2006. Amazing numbers in biology. Springer Science & Business Media.

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Footnote Macro

Chakravarthy, A. K., & Sridhara, S., 2016. Arthropod Diversity and Conservation in the Tropics and Sub-tropics. Springer.

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Developmental StageDescription of Developmental Stage
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Figure 20: Photo credit: Dr Wee Yeow Chin (Permission obtained)
Oviposition

Ovipositing of eggs by a female Atlas Moth in captivity.
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Figure 21: Photo credit: Dr Wee Yeow Chin (Permission obtained)
Eggs


Oval, slightly dorsoventrally flattened, colour ranges from dull white to pinkish grey with a brownish strip and polygonal punctuations.


Embryonic period lasts 10-11 days
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Figure 22: Photo credit: Dr Wee Yeow Chin (Permission obtained)
1st Instar


Smooth and black head with pinkish grey body with brownish strips.


Black irregular markings on the inter-segmental region.


1st instar larvae ate up the egg shell.


The first instar larval duration is 4-5 days.
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Figure 23: Photo credit: Craig Nieminski (Permission granted)
2nd Instar


Body is dull white with black irregular markings. Deep orange elongated markings appear on anterior and posterior lateral region of the body.


Duration of this stage is 8-10 days
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Figure 24: Photo credit: Craig Nieminski (Permission granted)
3rd Instar

The body is icy white to greenish.

Instar duration is 13-14 days.
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Figure 25: Photo credit: John Horstman (Permission granted)
4th Instar

The larva is greenish and the whole body is covered with lime like powder.

This instar lasts for 10-11 days.
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Figure 26: Photo credit: John Horstman (Permission granted)
5th Instar

Greenish, the dorsal tubercles are whitish while the lateral tubercles are blue with black tips.

This instar lasts for 12-13 days.
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Figure 27: Photo credit: John Horstman (Permission granted)
6th Instar

The larva is same as the fifth instar larva. The difference is observed in terms of size, weight and larval duration only in the sixth instar.

This instar last for 14-15 days
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Figure 28: Photo credit: Dr Wee Yeow Chin (Permission obtained)
Pupa


Reddish brown


Male pupal diapause (21-25 days)


Female pupal diapause (23-27 days)
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Figure 29: Photo credit: Monalou (Permission granted)
Cocoon


Slight brown to greyish


Male (5 – 6 days)


Female (8 – 10 days)
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Figure 30: Photo credit Sachin Palkar (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)




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Figure 31: Photo credit: Foo Maosheng (Permission granted)

Eclosion


Eclosion takes place after 4 weeks and the emerging moth often remained clinging to the cocoon until their wings finish expanding and drying

Footnote Macro

"Atlas moth" by Tan, R., 2008, Wild Factsheets, WildSingapore, URL: http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/insecta/atlas.htm

.Check out a video of an eclosing Atlas moth!


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Original video from YouTube by Dr Wee Yeow Chin


Check out the complete development of an Atlas moth through the all of its lifecycles! Look at how it grows in size compared to the size marker!!!

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Figure 32: Photos credit: Celeste Castro (Permission obtained)

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Footnote Macro

Sukirno, S., Situmorang, J., Sumarmi, S., Soesilohadi, R. H., & Pratiwi, R., 2013. Evaluation of artificial diets for Attacus atlas (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) in Yogyakarta special region, Indonesia. Journal of economic entomology106(6), 2364-2370.

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Figure 33: A copulating pair of Atlas moths! Photo credit: Sean Yap (Permission obtained)

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Footnote Macro

"atlas moth (Attacus atlas)", n.d.Hosted on Plantwise Knowledge Bank, URL: http://www.plantwise.org/KnowledgeBank/Datasheet.aspx?dsid=7853

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Figure 34: Photo credit: Dr Wee Yeow Chin (Permission obtained)

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Scientific NameCommon NameStatusPhotos
Melastoma malabathricumSendudok, Singapore RhododendronNative
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Figure 35: Photo credit: © natureloveyou.sg (Permission obtained and accreditated under copyright)
Nephelium lappaceumRambutanNative
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Figure 36: Photo credit: © natureloveyou.sg (Permission obtained and accreditated under copyright)
Averrhoa carambolaStar FruitExotic
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Figure 37: Photo credit: © natureloveyou.sg (Permission obtained and accreditated under copyright)
Mangifera indicaMangoExotic
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Figure 38: Photo credit: © natureloveyou.sg (Permission obtained and accreditated under copyright)

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Footnote Macro

Hill, D. S., 2008. Pests of crops in warmer climates and their control. Springer Science & Business Media.

