Tag Archives: Antheraea polyphemus

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!

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

Polyphemus Moth

Perhaps you may recall the photo of the wild silkworm cocoon that was posted back in April. I was becoming a little discouraged at the lack of activity and wondered if we should place the cocoon, which was housed in a terrarium and protected from the sun by our shaded porch, into full sun. My worries were for nothing because during the heat wave Thursday, sometime in the mid-morning hours, a gorgeous female Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) emerged from her cocoon.

Female Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

The Polyphemus Moth is so named because of the giant eyespots ringed with yellow, blue, and black on the hindwings. In Greek mythology Polyphemus is the one-eyed Cyclopes and son of Poseidon and Thoosa; the name means “much spoken of” or “famous.”

The Polyphemus Moth has also transparent spots on the forewings. Antheraea polyphemus is one of North America’s largest moths with a wingspan of four to six inches. Like the Luna Moth and Cecropia Moth, the Polyphemus Moth belongs to the Giant Silkworm Family or Saturniidae.

Male Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus). Note the comb-like feathery antennae of the male, which are nearly double the size of the female. The large antennae can more easily detect pheromones released by the female. 

I was hoping a female would emerge, knowing that she would release pheromones, which would attract a male. Thursday night we set up the terrarium outside in a sheltered area around back. The following morning, sure enough, I discovered a perfect male specimen clinging to the back door. They don’t fly very well when their wings are not warmed sufficiently so he was easy to capture. I placed him into the terrarium with the female. Her abdomen is bursting with eggs and she had already begun to deposit unfertilized eggs everywhere—on leaves, her old cocoon, and the glass walls of the terrarium. That night I woke up every hour on the hour to try to photograph their mating, but I don’t think a pairing took place.

Female Polyphemus Moth with abdomen swollen with eggs.

She is continuing to deposit eggs each evening. Her abdomen is still quite swollen. I am keeping my hopes up that they will get it together so the male will fertilize her eggs and we can then rear the caterpillars! Both male and female emerge without mouthparts; they do all their eating in the caterpillar stage.

Polyphemus Moth Cocoon found on White Birch  (Betula papyrifera) April 1, 2012.

Update on Giant Silk Moth Cocoon

No exciting news yet to report on our Giant Silk Moth Cocoon. The leaves of the American Birch Tree are unfurling, but no movement within the cocoon.

Giant Silk Moth Cocoon

I am so excited to tell you about this wonderful find. I was walking my pooch Rosie on our usual route down to the harbor and, dangling at eye level from a tree that I have passed a hundred times this winter , there was this structure. Thinking it was what it is, I ran home and checked my Lepidoptera books, and it is the cocoon of a member of the Giant Silk Moth Family, Saturniidaee (not to be confused with the oriental silk moth, Bombyx mori, from which silk fabric is spun).

 Hanging from the tip of the American White Birch branch you could easily mistake it for a dry withered leaf, and that is exactly what the caterpillar has done, weaving the leaf around itself to pupate within. The cocoon is quite a good size, approximately two inches in length by one inch in width. The caterpillar pupates during the summer, overwinters in the cocoon stage, then emerges sometime in May or June. Giant Silk Moths live only for about a week. They mate soon after eclosing and then perish. Giant Silk Moths do not have mouth parts; all eating is done during the caterpillar stage.

Giant Silk Moth Cocoon

Several members of the Giant Silk Moth family of caterpillars eat birch leaves.  I am hoping (and it looks a great deal like) it is the cocoon of the simply stunning Luna Moth, however it could also be the beautiful Polyphemus Moth.

Luna Moth ~ Images courtesy Google

Polyphemus Moth ~ Image courtesy wiki