Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cecropia Moth Emerges From Cocoon

Last fall I created a post about the Cecropia moth caterpillars making their protective cocoons to overwinter inside them as pupae.

Yesterday, about 4 pm, an adult moth emerged from its cocoon while I was working nearby, and I was able to set the camera up quickly and photograph the moth as its wings expanded and hardened.

The picture on the left is one I took this morning after the wings had hardened all night and the moth had recovered some energy. The moth's wingspan is 6".
 This is the caterpillar from last fall as it was "spinning" the silk, which comes from its mouth, to make the cocoon.  It was inside the cocoon for just over 7 months.

Down below is the moth about ten minutes after it had emerged.

Moths are emerging daily from their cocoons at Springbrook Nature Center.  Visit the center to see this life cycle end and a new one begin.
 In this picture the moth is already about ten minutes old, and the wings are expanding quickly.

After emerging, the moth hangs from the silk cocoon and pumps fluid from its body into the wings.  The wings are very soft and floppy at this stage, and it is critical for the moth to be able to hang with the wings hanging below it. 
 Within another ten minutes the wings are quickly opening up, with wonderful color concentrations. Within a few minutes these yellow/green spaces had expanded out and were gone.

You can tell this is a female by the small antennae and the large body that holds all the eggs. The males have very large antennae that can smell the female's pheromones for miles.  At night the males fly toward the pheromone smell until they find the female and mate with her.

Cecropia moths, and all moths in the saturniid family, including Luna and Polyphemus moths, emerge as adults without any working mouthparts.  So they are unable to eat anything.  Their purpose as adults is to mate and lay eggs. After a week or so as adult moths they die.

The body colors of the adult Cecropia moth are my choice for the most attractive of all the large moths.
By the end of an hour the wings were nearly fully expanded but still very soft and floppy.  It was getting dark outside and I needed to use a flashlight to light the moth up.

I took the last picture below at about 10 pm.  The wings were finally just drying enough for the moth to hold them out from her body instead of only letting them hang as in the picture to the left. 

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