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Figure 39: Look at the state of devastation of the tree! Photo credit: Foo Maosheng (Permission granted)

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[5.3.1] Imaginal gigantism

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Figure 40: The massive size of the Atlas moth is actually a defence strategy! Photo credit: Sean Yap (Permission obtained)

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Footnote Macro

Peigler, R. S., 1989. A revision of the Indo-Australian genus Attacus. Lepidoptera Research Foundation.

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[5.3.2] Crypsis

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Figure 41: You can see how light penetrates through the ‘windows’ of the Atlas moth here! Photo credit: Godless Graham (Permission pending)

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. It is believed that when disturbed or threatened, the moth will drop to the ground and flap its wings, thereby giving its potential predator an illusion of a snake movement and hence able to deter the predator.

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Check out the wing flapping! Original video from YouTube by Richard's Inverts


[5.3.4] Defensive Behaviour of Larvae

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Figure 42: Sketch of an Atlas moth caterpillar showing the secretion-spraying scoli by Deml & Dettner. (1994). Obtained and accredited under fair use

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Footnote Macro

Peigler, R. S., 1989. A revision of the Indo-Australian genus Attacus. Lepidoptera Research Foundation.

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Figure 43: Check out the white waxy covering on the dorsal surface of the larva! Photo credit: Vinayaraj (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

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Footnote Macro

Peigler, R. S., 1989. A revision of the Indo-Australian genus Attacus. Lepidoptera Research Foundation.

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Figure 44: Photo credit: I_Love_Butt2010 (Permission pending)

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. An example of a tachinid fly known to parasitize Atlas moth is Exorista sp., as shown below.

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Figure 45: Photo credit: The Diptera Site (licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution CC BY Licence)

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. An example is Anastatus sp. that is shown below, parasitizing eggs of another insect.

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Figure 46: Photo credit: Barbara Thurlow (Permission obtained and accreditated under copyright)

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. This can be seen as tiny white cocoons adhering to the host larvae as shown below.

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Figure 47: Photo credit: Paul (Permission pending)

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. An example of a Xanthopimpla sp. is shown below.

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Figure 48: Photo credit: © natureloveyou.sg (Permission obtained and accreditated under copyright)

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Footnote Macro

Peigler, R. S., 1989. A revision of the Indo-Australian genus Attacus. Lepidoptera Research Foundation.

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Figure 49: Global distribution of the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas). Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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. Check out how might Mothra fares against the gargantuan Godzilla below!


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Godzilla vs Mothra! Original video from YouTube by Sascha Kucklick

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. Interested pet collectors often purchase eggs from lepidopteran breeders for as much as $35 for 30 eggs! It is also seemingly very easy to hand pair Atlas Moths. Check out a tutorial of hand-pairing below!


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Hand-pairing tutorial by a moth breeder! Original video from YouTube by Bart Coppens


In addition, they are prized collections even when they are dead. Framed, mounted and carefully preserved, the specimens of Atlas Moths prove to be a highly aesthetic wall decoration at home.

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Figure 51: Photo credit: Beth Rose (Permission pending)

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Footnote Macro

Jugale, S. B., 2010. Major Insect Pests of Xylocarpus granatum koen., A Critically Endangered Mangrove Species of Maharashtra.

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Figure 52: Processing of fagara silk from the cocoon of Atlas moth into fabric! Image adapted from various sources

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"The Atlas Moth - The Remarkable Yet Unknown Species of India." by JungleSutra, 2016. Hosted on JungleSutra- Wildlife Journeys by Creative Travel: https://junglesutra.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/the-atlas-moth-the-remarkable-yet-unknown-species-of-india/

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"Attacus atlas Linnaeus, 1758". n.d. Hosted on The Digital Nature Archive of Singapore: https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/organisms/details/462

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Footnote Macro

"atlas moth (Attacus atlas)", n.d.Hosted on Plantwise Knowledge Bank, URL: http://www.plantwise.org/KnowledgeBank/Datasheet.aspx?dsid=7853

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[8.2] Original Species Description


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Figure 53: Original species description of Attacus atlas from Systema Naturae

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Footnote Macro

Peigler, R. S., 1989. A revision of the Indo-Australian genus Attacus. Lepidoptera Research Foundation.

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Figure 54: Neotype current in AMNH. Image adapted from A Revision of the Indo-Australian Genus Attacus by R.S. Peigler (1989). Obtained and accredited under fair use

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Footnote Macro

Peigler, R. S., 1989. A revision of the Indo-Australian genus Attacus. Lepidoptera Research Foundation.

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Figure 55: Comparing Attacus mcmulleni (left) to Attacus atlas (right). Image adapted from various sources

Footnote Macro

Hill, D. S., 2008. Pests of crops in warmer climates and their control. Springer Science & Business Media.

