One of the world’s largest moths has been discovered for the first time in the US in Washington state, prompting officials to ask residents to report any sightings of the insect.

An atlas moth was initially reported to state entomologists by a University of Washington professor on July 7, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) said. The moth is typically found in tropical climates and is not native to the US.

“This is a ‘gee-whiz’ type of insect because it is so large,” Sven Spichiger, WSDA managing entomologist, said. “Even if you aren’t on the lookout for insects, this is the type that people get their phones out and take a picture of — they are that striking.”

While considered a federally quarantined pest, the Atlas moth does not pose a public health threat and can be safely photographed, handled and collected, the agency said.

With a wingspan of up to almost 10 inches, the USDA said the atlas moth is one of the world’s largest known moths.

The single moth found in Washington state is believed to be the country’s first confirmed detection of its kind. The WSDA said there is no evidence that an atlas moth population is established in the state and have been no reports of other sightings elsewhere in the U.S.

moths
An Atlas moth’s wingspan can be almost 10 inches.
Washington State Department of Agriculture
Atlas moth, hand
The massive moths are not native to the US.
Washington State Department of Agriculture

Officials said that residents who believe they have spotted an atlas moth should send photos to [email protected] and include the location in which it was found.

“[The US Department of Agriculture] is gathering available scientific and technical information about this moth and will provide response recommendations, but in the meantime, we hope residents will help us learn if this was a one-off escapee or whether there might indeed be a population in the area,” Spichiger said.

As a federally quarantined pest, it is illegal to obtain, harbor, rear, or sell live atlas moths whether adults, eggs, larvae or pupae without a permit from USDA.



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