Posts Tagged ‘cecropia moth’

At least, that’s how I imagine birds must view the cecropia moths….”Hey, look at that, Feathers, it’s a HUGE flying dinner! That ought to stuff the kiddies full!”

What?! Can’t I anthropomorphize a bit?


The moths have been emerging steadily with the current count at 3 females and 5 males. They all seem to emerge between 11 a.m. and Noon. By about 6 p.m., their wings are hardened enough to fly off if they choose. Of course, when they first come out of the cocoon, their wings are as fragile as wet tissue paper.

Oh, in case you do decide to have them emerge inside, you will want to put something below the cocoon, as they do empty their gut of all the wastes they have stored up over the winter. Yeah, it’s pretty smelly!

I was surprised that you can’t really tell which cocoon they emerged out of at first glance. Somehow, I pictured more carnage…kind of like Christmas Day with kids ripping open packages.

But, they manage to wriggle out a VERY tiny hole in the end of the cocoon and leave it intact. If you open the empty cocoon up, you can see the shed pupal case (complete with waste in the bottom that was squeezed out as the moth emerged…you are forewarned!).

I still have about 10 left that are sitting in the box. I’m wondering if they just didn’t make it. Here are some photos of the female vs the male antennae:

female antennae

Female above

male close an

Male above

I think there may have been something amiss with the latest female, as she and 2 males emerged on the same day. I expected the males to flock around here, but they ignored her and flew off. When I looked at her more closely, it appears she may have damaged herself emerging from her cocoon.

Here is a picture of her abdomen and then the close-up of what looks like a rip:

furry abdomen

female abdomen split A rip? She never flew (although she does pump her wings) and is still sitting alone in the lilac bush tonight, poor thing.

I just love it that these moths look like they are covered in shag carpeting, too!

fuzzy moth

And look at this beautiful wing pattern:

wing closeup

UPDATE: Turns out the female was O.K. I came back the next day to find her mating, so it looks like everything worked out for her. She did not lay her eggs on the lilac bush, though (whcih is good, because I really need to trim it back this year).

Also, 3 more males & 2 females emerged, leaving only 3 left in the box.

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I did a little happy dance today (trust me, be glad you didn’t see it) when I peered into my box-o-cocoons and discovered this:

moth in box

Success! A cecropia moth! Well, OK, it’s only one but it means a lot to me (and, I suspect, to the moth…).

There she was (I’m pretty sure it was a female, as it looked full of eggs and had smaller antennae), just sitting there slowly pumping her wings.

moth side

So beautiful!

moth in hand

I took her outside to show my husband (out in the garage) and as soon as the sun hit her she started to “shiver” in an effort to get things ready for takeoff. Sure enough, in another minute she leapt off the leaf and into the air soaring straight for the trees.

It was really amazing to watch. I hope she gets a chance to mate and lay eggs before becoming someone’s dinner (to a bird, she must look like a big, juicy porterhouse steak…).


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So, I just finished reading a wonderful book by Bernd Heinrich:

Summer World: A Season of Bounty

(although, not everyone agrees with my view of the book)

It had a nice bit about cecropia moths, although the news was not too encouraging. The bottom line is that very, very, very few cecropia moths ever manage to complete their entire lifecycle.

He mentions that each female cecropia moth lays from 200 to 400 eggs but that most of the larvae that do manage to hatch die. The ratio given in the book for live moths to live larvae was one moth per 100 larvae.

According to Heinrich, parasitic flies and wasps account for the bulk of the larvae deaths. Interestingly, those predators are then often parasitised themselves and then those are parasitised (referred to as a hyper-hyper-parasitoid wasp). Which makes me think of:

“So nat’ralists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller fleas that bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.”

(As a side note, I was curious about the link to “turtles all the way down” and now want to get a t-shirt with that on it….possibly a job for Endangered Ugly Things?)

Anyway, Heinrich’s book gave a lot of good information on cecropia moths and I would highly advise reading that part if you are planning on rearing these moths. (His moths emerged at the very start of June, but I am still waiting on mine to emerge….stay tuned!)

I hope I get moths and not parasitic wasps/flies…

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Things are definately happening inside the cecropia moth cocoons!

Most of them are strapped on to the lilac bush outside (held in place with plastic wire ties around the branches NOT the cocoons) but a few are still left in my inside cage. I took a good look at the outside ones today and they are looking swollen and…well, just different. I think they will emerge any day (night) now.

The ones inside will probably not emerge as soon, but I do hear sounds of movement coming from within them. Wheee! I really hope I can get a nice picture of them before I release them.

In the meantime, please enjoy this short time lapse video giving you an idea of what’s happening inside their silky cocoons:

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I realized I hadn’t updated the status of my cecropia caterpillars in a while, so here is goes…

Out of all the caterpillars I released outside, only two (yes, TWO) survived to spin a cocoon. Technically, they are now pupae (for a nice explanation of what this means, check here).

They are out in the lilac shrub and I hope they survive to emerge in the spring. However, I am finding out that almost everything eats them (squirrels, woodpeckers, etc…) at their various life stages, so keep your fingers crossed.