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Footnote Macro

Deml, R., & Dettner, K.,1994. Attacus atlas caterpillars (Lep., Saturniidae) spray an irritant secretion from defensive glands. Journal of chemical ecology20(8), 2127-2138.

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Footnote Macro

"Lepidopteran Evolution And Paleontology" by Joseph Culin. Hosted on Encyclopaedia Britannica, URL: https://www.britannica.com/animal/lepidopteran/Evolution-and-paleontology#ref894424

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Figure 56: Placement of Superfamily Bombycoidea on the tree of life. Photo credit: Tree of Life web project (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License - Version 3.0)




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Figure 57: Placement of family, Saturniidae, on the tree of life. Photo credit: Tree of Life web project (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License - Version 3.0)

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Footnote Macro

Friedlander, T. P., Horst, K. R., Regier, J. C., Mitter, C., Peigler, R. S., & Fang, Q. Q., 1998. Two nuclear genes yield concordant relationships within Attacini (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae). Molecular phylogenetics and evolution9(1), 131-140.

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Figure 58: Hypothesis of generic relationships of attacine moths based on morphological characters based on Peigler's work. Bootstrap values followed bydecay indices are displayed below internal branches. Tree by Friedlander et al. (1998). Obtained and accredited under fair use.

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Footnote Macro

Friedlander, T. P., Horst, K. R., Regier, J. C., Mitter, C., Peigler, R. S., & Fang, Q. Q., 1998. Two nuclear genes yield concordant relationships within Attacini (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae). Molecular phylogenetics and evolution9(1), 131-140.

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Figure 59: Phylogenetic relationships based on analysis of uniformly weighted DDC sequences. (A) One of eight MP trees resulting from analysis of total nucleotides. Above each branch is listed the minimum number of possible character state changes, followed by thecorresponding maximum number. Below each internal branch is listed the bootstrap value followed by the decay index. (B) Strict consensus ofeight MP trees based on analysis of total nucleotides. Tree by Friedlander et al. (1998). Obtained and accredited under fair use.




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Figure 60: Phylogenetic relationships based on analysis of uniformly weighted EF-1a nucleotide sequences. Strict consensus of two MP trees. Branches labelled as in Figure 59. Tree by Friedlander et al. (1998). Obtained and accredited under fair use.




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Figure 61: Phylogenetic relationships based on combined analysis of uniformly weighted EF-1a and DDC sequences. (A) Strict consensus oftwo MP trees based on analysis of nucleotide sequences. Branches labelled as in Figure 59. Tree by Friedlander et al. (1998). Obtained and accredited under fair use.



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Figure 62: Hypotheses of generic relationships of attacine moths together with geographic areas inhabited. (A) Morphological work by Peigler (1989). (B) Study by Friedlander et al. (1998). (condensed from Figure 60). Bootstrap values followed by decay indices are displayed below internal branches. Tree by Friedlander et al. (1998). Obtained and accredited under fair use.

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Footnote Macro

Chen, M. M., Li, Y., Chen, M., Wang, H., Li, Q., Xia, R. X., Zeng, C. Y., Li, Y. P., Liu, Y. Q. & Qin, L., 2014. Complete mitochondrial genome of the atlas moth, Attacus atlas (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) and the phylogenetic relationship of Saturniidae species. Gene545(1), 95-101.

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Figure 63: Phylogeny of Bombycoidea species based on Maximum Likelihood analysis. The dipteran D. melanogaster, and lepidopteran T. renzhiensis were used as outgroups. Numbers at each node specify bootstrap percentages of 1000 replicates inferred from amino acid dataset and nucleotide dataset, respectively. The scale bar indicates the number of substitution per site. Tree by Chen et al. (2014). Obtained and accredited under fair use.




Results from these phylogenetic analyses see that the optimal cladograms inferred by the two datasets are identical, whereby both highlighted that there are two distinct clades present, the Saturniidae and Bombycidae, which is consistent with morphological analysis and previous literature

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[10.0] Mitochondrial Genome

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Figure 64: Circular map of the mitogenome of Attacus atlas. tRNA genes are denoted as one-letter symbols. Gene names underlined indicate a counter-clockwise transcriptional direction, whereas those not underlined indicate a clockwise direction. Overlapping arcs (F1–F4) within the circle indicate the PCR amplified fragments. Diagram by Chen et al. (2014). Obtained and accredited under fair use.


The complete mitogenome of the Atlas moth is a closed circular molecule of 15,282 base pairs in length. It consists of the typical set of 37 genes observed in metazoan mitogenomes, including 13 PCGs, 22 tRNA genes and 2 rRNAs.

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