Posts Tagged ‘cocoons’


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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