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Cecropia Moth - The Emerging

Updated on September 16, 2015

Cecropia Cocoon

Cecropia caterpillar cocoon on the statue.
Cecropia caterpillar cocoon on the statue.

Cecropia Moth - The Emerging

Many people in North America have not seen a live Cecropia Moth or the cocoon they hatch from. I have only seen two living Cecropia Moths in my lifetime. The moth in this article was one of them. During October of 2014 I found a cocoon attached to the small boy statue in my Mother's yard, located in southwestern Ohio. The statue was under a Maple tree, which is one of the most common tree species Cecropia larvae inhabit. I knew the cocoon was made by the caterpillar of a large moth species but I was not completely sure which one. After searching the web and looking at photos I discovered the cocoon was built by a Cecropia Moth caterpillar. I was shocked since I never see these caterpillars or the spectacular moths they become.

Inner Cocoon

The smaller cocoon found inside.
The smaller cocoon found inside.

I brought the statue in the house and left the cocoon intact. The fragile cocoon could have been damaged if I tried to remove it, so I left it alone. It was the size of a Milkweed pod and brown in color. It felt like dried stiff paper. I placed the entire statue in a box and put it in the garage over Winter so the caterpillar could develop naturally. If I had kept the cocoon in the warm house it would have emerged too soon to be released outside.

Moth Hanging from Wood

Side view of moth hanging in aquarium.
Side view of moth hanging in aquarium.

Before I continue, here is some basic information for those who don't know anything about this moth. Cecropia caterpillars are at least 4 inches long and build their cocoons in late Summer. The Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora Cecropia) is North America's largest native moth and is one of the species of giant silk moths. It belongs to the Satumiidae family and is quite noticeable for its appearance. The females are a little larger than males and have a wingspan of six inches or more. Females also have larger, more rounded abdomens than males do. Males have much larger bushy antennae and claspers, which is the male organ that allows him to clasp to the female for mating. Cecropia Moths do not feed after emerging from the cocoon and live for about two weeks. They fly at night and are attracted to lights just like many other moth species. The colors and patterns of this moth make it easy to identify when compared to other silk moths.

Front View of Moth

Looking down while the moth looks up at me.
Looking down while the moth looks up at me.

I was hoping the caterpillar in this cocoon was alive and well since I have never seen a large moth fresh out of its chrysalis. The only way I would know is by playing the waiting game. I kept the statue with the cocoon in the garage until the first of April and then moved it into an aquarium in the house. This way, I could see the moth after it emerged and also keep it safe from predators until it was able to fly. Of course, I also wanted to take photos for documentation. However, it was a long wait before I needed the camera. In the early evening on the 16th of May I was walking past the room with the aquarium and noticed movement. Finally, the moth had emerged from its chrysalis after I had it for almost eight months. Though, I knew the caterpillar formed the cocoon some time in August or September.

Bottom View of Moth

Bottom of moth seen while stuck to glass.
Bottom of moth seen while stuck to glass.

I was excited to see the moth and immediately grabbed my camera. The moth crawled around on the statue until it got to the head and hung there. It was trying to find the right spot to hang and let its wings dry. The wings were like floppy cloth. The plaster statue was not ideal for the moth, so it started crawling around more and went to the corner of the aquarium. I then took out the statue and placed a piece of wood inside for the moth to hang on. Carefully, I let the moth grab my finger and moved it to the wood. It then hung on the edge of the wood and remained in that position. I had a top with a screen on the aquarium and a 25 watt light in the center. The light was not needed but it helped some with warmth and I also wanted to better observe the moth while taking photos. I noticed the empty cocoon looked exactly the same. That was strange to me, so I examined the cocoon more closely and realized that the upper end had a small opening that stretched. Since the moth was out, I decided to break open the cocoon and see what was inside. I found a smaller cocoon enclosed within the larger one. It was stronger and had an elongated oval shape. It was fuzzy, hard and light brown in color. It surprised me how this large bodied moth with big wings could be folded up to fit in such a small encasing, even though it started out as a caterpillar. Nature is truly an amazing thing.

Moth on Outside Wall

Side view of the moth on brick wall out back.
Side view of the moth on brick wall out back.

The moth hung on the wood for the next 24 hours while it's wings dried and stiffened. I took photos and realized that this one was a female. The smaller antennae and more rounded abdomen were sure signs of a female Cecropia Moth. These colorful moths have orange, red, brown, reddish-brown, white and gray on them with one black eye on each wing. They are a beautiful insect, even when their wings are folded. Several of my relatives came over to see the moth. They were all amazed since this was not a common sight. I observed the moth over the 24 hours as she spread and vibrated her wings. She crawled on top of the wood once her wings were stiff enough to move. The vibrating, opened wings were a sight to see. Hours later she actually stuck to the glass and I took photos of her underside. Soon she started flapping her wings some, so I decided it was safe enough to release her after the Sun went down. I placed the aquarium outside near the back window. I used a stick to let the moth grab onto while moving it to the window ledge so I could take a photo. It grabbed onto the brick wall next to the window. Though I got a really good side photo, I was waiting for the moth to open it's wings before flying away. My neighbor was outside, so I went to ask him if he wanted to see the moth. He came over as the moth was flapping around and then it left the wall to land on him. He never saw one of these moths and was surprised by its size. The moth then flew across the yard and landed in a bush at the end of the property. It hung from a branch, so we both took photos. It was such an amazing moth with interesting patterns. It was hard to walk away after all of this but soon it would fly off in the night to search for a mate.

Moth Hanging in Bush

Moth hanging in bush with wings opened.
Moth hanging in bush with wings opened.

Though there is not much nature where I live, I was glad to have this experience that started and ended in the back yard. It was an interesting distraction in my boring life but also educational. I am all about nature and was glad to help this insect survive and be able to fly away as intended. It would be great to see more wildlife species show up in the yard. Maybe some day I will find a cocoon of another moth species and write about it as well. If anyone would like to see more photos of wildlife in this region of the United States then visit my website called “Caveman's Nature Site” and go to the Nature Photos pages.

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