Friday, May 29, 2015

Cecropia Moth

A few days ago I visited Carlisle Reservation, a park in the Lorain County Metroparks district. Just a few minutes down the trail, a flash of red in some low herbaceous plants caught my eye. As I moved in closer, I was astounded to see an incredible Cecropia Moth taking refuge from the strong winds of the day.

Cecropia Moth hyalophora cecropia
The Cecropia Moth (pronounced "say-crow-peeah"), Hyalophora cecropia, is a member of the moth family Saturniidae, also known as the giant silk moths. I was absolutely ecstatic that I had found this species, a lifer for me, only two weeks after finding yet another giant silk moth lifer, the Luna Moth. Interestingly, both the Cecropia Moth and the Luna Moths were found hanging on small herbaceous plants on very windy days. This could possibly be explained as a simple coincidence, but I hypothesize that these large moths were simply taking refuge in low-lying parts of the forest, as they would be most protected from the wind in those locations.

Cecropia Moth Size
The Cecropia Moth is an incredibly massive moth. In fact, this is the largest regularly-occurring moth species in Ohio! They can reach wingspans of 6 to 8 inches, but are typically between 4 and 6 inches. This individual was pushing the upper limits, and probably had around a 6 inch wingspan. The Cecropia can be found all throughout Ohio, typically in places where a forest meets a large open space such as an old field or meadow. Like the Luna Moth (as well as all other giant silk moths), the adult Cecropia Moth lacks any sort of mouth, rendering it incapable of eating. As a result, the adult moth only lives for about a week; its sole goal during that extremely short period is to find a mate and reproduce. This species has only one generation in Ohio, and you can find them from May to July.

Cecropia Moth Body
Very fuzzy, isn't he? And yes, this individual is a male. Cecropia Moths can be easily sexed by paying attention to their antennae. Males, such as this one, have very feathery antennae, while the antennae of a female are much less feathery and bushy. The male's feathery antennae are incredibly sensitive and are used for sensing out a prospective female's pheromones. During mating time, which is between 3 and 4 AM, the females will release pheromones into the air. Males can pick up these pheromones with their antennae from up to a mile away, but many males will travel up 7 miles in order to find a female.

In a few weeks I'll be moving back down to Athens County. I hope to get a mothing setup and begin mothing somewhat regularly. If you like moths, stay tuned for more!

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