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Species Page

atlas moth

Attacus atlas
This information is part of a full datasheet available in the Crop Protection Compendium (CPC);www.cabi.org/cpc. For information on how to access the CPC, click here.

Distribution

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Host plants / species affected

Main hosts

show all species affected
Annona
Averrhoa carambola (carambola)
Cinchona
Cinchona officinalis (Cinchona tree)
Citrus
Elettaria cardamomum (cardamom)
Litchi chinensis (lichi)
Mangifera indica (mango)
Persea americana (avocado)
Psidium guajava (guava)
Swietenia macrophylla (big leaved mahogany)
Syzygium samarangense (water apple)

List of symptoms / signs

Leaves - external feeding

Symptoms

Larvae of A. atlas feed on mature leaves of the host plants, rarely attacking developing leaves. Eventually an entire small branch or a portion of it is defoliated. Large frass pellets collect on the ground below where feeding has occurred. These are easier to see when the ground below the host tree is clear of weeds and litter.

Flowers, fruits and woody stems are not eaten. If a small tree is completely defoliated, larvae will move to nearby plants and, given the highly polyphagous nature of the insect, will probably complete development on them.

Small trees between 2 and 5 metres tall are most likely to be attacked. In primary rainforest, the caterpillars may live in the crowns of large trees, but smaller trees are probably preferred in that habitat as well.

Prevention and control

If the affected trees are not too tall, cocoons of A. atlas can be removed by hand. Unfortunately, there is always a reservoir population of the moth in nearby fields, hedges, forests, and even in urban environments. Therefore, collecting all cocoons will not be effective in eliminating the pest, but it will help, especially as females often begin to oviposit on the same trees where they developed as larvae.

Larvae can be removed by hand also. Unfortunately, by the time they have reached a size large enough to be easy to find, they have already done most of their damage. In fact, their damage is the main key to their detection.

Most larvae are killed if by contact with chemical insecticides applied to foliage. It should be noted that polyphagous insects tend to be better detoxifiers of chemical poisons, because they must be adapted to deal with many natural plant chemical defences. However, A. atlas does not occur in large enough numbers to make it likely that populations will develop resistance to specific insecticides.

If other chemical programmes are in place to control other foliage pests, A. atlas larvae will probably be controlled in the process, and are not likely to reach pest status. They will probably also be killed by Bacillus formulations, as most Saturniidae are.

Artificial lighting in or near the crop may increase incidence of the pest, because females are attracted to lights and then lay eggs on nearby plants.

There are no known methods of control via cultural methods, host-plant resistance, pheromones, or IPM. Regarding phytosanitation, it is likely that a large amount of weed growth under and between the crop trees, as well in adjacent fields, would actually promote biological control of A. atlas as there will be more parasitoids on the crop trees.

One additional method may offer potential as a control. The cocoons have value for their silk. In southern China and Himalayan India, these have been spun by locals into fagara silk for centuries. Small-scale attempts to use the silk of A. atlas have been carried out in recent decades in Thailand and Vietnam, and currently in Yogyakarta, Java and Okinawa. If local people can be encouraged to 'harvest' the cocoons for sericulture, they would be diligently hand-picked from all cultivated and wild trees in the vicinity. This is most likely to be successful in China and India where there is a long history of exploiting native wild silk moths; Indonesia and Malaysia have no such heritage.

Impact

Even a few A. atlas caterpillars can cause significant defoliation of a small tree due to their large size. Numerous caterpillars in a grove or stand of trees may require that control measures be taken.

A. atlas is not considered a major pest but in some localities and during some years, it may reach pest status. It has been recorded as a pest of tea and quinine in Java (Dupont and Scheepmaker, 1936; Handschin, 1946). Dammerman (1929) wrote that "the voraceous caterpillars need a lot of food before they are full-grown, and even if only a few are present the injury done is often considerable."

Handschin (1946) wrote of this pest in Java "In the tea plantations they [cocoons] are collected, but only to be heaped up by the hundred thousands, steeped in petrol and destroyed."