Category Archives: Moths

CECROPIA LOVE AMONGST THE LILACS

NORTH AMERICA’S STUNNING AND LARGEST MOTH THE CECROPIA AND WHY THESE GIANT SILK MOTHS ARE THREATENED – PART TWO

See Part One Here

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.

The females were equally as easy to identify because their antennae are comparatively more slender.

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.

They stayed coupled together all day long, uncoupling sometime during the evening. We kept two of the females for several days and both rewarded us with dozens of eggs.

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.

 

 

THE SUPER-SIZED POLYPHEMUS MOTH

The Polyphemus Moth is a silk moth and one of North America’s largest, with a wing span up to six inches. This beauty was found at my friends Lotus and Colleen’s backyard. Thanks to Lotus and Colleen for sharing!

LEARN HOW YOU CAN HELP THE POLLINATORS AT THE SAWYER FREE LIBRARY TONIGHT!

Seaside Goldenrod for Bees and Butterflies

Come on over to the Sawyer Free Library tonight and learn how you can create a welcoming haven for birds, bees, and butterflies!

Plant Cosmos for the Songbirds, Bees, and Butterflies

Marsh Milkweed for the Butterflies and Bees

Male and Female Luna Moths

Zinnias for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Bees, and Butterflies

Mexican Sunflower and Bee

Monarch and Hibiscus

Thank you Lauren from Manchester!

Cecropia Moth caterpillar close up copyright Kim SmithCecropia Moth Caterpillar

So many thanks to my new friend Lauren, who generously shared cuttings from her American Birch Tree growing in her fantastic habitat garden. Her garden paradise is a pollinator’s dream, filled with gorgeous flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs, native wildflowers, and non-invasive well-behaved ornamental plants. While we were chatting, a Monarch flew on the scene, pausing to nectar at her butterfly bush! Mothra and her siblings thank Lauren, too.

Mothra!

Cecropia Moth caterpillar copyright Kim SmithNoticeably growing larger day by day, the biggest caterpillar of our batch of Cecropia Moth caterpillars (nicknamed Mothra) still has a ways to go before he/she pupates and becomes a cocoon for the winter.

The colorful protuberances with black spikes are thought to mimic either a poisonous plant or animal and are a defense against predators. Like most caterpillars, the Cecropia moth caterpillar has five pairs of prolegs. The green prolegs are blue at the base with a row of microscopic hooks, or crochets, that enable walking and clinging.

Cecropia Moth caterpillar close up feet copyright Kim Smith

Although the Cecropia Moth has the largest wingspan of any moth found in North America, its caterpillar is not the largest caterpillar. That honor goes to the caterpillar of the Royal Walnut Moth, also called Regal Moth, which in its caterpillar stage is called the Hickory Horned Devil.

cecropia-moth-male-copyright-kim-smithAdult Male Cecropia Moth

Thank you again to friend Christine for the Cecropia Moth eggs. The eggs that she gave me are the offspring of the male Cecropia Moth that she is holding in the photo above.

Cecropia Moth Cats

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Cecropia caterpillar on the move 🌻

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Don’t you love the colors of the third stage, or instar, of the Cecropia Moth caterpillar? Only about an inch and a half long in the photo, in the final fifth instar, before it pupates into a cocoon, the caterpillar will be as large as a large man’s thumb.

Cecropia moth Caterpilla mid instar. copyright Kim SmithIn its second instar in the above photo, the caterpillar resembles the developing birch flower catkins. This is an evolutionary form of mimicry against predation by birds. Cecropia Moth caterpillars eat not only the foliage of American White Birch trees, but also other species of birch trees, apple, ash, beech, elm, lilac, maple, poplar, Prunus and Ribes species, white oak, and willow.

Cecropia Moth caterpillar early instar copyright Kim SmithFirst instar Cecropia Moth Caterpillars

Thank you so much again to my friend Christine for the gift of the Cecropia moth eggs. 

Cecropia Moth Caterpillars and Shout Out to Gloucester Water Chief Engineer Larry Durkin and Senator Bruce Tarr

Cecropia Moth caterpillars copyright Kim SmithOur caterpillars of the beautiful Cecropia Moth, given by friend Christine, are in their second instar and growing rapidly on a steady diet of birch leaves. The Cecropia Moth is just one of the many reasons why we would never spray trees with pesticides and herbicides.

A HUGE SHOUT OUT to Gloucester’s drinking water chief engineer Larry Durkin and to Senator Bruce Tarr for working hard to keep glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) out of our water supply. Glyphosate is a known carcinogen and extremely bad news for bees, butterflies, and all pollinators. Durkin is pressing Keolis, the company that operates the MBTA commuter rail track service, to cut its use of glyphosate along the track adjacent to the Babson Reservoir and to manually cut back the growth.  Read the full story here in the Gloucester Times.

