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One of the world's largest moths detected for the first time in U.S., officials say

The moth, with a wingspan of 10 inches, was spotted in Washington state.
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A moth with a wingspan of 10 inches has been found in the U.S. for the first time, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, which is asking residents to report further sightings.

The atlas moth — considered one of the world's largest moths — was first reported to the state agency by a University of Washington professor last month. It was seen in Bellevue, a large suburb of Seattle.

The moth was sent to the U.S. Agriculture Department, which identified it as an atlas moth. It is believed to be the first detection of the moth in the U.S.

The atlas moth on a garage wall in Bellevue, Wash., last month.
The atlas moth on a garage wall in Bellevue, Wash., last month.Washington State Department of Agriculture

“This is a ‘gee-whiz’ type of insect, because it is so large,” said Sven Spichiger, the managing entomologist for the state Agriculture Department. “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.”

And that's exactly what Washington agriculture officials want people to do so they can determine whether there's an atlas moth population.

“This is normally a tropical moth. We are not sure it could survive here,” Spichiger said. “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.”

Little is known about the moth; entomologists believe its host plants are cherry and apple trees.