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Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Yonagunisan (Attacus atlas ryukyuensis) is one of the biggest moths in the world. Its name comes from the fact that it was discovered on Yonaguni Island. However, because that was all I knew when I first saw it on Iriomote Island, it made me feel as though I’d made a great discovery. At the time, I thought that Yonagunisan only lives in Yonaguni.

One night, a boy came to my usual inn in Iriomote with something large on his hand. It was moving slowly, as if it was breathing. I couldn’t even see the boy’s hand. It looked quite similar to something you’d find in the insect cabinet of a souvenir shop back then. “It looks like Yonagunisan.” “Yes, it is.” “What?” “This is it.” “It lives in Iriomote?” “Sometimes, it comes to my house, drawn towards the light. But we don’t see that many anymore.”

I did some research and found out that most of the moths inhabit Yonaguni, but they also live in Ishigaki and Iriomote. It is a subspecies of Attacus atlas, which can be found in Taiwan, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas and India. The differences between the subspecies are still being investigated, but Yonagunisan is thought to be the largest of them all. In recent years, perhaps due to excessive hunting or strict protection, I rarely see specimens sold as souvenirs or coin cases made from its cocoons. I generally don’t like moths, but even to me it looked beautiful and grand.