Saturday, February 26, 2011

A New Moth in the Garden

The Life Sciences department welcomes a new moth species to the Tropical Butterfly House: the polyphemus moth. With a wing span of six inches (15 cm) and stunning eyespots, this moth gets its name from one of the Cyclops of Greek mythology.

Antheraea polyphemus, the polyphemus moth, is a US native and member of the large family of Saturnidae, or silk moths. The silk moth family, which also includes the atlas moth and the African luna, is characterized by its pupae, which are wrapped in heavy silk cocoons.

Saturnidae are striking in other ways, too. Many of them are large, with stout, fuzzy bodies, impressive wingspans and enormous antennae. The atlas moth has the greatest wingspan of any Lepidoptera – up to 11 inches (29 cm). Surprisingly these large moths have vestigial mouth parts and lack digestive systems. Unlike butterflies, which use nectar for energy, saturnid moths consume all the food they need as larvae, and focus their adult lives on activities associated with reproduction. Their large antennae detect the pheromones of potential mates, and help them find and court each other in the few days they have in the adult form.

The cocoons for these "hand-some" moths arrived at the end of January and are just now beginning to emerge. Visit our Tropical Butterfly House and see if you have an eye for spotting them - but please, don't touch!

Thanks to Animal Caretaker Cari Garand and her cell phone for the polyphemus moth photos.


  1. We had the pleasure of finding a Polyphemus caterpillar a couple years ago. We took her in and she immediately spun her cocoon. About 6 months later, she emerged, much to the delight of our 4-year-old son. So beautiful!

  2. I think I have found one of these cocoons and I have had it for approximately one month. How do you keep the cocoon watered and fed? How large does the cage have to be? And how many days exactly does it live? Thank you for all your help with this article.

  3. Hi. If you found the cocoon outside, try to keep it in a situation as close as possible to the place where you found it. Seeing them outside, we may think the environment is too harsh. But the caterpillar chose a spot very carefully, finding good shelter, and the right amount of moisture without getting waterlogged. It needs the natural signals of spring to know when to finish maturing and come out. So if you bring it in, it might emerge too soon, or even have problems maturing at all.

    It won't need to eat at all. Inside the cocoon, the pupa is waiting for the right moment to transform into a moth, which will probably be in the late spring.

    When it matures, the moth will probably want to fly away. So after you've enjoyed looking at it, let the moth go. Our area needs a healthy population of these big beauties.

  4. Thank you very much for your help:)

  5. Hi again, well yesterday my Polyphemus moth hatched and its a girl. Today at 3pm I went outside to check on her and there was one egg next to her with a brown ring around it.Can she lay eggs before she has mated? If there is a brown ring around it is it fertile? How long after they hatch do they mate?

  6. Hi. Congratulations on your moth emerging, and wow- they don't take long with the eggs, do they? I do not believe that their eggs can hatch unless they have mated - but I am not 100% sure. Some other insect species can produce live young without fertilization. More often though the female either mated earlier, or her eggs are not fertile. These moths are most active at night, so if she was outside, she could well have met a male, who would be attracted to her scent. The mate as soon as they can after their wings dry, since they have such a short life.

    So - if you do find that she has passed on, it is not because of the care you gave her. They spend most of their lives in other stages of the life cycle.