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!
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.
Noticeably 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.
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.
Adult 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.
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.
In 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.
First instar Cecropia Moth Caterpillars
Thank you so much again to my friend Christine for the gift of the Cecropia moth eggs.
Our 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.
Polyphmeus 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.