Cecropia Moth Male copyright Kim Smith

Male Cecropia Moth

Polyphemus Moths Mating

Polyphemus Moths Mating copyright Kim SmithPolyphmeus Moth update ~ The evening of the day that Jane’s female Polyphemus Moth emerged, she found two males outside the net enclosure eager to get in and meet the female. Amazingly, the wild males had found the captive female by the pheromones that she began to release soon after emerging from her cocoon. The purpose of the male’s large and feathery antennae is to detect the females pheromones. This is the natural biological world functioning as it should, but I still find it so interesting and extraordinary!

Jane opened the door for the males and in the morning, discovered the female and one of the males mating. They stay coupled together for about a day. The female will begin to oviposit eggs almost immediately.

Polyphemus Moth cocoon. The hole at the end is from where the moth emerged. The cocoon is constructed of leaves wrapped around a cushion of spun silk. In the photo you can see the leaf structure and silk.

Polyphemus Moth cocoon copyright Kim Smith

Resplendent Newly Emerged Luna Moths

Male Female Luna Moth dorsal Copyright Kim Smith copyConsidered by many to be North America’s most beautiful insect, a newly emerged Luna Moth will melt the heart of even the most vehement of insectophobes. These male and female pristine beauties were photographed at new friend Jane’s lush garden in Gloucester. Jane, along with her friend Christine (who we met last week), intend to repopulate Cape Ann with members of our native Giant Silkmoth Family. See story here.

Male Female Luna Moth  underside ventral Copyright Kim Smith copy

In the photo above, the female is in the lower right. You can easily tell the difference because the male has much fuller antennae–all the better to detect the female’s pheromones.

Female Luna Moth Copyright Kim SmithHer abdomen is swollen with eggs. A female Luna Moth will oviposit between 400 to 600 eggs, more during warm weather.

Not quite as large as the Cecropia Moth, nonetheless its wings span nearly four and a half inches. You are most likely to see Luna Moths flying during evening hours and the caterpillars munching on birch leaves, one of their favorite food plants in our region. The adult moths only live for a week and during that time are unable to eat (they emerge without mouthparts). The mature Luna Moth’s sole purpose is to mate and deposit eggs of the next generation.

Many thanks to Christine and Jane for sharing their passion for the gorgeous Giant Silkmoths!

This short film of a Luna Moth in flight was made after finding a Luna Moth at Willowdale Estate. I returned home with the moth and as evening approached it began to quiver and vibrate in preparation for flight. I had been listening to Ave Maria and it was playing in the background so I left it in the video and think the music perfect for this most stunning of creatures.

Jane’s Garden

Blue poppies Meconopsis coyright Kim SmithRare-for-these-parts Blue Poppy (Meconopsis rudis)Jane's Garden copyright Kim Smith

Pink Poppies copyright Kim Smith

HOW YOU CAN HELP THESE GINORMOUS GORGEOUS MOTHS MAKE A COMEBACK!

Cecropia Moth Male copyright Kim SmithChristine holding male Cecropia Moth

This newly emerged Cercropia Moth, the largest species of Lepidoptera found in North America, was photographed at the home of my new friend Christine. She lives on the backshore of Gloucester and, with her friend Jane, who lives on the opposite side of Gloucester in the Lanesville area, are trying to repopulate Cape Ann with several species of the stunning and charismatic moths of the Saturn Family. These include the Cecropia Moth (commonly called Robin Moth), Luna Moth, and Polyphemus Moth.

Where formerly abundant, these most beautiful members of the native Giant Silkworm Moth group of Lepidoptera are at extreme risk of becoming extirpated (extinct from a region). Christine recalls a time when she could easily find the cocoons in her neighborhood. Now she finds none. The reasons for their decline are severalfold; loss of habitat, the poison in the pesticides sprayed on trees is highly toxic to all insects, and because they are suffering from a parasitism by a tachinid fly (Compsilura concinnata) that was introduced to control the Gypsy Moth. Each and every person on Cape Ann can help these moths make a comeback by making a commitment to not use pesticides and herbicides, for any reason, ever.

Cecropia moth cocoon copyright Kim SmithCecropia Moth cocoon

Christine and Jane purchase the cocoons at Magic Wings in Deerfield, MA. They place the cocoons in the screened butterfly house where they have also placed branches of the caterpillar’s food plant (in this case, birch branches). Cecropia Moth caterpillar food plants include the foliage of maple, birch, ash, apple, cherry, and lilac.Screened butterfly cage-house copyright Kim Smith

If both male and female are present, they will mate almost immediately, within the first day or two, and the female will begin depositing eggs soon after. She releases the eggs on nearly every surface within the enclosure, dozens and dozens of eggs, up to 100!

Cecropia moth eggs copyright Kim SmithCecropia Moth eggs

If the eggs are viable, within several weeks, the caterpillars will chew their way out of the egg casing and begin to eat the caterpillar food plants provided.

Perhaps like Christine and Jane who, moth by moth, are trying to save our native Giant Silkworm Moths, you’ll be inspired to raise these North American beauties, too!

More photos to come if a batch of caterpillars emerges.