OK, so the yellow jackets were eating the caterpillars I released and I finally broke down and pulled as many I as could back inside. While not all of them successfully spun their cocoons (some of the late bloomers just keeled over), most of the caterpillars got busy and made fairly large orange ones.


You could tell when one was getting ready to spin, as it would stop eating and wander around looking for that perfect spot to spend the winter. And they are surprisingly picky! It probably didn’t help that there were so many of them in one cage, as I would guess it might be instinctual to spread out and pupate.

Also, right before they started to produce the silk, they…er…well…evacuated a lot of “liquid” from their bodies. I have no idea if this is just extra water, extra leaf residue or some sort of internal chemical change discharge. Whatever it is, it really, really stinks. Phew!

Once they start to spin out the silk from their mouth-parts, you don’t want to move them. That stuff will stick to everything (including you) and the caterpillar is loathe to move from its chosen spot anyway. You might not even notice it is spinning, however, as the silk  comes out clear. The white cocoon will eventually turn some shade of brown-orange and stiffen. Here is one that was spun in the corner of the cage (note its squared-off shape):


For a few weeks after they make their cocoons, you can hear the pupa moving around. It’s kind of cool to hear this small rustling every so often. Right now, though, they are firmly in their forms and dormant for the rest of this winter.

Here is a picture (by Dave Keith, U.N.) of what one would look like if you cut open its cocoon (because I most certainly will NOT be doing that!).

I am keeping the cocoons in the cold part of my basement (they need to overwinter in cold temps) and occasionally spritzing them with water (so they don’t dry out). Everything I have read about emerging time has been pretty vague, saying spring to early summer, so I will have to keep a close eye on them. Hopefully, I will have some great photos of cecropia moths to share then!

p.s.: I will not be raising them again…too time consuming for me.

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Something has been chomping on my outdoor (recently freed) cecropia caterpillars. At first, I thought it must be the marauding packs of house sparrows, which seem to pick the yard clean of anything that moves. Yesterday, however, I discovered the true fiend: yellow jacket wasps (insert dramatic music crescendo here).

They will search out the feeding caterpillars and fly in and nip off a bite. It looks like they start on the knobs and then start taking chunks out of the meaty bits. Now, having worked as a naturalist and also as a volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center, my “ick” reflex is pretty strong (try having a sick woodchuck sneeze green snot all over YOUR face…) but being slowly eaten alive by wasps…ICK!!!

Not a pretty way to go. And the caterpillar ooze (oh, sure, that’s the scientific name…just as “thingy” and “whatchamahoozit” are valid, too) is a horrible black, tarry mess.

Still, I am hoping some survive, as there is just no way to protect these wild caterpillars from everything out to get them. I still have about twelve I am continuing to raise inside, so keep your fingers crossed.

—As a side note, one year when I was in high school, a yellow jacket queen made her nest up against one of the windows in my room that was missing a screen and was always covered up by curtains (it looked directly out and into the neighbors house less than four feet away). In a few months, it became quite a large nest and I had an actual cross-section view into it whenever I lifted the cutains…very cool! Wish I had taken some pictures back then.            

—I’m just glad the nest wasn’t as big as these monster ones. Look at the one in the car!

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Just so you know: caterpillars are high maintenance pets! When they were little, all I had to do was put in some fresh branches and change the paper towels every few days. Now, I am lucky if I don’t have to put in MORE branches 12 hours later in the day. (The caterpillars are up to about 4 inches in length).

Getting Big

Getting Big

It’s a good thing that so many wild caterpillars get eaten or we would have denuded trees!

Also, as the caterpillars grow so does the size of their frass (poop). And it’s kinda stinky, which surprised me as it’s just processed plant materials…     I wonder if the frass is good to fertilize the garden?

Frass in one hand and wish in the other....

Frass in one hand and wish in the other....

I have had fun observing my cecropia moth caterpillars grow but I am ready to let them go. Tonight I set free about 10 of them onto our backyard lilac bush. Sadly, many of the ones I let go last week have been eaten but such is they way of things. One fell off (I am guessing) and was found on the ground half eaten by ants.

One thing you must have to raise these guys: patience. You cannot simply pluck them off a branch, as they will hold onto a branch until their little claspers break off (no, I have not done this, but trust me, it can happen). You have to coax them onto another branch or your hand to move them. And they are not very speedy.

A hungry caterpillar can be motivated to move toward a fresh leaf, though. I have no idea how they detect their food source (smell or some version of it??) but they can locate fresh leaves from across one side of the cage and will move rapidly toward them.

Here are some pictures of the cage I came up with: a large, plastic flower pot covered with flexible screen mesh.


Also, be sure not to disturb them when they are resting and getting ready to shed their skin. They will jerk their body from side to side if you (or another caterpillar) accidentally bump them. You might be able to see the silk pad they use to anchor themselves to a branch (or the top of the cage, in my case) when they are in this resting phase. They sometimes hold themselves in what I like to call the Mr. Burns pose (a la The Simpsons), with their head extended back and legs curled up together.

Silk pad

Silk pad




It’s interesting how many variations there are in their color and shading as they grow bigger. The younger ones are a deep leaf green and then turn yellow green to milky green. Then their knob (hur hur) colors change from red to orange.

Now orange!

Now orange!


Big Fella

Big Fella

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