Largest Native Moth in North America: The Cecropia Moth

What a Beauty!:

“Big” and “beautiful” are great words to describe this species of the Silk Moth Family.

Adult specimens can reach wingspans of from 5 to 7 inches. (Look at the hand under the moth for perspective.) Their fuzzy wings seem almost like velvet in texture. Notice the mixture of colors that combine to give them such a distinct look. This one is a female. Her antennae are much thinner than those of their male counterparts.

Release Your Perfume:

You might wonder why God created the males with larger antennae than the females. The antennae of the males are extremely sensitive so that they can use these organs to locate the females. The females emit very small droplets of pheromones which are a biological perfume that attracts the males for mating. Males can detect these pheromones from up to seven miles away.

You Better Find Her Quickly!:

There is a very short window for Spring mating since the adults do not have functional mouthparts. They don’t eat at all in this stage of development. Their only task is to find a mate and produce offspring before they run out of the stored food in their bodies.

Beware of Imposters!:

One of the predators of these moths is the Bolo Spider. This arachnid has his own bag of tricks. One of these is emitting an odor that closely mimics the female pheromones of the Cecropia moth. When an unsuspecting male moth comes in tracking this odor he gets snatched up by the sneaky spider. The poor female moth has to hope another male will replace him if she ever hopes to have her eggs fertilized.

Other Dangers:

Scientists have theorized that these and other moths navigate by the light of the moon. Since house lights are often brighter than the moonlight off in the distance, many moths zero in on porch lights and end up on the walls or windows near the light sources. This is where most people encounter them. Some nocturnal creatures like to catch and eat the moths as they fly through the air. Bats and Screech Owls especially enjoy them. Besides these dangers in adulthood the young also face many perils. Many parasitic wasps and flies lay their eggs on either the eggs or larvae of the young. These parasitic eggs usually hatch out when the caterpillars go into the pupae stage. The larvae of the flies and wasp feed on the pupa when it is all wrapped up waiting for metamorphosis to complete its life journey to adulthood.

Colorful Creatures:

You have already seen how beautiful the adults are with all their amazing colors. The other stages of these creatures are also colorful! The eggs, when placed on the tops or bottoms of the host plants, are reddish brown and cream colored. When the little caterpillars emerge they are totally black. As they continue to shed their skins while growing larger ( scientists call these instars) the caterpillars change colors. They go from black to yellowish green to almost blue green just before they cocoon. The caterpillars reach sizes up to five or more inches in length! That is a big creature!

The Cocoons Are Vulnerable:

If the parasites mentioned before haven’t attacked the caterpillars, the pupae in their cocoons are also in potential danger. Guess who likes to eat these fast food tidbits? Squirrels and Woodpeckers. Fortunately for the moths the cocoons are camouflaged to look like part of the branches to which they are attached. Most go into the cocoon stage in the early fall to remain inside until the warm Spring weather returns. They are wrapped up well in their winter jackets that insulate them from the freezing temperatures of the winter months. The silk used to weave the cocoons traps air between the strands that function like a warm sleeping bag to keep the pupae at just the right temperature for development. When Spring comes the adults emerge and pump up their wings and take flight to find their mates.

Strength in Numbers:

It is amazing how successful these creatures are when you see the many dangers they face. One way they survive is in the vast number of eggs that the females produce. Females can lay hundreds of eggs. Because there are so many scattered around she can be sure some of them will survive to carry on the species.

Keep Your Eyes Open!:

I hope you have enjoyed learning about these amazing creatures. Why not look around your neighborhood to see what creatures are out at night. Look around your porch lights and windows. You will find many other insects are attracted to lights. If you look carefully you may even find some that were caught by the spiders that have learned that house lights are good at bringing in their meals. As you look at the beautiful designs and behaviors of these creatures recognize that this didn’t happen by accident. Each creature is testimony to an Intelligent Designer. I believe this Creator is Jesus Christ. Consider the evidence of design. Consider what else you can learn about our loving, living God.

Special Thank You:

I would like to offer a special thank you to my neighbor, Brooke Thompson, who took this amazing photo of the Cecropia Moth that visited her house this week. She gave me permission to use her photo. Three of us in the neighborhood have posted pictures of different moths we have found around our windows this week. We live in a friendly neighborhood where most people enjoy the wildlife that abounds here in the Oak Lake area of Spring Hill, Tennessee.

4 thoughts on “Largest Native Moth in North America: The Cecropia Moth

  1. Glad you enjoyed the blog. I keep discovering new creatures all the time here in Tennessee. You and your family are mentioned in my prayers frequently. Thanks for the comments.


  2. Mr. Gluck,
    I was one of your Physical Science students at SHINE tutorial in 2017-2018. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed that time in your class. You had such a passion for science and you always made it fun! I still remember the lab we did with the Mt. St Helen’s ash–I’ve had two different science teachers since then and they have yet to top it. I’m grateful to God that I had the opportunity to have you as my teacher. It impacted me so much and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.


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