Massive atlas moth spotted for first time in US, officials say

SEATTLE — Entomologists want Washington state residents to look out for an invasive flying insect – and considering its size, it would be hard to miss.

>> Read more trending news

According to KIRO-TV, a University of Washington professor spotted an atlas moth in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue last month. The massive moths are among the world’s largest, with wingspans reaching nearly 10 inches, experts said.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture received a report of the sighting, believed to be the first in the United States, on July 7, according to KIRO. Entomologists there identified the specimen and sent it to their counterparts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where officials confirmed that it was an atlas moth, the news station reported.

“This is a ‘gee-whiz’ type of insect because it is so large,” Sven Spichiger, a managing entomologist for the WSDA, said in a statement about the moths, which typically live in parts of Asia.

“This is normally a tropical moth,” he added, according to a WSDA blog post. “We are not sure it could survive here.”

USDA scientists are now trying to determine whether the specimen was a “one-off escapee” or part of a larger group that has made a home in Washington, Spichiger said.

Karla Salp, a USDA spokesperson, told KIRO that while a single caterpillar likely wouldn’t do much harm, an infestation could lead to the defoliation of apple and cherry trees in the area, ultimately impacting trade.

If you see one of the moths in Washington state, take a photo and send the image to pestprogram@agr.wa.gov, officials said.

“The moths do not pose a public health threat and thus can safely be photographed, handled and collected,” the WSDA said.