Last summer my friend Christine gave me a handful of Cecropia Moth eggs. Nearly all hatched and grew, AND grew, AND GREW. The caterpillars were a whopping five inches in length and the width of a very large man’s thumb before they began to pupate (become a cocoon).
The Cecropia caterpillar eats the leaves of many trees and shrubs, including alder, ash, birch, box elder, Chokecherry, elm, lilac, maple, poplar, Prunus and Ribes species, and willow. People are always a bit dismayed when I tell them that the adult is born without mouthparts and cannot eat during its brief lifespan. The adult’s only purpose in life is to mate and it lives for about a week or so.
We fed our Cecropia caterpillars Chokecherry (Prunus viginiana), because I knew of a good source where it was growing plentifully.
Cecropia Spinning a Cocoon -The caterpillar pulled some leaves loosely around, but mostly the cocoon is made from its own spun silk. Some spin their cocoons on tree branches and some on the sides of the buildings.
All winter the cocoons lived in glass terrariums on the side of our front porch, which is not enclosed, and which is also out of direct sunlight. The cocoons need to experience normal fluctuations in temperature so that adults will emerge at the correct time of year, when trees are leafed out.
Cecropia Moths are the largest moths found in North America. They are members of the Family Saturniidae. There are approximately 1,500 species of large moths in this family and they are found all over the world. The very largest are found in the tropics, but the wingspan of our Cecropia Moths can reach an amazing 7 inches across (compared to a Monarch, with a wing span of approximately 3.5 inches).
Part Two – emerging, reproduction, laying eggs of the next generation, and how we can help this increasingly rare species.