The Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) is the world’s largest butterfly found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia, and is common across the Malay archipelago.
Atlas moths are considered the largest moths in the world in terms of total wing surface area, reaching upwards of c. 400 cm2 (62 sq in). Their wingspans are also amongst the largest, reaching over 25 cm (10 in). Females are appreciably larger and heavier.
Atlas moths are said to be named after either the Titan of Greek mythology, or their map-like wing patterns. In Hong Kong the Cantonese name translates as “snake’s head moth”, referring to the apical extension of the forewing, which bears a more than passing resemblance to a snake’s head. Japan only has the A. a. ryukyuensis subspecies which is native to the Yaeyama Islands, principally Yonaguni, and as such is called the Yonaguni-san. It is said to be the inspiration for Mothra.
The largest lepidopteran in terms of wingspan is thought to be the White Witch, Thysania agrippina. A record specimen of Attacus atlas from Java measured 262 mm, while Thysania are claimed to be about 270–280 mm (11 in). Based on some spread specimens and angle of wing, actual measurements of around 289 mm have been estimated.
In India, Atlas moths are cultivated for their silk in a non-commercial capacity; unlike that produced by the related Silkworm moth (Bombyx mori), Atlas moth silk is secreted as broken strands. This brown, wool-like silk is thought to have greater durability and is known as fagara. Atlas moth cocoons have been employed as purses in Taiwan.