Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Giant Moth That Grew Up Here

I have a large and less than tidy yard and garden. Most of it is “yard,” by which I mean that I haven’t altered it (which is what I do in my garden). There is a lot that goes on here that I don’t know about until I stumble upon it. Last September, I wrote about all the caterpillars that I discovered once I actually looked for them.

A side view
In mid-May of this year, I noticed a cluster of 3 dead oak leaves in an oak tree near the driveway. Thinking it was a dead twig, I reached up to pull it away. It was a moth cocoon, stuck to 3 leaves which were then stuck to some living leaves. I pulled it down and noticed that the cocoon was huge and appeared to be mud-colored. I decided to keep the cluster in my butterfly rearing cage to see what might come out of it and I paper-clipped it to a sturdy twig to keep it hanging properly.

Two months later, during National Moth Week in late-July, a huge moth emerged during the night. It was a Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus), a type of silk moth. I researched and found that it doesn’t feed as an adult. It mates during the evening so I decided to keep it in the cage during the day. It sat there quietly all day, showing no interest in leaving (unlike the spicebush swallowtail that emerged that day and couldn’t wait to find some flowers).

Fresh cocoon
Cocoon after moth emerged

I left the cage door open that night for her (by this time I had examined the antenna more closely and determined that it was a female). In the morning, she was still there so obviously no suitor had come by. I closed the cage again and she stayed quietly again all day.

The polyphemus moth

That evening, I pulled the twig she was on (which was stuck in a pot) just outside the cage a little. My husband checked on her around 3 am and she was still there, but when I got up at 6:45 am, she was gone. I hope she laid more eggs in my oak trees (one of their host plants). I’d sure like to have more of those surprises. I'm sure they're out there.

A rough indication of size