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