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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