There is currently a video of a giant moth that has gone viral, with a complement of completely incorrect identifications. This blog post will help sort fact from fiction and address the problems that stem from "oversharing" of such posts.
Here is the video, which elicits the full spectrum of human reactions from horror to beauty to fascination.
At first glance, the creature strongly resembles a sphinx moth. Indeed, given the location of Australia, many have identified it as the Privet Hawk Moth, Psilogramma menephron. The moth in the video is even larger, though, and the head and legs look a bit different.
It took a little bit of "Googling" myself to find the real answer. Turns out this is a "Giant Wood Moth," Endoxyla cinereus. Most people are not familiar with the carpenter moths of the family Cossidae, to which this herculean lepidopteran belongs, so it is no surprise that the moth in the video has been repeatedly misidentified.
This moth was formerly known as Xyleutes cinereus, which might add to the confusion. The caterpillars are grubs that bore in solid wood of eucalyptus trees. The adult female moth can have a wingspan of up to 23 centimeters; and it is the world's heaviest moth, weighing in at up to 30 grams.
Videos tend to command our attention, and we often forget to read the introductory material to learn where the subject was recorded, and other relevant information. Sometimes, the person posting the video fails to include those important details, too. Consequently, viewers may post comments that are not applicable. Before you know it, not only is the video going viral, but so is all the misinformation.
The speed with which erroneous "facts" are broadcast, often unwittingly, is at an all-time high thanks to the internet, so it is up to us as scientists and journalists to do the best we can to correct them, as quickly as we can. I urge you to use your own blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter, and other social media to do just that.