Polyphemus Moth

19 Jul

I found this lovely Polyphemus Moth in my back yard.  I hope he managed to fulfil his life’s mission (see below) before he died…

The large, beautiful Polyphemus Moth can be found  in June or early July.  It makes its home in deciduous forests and is often attracted to lights at night.  It is a real thrill to see one of these nocturnal beauties.

The wingspan of a Polyphemus moth may reach 90-140 mm (3  to 5  in.).  The background colour of the wings is a rich combination of reddish and greyish browns. The hind wings have two large eyespots of blue and yellow ringed with black. There are smaller forewing spots, and a diffuse fringe of black, white and gold along the trailing wing margins.

The wings are folded over the back when the moth is roosting in the day.  If disturbed, a resting Polyphemus moth might open the wings suddenly to flash the eyespots, perhaps fooling a potential predator into thinking it has disturbed a sleeping owl.

Males have distinctive feathery antennae used for smelling the female’s pheromone.  Like many non-feeding moths, this short-lived beauty must find the opposite sex quickly to carry out its final life’s mission.  The males find calling females by sensing the unique love potion (pheromone) that the female releases into the warm night air.

The huge(90 mm or 3 in.)green accordion-like caterpillars mature by first half of August.  They sport light yellow lines on the pleats and small red spots. These distinctive caterpillars feed on leaves of trees and shrubs such as birch, alder and dogwood.

The egg-shaped cocoons of silk that incorporate leaves may remain attached to branch or fall with leaves in autumn.  Adults will emerge the following June.

By Nora Bryan

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