NORTH AMERICA’S STUNNING AND LARGEST MOTH THE CECROPIA AND WHY THESE GIANT SILK MOTHS ARE THREATENED – PART TWO
After spending the winter and most of the spring tightly wrapped in their cocoons of spun silk, the first male eclosed on the last day of May. Burly and beautiful, Cecropia Moths emerge with wings patterned in white crescent spots outlined in rust and black, sapphire blue and black eyespots, waves and wiggly lines in soft woodland hues, and a wide tubular body banded and dotted orange, black and white.
It is easy to tell the difference between a male and female because of the male’s spectacular plume- like antennae.
Males rely on their superbly oversized antennae to detect the female’s pheromones.
After each Cecropia Moth emerged from its cocoon and their wings had dried, we placed them on the shrubs around our front porch. The males eventually flew off, but the females stayed in one place and usually by morning we would find a pair, or two, mating in our garden.
I had read it only takes a week or so for the larvae to emerge from their eggs and was beginning to think ours were not viable, when they began hatching today! In actuality it really took between two and three weeks for the caterpillars to emerge. Possibly the cooler temperatures during this period slowed hatching. The caterpillars are teeny tiny, perhaps one quarter of an inch, black with pokey spines. Charlotte and I collected a bunch of Chokecherry (Prunus viginiana) branches this morning as we prepare to raise another batch of stunning Cecropias.
The adults, both male and female, are short lived. Giant Silk Moths, which include Luna, Polyphemus, Promethea, and Cecropia emerge without mouthparts and cannot eat. Cecropia Moths spend several months in the larval stage, most of their lives as a cocoon, and only a week or two as their beautiful winged adult selves. Giant Silk Moths live only to reproduce.
Threats to Giant Silk Moths are significant. The number one threat is Compsilura concinnata, a tachinid fly that was introduced to North America to control invasive European Gypsy Moths. Both insects are a cautionary tale of why not to introduce invasive species without knowing the full breadth of the harm they will cause. Spraying trees with toxic pesticides that kills both the caterpillars and the cocoons is also a major threat. And, too, squirrels eat the cocoons
Hyalophora cecropia moths are univoltine, having only one generation per year. Our Cecropias began hatching just before the full moon. I have more cocoons and am wondering if this next batch of moths are waiting to emerge prior to July’s full moon.
Thank you for this most interesting article! Would there be a way for me to care for eggs from this moth to these could over-winter on my covered front porch and then be released in Menotomy Rocks Park? I am on the Board of Trustees of Menotomy Rocks Park in Arlington, MA, and we would love to encourage this moth’s caterpillars to feed on our park’s Choke Cherry, Maples, Elms and other native trees. No spraying is done in our park. Thank you for considering my request!
Hi Cricket, I would be happy to give you some caterpillars. You would need to come pick them up in Gloucester. They have already begun to eat Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), so I think you would have to continue with Chokecherry. Also, is the temperature on your covered front porch the same as the outdoor temperature. We have a front porch with a roof, but it is open to weather and temperature, which are the ideal conditions.
Hi Kim, my porch is covered but overwise it’s out of doors, and is whatever the outside temp is. I think I could get some chokecherry from the park or I could at least buy a small plant, later planting at the park…I’ll check with our Board.
I can easily drive to Gloucester…what’s you ETA for me to drive up? End of Summer? Later?
Hi Cricket, I have the caterpillars now, you would need to come to get them in the next few days. I imagine someone on your board knows if you have Chokecherry trees growing there in the park. You will need a good number of branches just to keep even only a dozen caterpillars going.
Absolutely wonderful photos and information of a most beautiful creature.
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I would love to raise some. We have space, are retired so we can feed them all day, done this before as well
Do you still have cecropia eggs, cocoons available?
I have some cecropia caterpillars in the shrubs under my choke cherries in the back yard, and I’d love to overwinter and hatch them out for my young daughter (and myself of course!) .. when you say that you kept the females until they laid eggs, do you recapture and place them back in the fish tanks until they lay? Or just try to keep track of them and find eggs in your yard..? I would loooove to get a bunch going and try to bring these beauties back!