Raising a Silkworm Moth – Part 2

Loyal readers may remember my posting last September, when I wrote about raising a Cecropia Moth caterpillar named Czech. Here he was, in his caterpillar prime, munching on wild cherry leaves in our mudroom in July:

Cecropia Moth caterpillar eating from wild cherry leaves at Turkey Hill Brook Farm, summer 2011

Well, I’m very happy to report that Czech, cozily wrapped in a silk cocoon of its own making, made it through the winter and has safely emerged! Over winter, we kept the cocoon safely out of reach of  hungry squirrels in our unheated workshop. A month or two ago, I brought the cocoon outdoors so that the adult moth would emerge at the right time in spring when the weather warmed…

Last Monday, in the nick of time, I noticed that Czech had just emerged from its cocoon! He (she?) was gently waving its wings to dry them off and prepare for flight. I’d almost missed it!

Beautiful markings on body and wings

Practicing to fly:

Check out the remains of the silken cocoon (at the top of the photo) - still firmly attached to the twigs and foliage

After snapping the photos above, I brought Czech along with the twig and attached cocoon, to the edge of our woods where black cherry, maple and birch trees (three of its caterpillar host plants) are numerous.  I went back to the house to get the camera but when I returned, Czech had already flown away in search of a mate. So these are the best photos I could manage…

With some luck and sharp observation – the caterpillars try their best to blend in with surrounding foliage – we’ll spot a new generation of caterpillars this year and watch as their life cycle continues. Although the moths have historically emerged later in June in Massachusetts, the warm spring seems to have triggered an early emergence this year. Other MA Butterfly Club members are reporting cecropia moth emergences over the past week, so hopefully Czech will find other newly emerged “locals” to mate with. Because adult cecropia moths have no mouthparts and don’t feed, their sole purpose is to find a mate and lay eggs, after which they die. Interesting food for thought!

Do you have this stunning moth living nearby? Cecropia moths have suffered steep declines through the past century, but if you live in the eastern US in an area where lots of hardwood trees still remain (including willow, birch, cherry, sassafras, poplar, ash, elm, larch and maple trees), you probably still have viable cecropia moth populations nearby. They tend to use a wide range of trees as caterpillar food plants, and will also use introduced apple trees and lilac foliage. The moths are mostly nocturnal, so you won’t see them unless you go outdoors at night when the adults have emerged – look at porch lights or hang a white sheet somewhere to see if you can attract the adults. If you can spot the frosted green spiky caterpillars on foliage in the summer, you deserve an award for your sharp eyesight! You can also can search around host trees in the fall to see if you can find their light-brown cocoons – they’ll either be attached to grassy plants at the base of the tree, or to exposed twigs higher in the tree itself.

Good luck to Czech “out there” in the woods. If I see any more signs of cecropia moth activity, I’ll follow up here….

 

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Comments

  1. says

    a beauty of a bug, Ellen!

    It is a rare treat to go outside at night and be lucky enough to find an adult silk moth. I’ve never seen a Czech-species in person, but I did raise one relative and as you, was enthralled by the encounter. My friend sent me a pic of an Imperial Moth this week for i.d. Time for me to go outside and start scouting for the cats. Thanks for sharing. I love a good insect story!
    Loret recently posted..Condo living for bluebirds?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Raising a silk moth can be quite an educational experience, as our own Ellen Sousa has documented. Our own Ursula Vernon has been privy to being in the presence of Imperial royalty. These are two of the more beautiful species. Some moths oddly, don’t look like moths, such as this Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) [...]

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