Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cecropia Moth Caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia)




Judging by it's size (only about 1 1/2 inches/4cm) and markings, I'd guess that this Cecropia Moth caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia) is in its third instar. It grows through five instars, shedding its skin between each stage. It will grow to over 4 inches/10 cm before spinning a cocoon where it will overwinter before emerging as a moth. Caterpillars feed on leaves of various trees and shrubs including alder, apple, ash, beech, birch, box-elder, cherry, dogwood, elm, gooseberry, maple, plum, poplar, white oak, willow. This particular one was feeding on wild plum.

(Wormspit has photos of every stage of development from eggs through moth.)





With its nearly six inch (15cm) wingspan, Cecropia Moths are the largest moths native to North America. Like all Giant Silkmoths (Saturniinae),  Cecropia has a brief lifespan as an adult moth -- only a matter of days. It does not feed, but only finds a mate, breeds, lays eggs if a female and dies. (My previous post on these moths has more species details and links.)

(Photo credit for both photos belongs to Jo. She took the caterpillar shot on 7/13/09 and the moth was taken on 5/29/08.)

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27 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I have had one of these moths in our garden but I have never seen a caterpillar in our garden. They are aspretty as the moth to me. And HUGE. I have seen one of these caterpillars in captivity when it was almost ready to pupate. Amazing creatures. Great photo.

Mold Testing Anne Arundel, MD said...

What a crazy looking caterpillar!
<3 Lindsay

Steve B said...

Both stages are quite spectacular. What an wonderful bug.

MObugs said...

AWESOME! I love these large silk moths! Great photos Marvin.

Texas Travelers said...

I was looking at the caterpillar, and as a curious human person, I need to know what the purpose of that beautiful design and fantastic colors are for. It's not to attract a mate. So what? I really need to know.

The longer I look at this, the more beauty I see in design, color and intricacy.

Anyway, beautiful photos.

Troy

Diane AZ said...

Beautiful Cecropia Moth image! The caterpillar sort of looks like a futuristic cactus.

Lana Gramlich said...

Great shots & what a wonderful caterpillar!

AphotoAday said...

Well, give Jo a big A+ for the fine photography... That caterpillar just blows me away... A little Christmas tree, of sorts... Where does nature come up with these things?

rocksea said...

woahh!! the cat and the moth are so beautiful :) the cat looks like with colorful pins all over the body. thanks for the interesting information regarding its instars. so this moth lives most of its life as a caterpillar!

birdy said...

Both the moth and caterpillar are awesome. It looks like that the caterpillar has flowers of thorns. The moth has an interesting pattern and colors combination.

Marvin said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Most moths and butterflies have a relatively short life as adults. That's why they can be so fragile. Silkworm moths take this to an extreme by having lost the mouth parts and digestive tract necessary to feed.

I suppose the longest life stage is the overwintering pupae, though being dormant in a pupal case inside a cocoon isn't much of a life.

Marvin said...

I certainly cannot answer the "Why?", Troy. There's the common characteristic where caterpillars are colorful to warn potential predators they taste bad, but beyond that, there no reason for the coloration to become so elaborate. The same "Why?" applies to the adult moths too. Male and female moths find each other because she emits pheromones and those big antennae give him an acute sense of smell. The moth is beautiful to us, but coloration means nothing the the moths.

Jonny Gossamer said...

I've read that the colors of moths and butterflies (like many other animals) have developed as a warning to predators as Marvin mentioned, as camouflage, or mate attraction. Consider that insects, and some of their predators, do not see in the same wavelength of light we do. I have also read many times that predator pressures (natural selection) are what have driven the development of the "eye spots". This can be seen in a number of other animals as well, fish for example. Scroll back up and with your hand cover all but one of the of the forewings. See the snake head ?

Jonny Gossamer said...

Also, thank you very much for putting this up on your blog. This brings back fond memories of finding these little-big guys when I was younger and had even managed to sucessfully rear a few to adulthood in captivity. They were released promptly (short lifespan) during the night when they are most active in finding a mate and predation is lower. Beautiful creatures, thank you !

Jonny Gossamer said...

Earlier I couldn't recall the other moth I had in mind when talking about the eye spots. It's called the Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas) from the tropics of Asia, a stunning example of the eye spot development. "Google image" for some good examples, one can imagine it being mistaken for either a bird or snake. For another amazing moth, check out the Hercules Moth (Coscinocera hercules) from Australia. Almost big enough to require air traffic control. :P

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

This is a stunning set of photographs Marvin. In both these stages it is a beautiful critter. Thanks for the excellent post and information too.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Well done, Jo! The caterpillar looks like a tiny living cactus, with blooms, and the moth is gorgeous!

Q said...

WOW!!!
Fantastic moth and cat!
Sherry

Jack said...

Wow!! really wonderful..I like the second picture..its just simply superb..keep going..


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Garden Lily said...

Great photos. What an amazing creature - both stages are so beautiful and so different.

AmyMichele said...

I purchased one of these fascinating creatures at our state fair on August 28. The caterpillar hsa now been in its cocoon since Sept. 12, and after spending many days wondering when it will emerge, I am just now learning that it needs to spend the winter in its cocoon. This isn't a problem for me, except that I'm not sure what I should be doing for the pupa during this time. Do I need to keep it anywhere special, at any specific temp, etc.? Any advice would be most appreciated! Thanks for your time.

~Amy

Marvin said...

Sorry, Amy, but overwintering a Cecropia pupa is not a subject I know a great deal about..  As I understand it, the two most critical factors are keeping the pupa cool and preventing it from drying out.  Hence, it cannot be kept indoors.

One source says he kept his pupa in his refrigerator crisper drawer in a freezer baggie.  Elsewhere I've read they should just be kept outdoors in a container to protect them from predators.  You might also want to check out this BugGuide article on raising caterpillars.

I hope these links help.

AmyMichele said...

Thanks so much for responding and offering those tips, Marvin. The links you provided are great and will help quite a bit. I'm just amazed that these caterpillars are being sold without any true regard for their needs! When my son and I purchased ours, we were told that it would be going into its cocoon soon and would then emerge as a cecropia moth -- that's it. NOTHING about the fact that it needs to overwinter in the cocoon and would do best outdoors. Like I said, it simply amazes me that these creatures are being sold by people who obviously know very little about them. But luckily I have your links and tips and we will do our best for our cecropia pupa. Thanks again!

~Amy

Marvin said...

I'm glad I could help, Amy. I agree it is irresponsible to sell the caterpillars without telling the buyer what to expect and providing some care instructions.

I hope everything goes well with your pupa and you and your son get to see the moth emerge in the spring. Nature is full of wonders, but not perfect. Sometimes life cycle processes go wrong even under the best conditions.

erika said...

I found one of these on my door this morning. It wouldn't budge and I took a picture of it. It was so big that my daughter was afraid to walk through the front door. All of this information is very interesting.

K.Tayler said...

I found this caterpillar on my sidewalk this afternoon. I was amazed when I looked it up! The one I found was probably about four inches long. Fascinating caterpillar to find in Syracuse, Ny.

Marvin said...

Congratulations on your finding one of these amazing cats, K. Tayler!