On The Wild Side: Cecropia moths successfully hatched

Photo above shows a male cecropia moth landing on a person’s hand. Inset photo shows a female cecropia moth. Photos by Ann Brokelman.

By ANN BROKELMAN

One year later and COVID-19 is still affecting how many of us want to spend our summer months. While it’s very frustrating at times, I’m still trying my best to enjoy the little things I can still do while social distancing and being safe.

Last year, around this time, some of you may remember that I started learning about how to safely hatch a variety of butterflies. What you most likely don’t know is that I also took it upon myself to start the much longer process of hatching a variety of silk moths.

I spent countless hours watching and methodically documenting these special caterpillars eating, growing, and building their cocoons. For some of them I spent around six weeks getting fresh leaves, cleaning their enclosures, sprinkling water on their leaves, and checking on them obsessively while waiting for them to start building their special homes. One day I must have easily spent 12 hours with my camera documenting the cocoon spinning process.

By the end of the season, along with my friend Livaline, between us we had more than 50 cocoons stored in our fridges from November to April, spray-misting them once every two weeks.

Once winter was over, we took the cocoons out of the fridge and stored them in our garage for another six weeks, before finally putting them outside on the porch in a butterfly tent. The reason we do this is to try to simulate natural seasonal weather patterns but limit the moth’s exposure to predators.

Butterfly-fun-facts.com says that only about one to two per cent of butterfly caterpillars will survive and turn into adulthood butterflies. I remember looking at them so many times and wondering how many of them, if any, would survive this process.

All of my waiting paid off when earlier this month, I was thrilled to see my first, beautiful, giant silk moth. A female cecropia moth, to be precise, with colours and features like nothing I’d ever seen before: its eyebrows looked so delicate, but were small (a male has large ones), its head was bright red, and its wings were multi coloured with beautiful patterns.

Did you know that a cecropia moth’s lifespan, from egg, to caterpillar, to moth, is just one year? In their adult phase they only live for about two weeks and, to my amazement, I recently learned that the cecropia moth, like other members of the giant silk moth family, lacks a functional mouth! They do not eat during their adult stage as their sole purpose is to find a mate.

The female moth releases pheromones that can attract a mate up to a mile away. I was incredibly lucky that a male arrived shortly after I released the female. Now the cycle will begin again with eggs, caterpillars, cocoons, and hopefully more adults.

Did you know that the cecropia moth is the largest native moth in North America and a female can lay up to 100 eggs after mating?

Look for these beautiful moths at dusk, and don’t panic if they land on you: Remember, they couldn’t bite you even if they wanted to!


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