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What is a yellow and brown moth that looks like a leaf?

What is a yellow and brown moth that looks like a leaf?

There are a number of moths that have yellow and brown coloration and wing patterns that resemble leaves as a form of camouflage. This adaptation allows these moths to blend in with foliage and avoid detection by predators. Some of the most common leaf-mimicking moths found in North America include the following:

Io Moth

The io moth (Automeris io) is a Saturniid moth found throughout much of North America. It has a wingspan reaching 3-4 inches. The forewings are yellow, brown and reddish-pink with eye-like spots meant to startle predators. The hindwings are yellow, brown and pink with small tails. At rest with wings folded together, the io moth resembles a dried leaf.

Rosy Maple Moth

The rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) is a silkworm moth found across eastern North America. It has pink and yellow wings with intricate linear patterns that provide camouflage against maple tree bark. However, with wings folded together, it looks very much like a dead leaf.

Polyphemus Moth

The Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) is a giant silk moth found throughout North America. It has a wingspan up to 6 inches. Its wings are brown, yellow, pink and gray, and very leaf-like in appearance. A white “eye spot” on each hindwing further serves to startle predators when the wings are suddenly opened.

Luna Moth

The luna moth (Actias luna) is a lime-green colored moth found in deciduous forests across North America. It has a wingspan up to 4.5 inches. The wings have long tails and are light green in color with faint brownish stripes meant to resemble leaf venation. At rest, the luna moth is very difficult to distinguish from a green leaf.

Regal Moth

The regal moth (Citheronia regalis) is a large moth found in eastern North America. It has grayish-brown wings with red and yellow crescents along the margins. Its front wings are angled back when at rest to resemble a leaf tip. Overall, its cryptic wings help it disappear against the bark and leaves of trees where it rests by day.

Differences Between Species

While the moths discussed here all rely on leaf mimicry, there are some differences between the species:

Species Wingspan Range Host Plants
Io Moth 3-4 inches Much of North America Willow, birch, sweetgum, hickory
Rosy Maple Moth 1.5-2 inches Eastern North America Maple, oak
Polyphemus Moth 4-6 inches North America Oak, maple, birch, willow
Luna Moth 3-4.5 inches North America Walnut, birch, hickory, sweetgum
Regal Moth 3-4 inches Eastern North America Oak, hickory, walnut, pecan

As you can see, the io moth, Polyphemus moth and luna moth are the largest. The rosy maple moth is the smallest. While their geographic ranges overlap, there are some differences in their preferred host plants.

Life Cycle

These leaf-mimicking moths share a complete metamorphosis life cycle, even though they belong to different families:

  1. Eggs are laid on the host plant by an adult female moth.
  2. When eggs hatch, a larva (caterpillar) emerges and feeds on the host plant leaves.
  3. The caterpillar grows and molts through several instars (growth stages).
  4. When fully grown, the caterpillar forms a pupa, usually inside a cocoon.
  5. Inside the pupa, the larval structures break down and adult structures form.
  6. Eventually, the adult moth emerges from the pupa ready to mate and continue the cycle.

Development from egg to adult moth takes anywhere from 1-9 months depending on the species and environmental conditions. These moths overwinter as pupae and emerge as adults in late spring or summer.

Moth Mimicry

The leaf-like appearance of these moths when at rest serves as camouflage from predators like birds that hunt by sight. Other adaptations include:

– Cryptic colors and patterns that blend in against foliage.

– Irregular, ragged wing edges that break up the moth’s outline.

– Flattening their wings against tree bark to resemble lichens or blemishes.

– “Eye spots” meant to startle predators.

– Motionless, horizontal perching orientation.

– Roosting on the underside of leaves or high up in trees.

All these tactics make it hard for predators to detect the moth’s presence. If spotted, they may flash their wings suddenly to startle a predator long enough to escape.

Significance to Humans

While appreciated for their beauty, large silk moths like these have little direct significance to humans. They don’t pollinate crops or produce silk in commercial quantities. In their larval form, a few are minor defoliating pests of trees and shrubs, but seldom cause significant damage.

More importantly, their intricate shapes, colors, and adaptations showcase the diversity of the Lepidoptera order. Their lifecycles also provide a model for metamorphosis. Children especially delight in encountering these giant silk moths and observing their fascinating qualities. Their ability to fool predators inspires human engineers seeking biomimetic camouflage.


In summary, there are several species of large, beautifully-patterned moths in North America that mimic leaves as a form of camouflage. These include the io moth, rosy maple moth, Polyphemus moth, luna moth and regal moth. They share cryptic color patterns, leaf-like shapes, and resting behaviors that allow them to blend in against foliage and avoid predation. While they lack major economic importance for humans, their life histories make them popular hobbyist insects. Their leaf masquerade serves as an elegant example of natural selection and survival adaptation through mimicry.