Butterflies and moths both belong to the family Lepidoptera, and many people don’t know the difference between them. All these fluttering insects are beautiful, but butterflies are undoubtedly more popular.
Yet, moths can be as vivid, diverse, and captivating as them. These insects with fresh eyes can be of 160,000 species, and most of them are nocturnal.
While most moths have subtler coloring, the cecropia moth, Hyalophora cecropia Linnaeus, is among the most spectacular of the North American Lepidoptera.
The continent’s largest native moth belongs to Saturniidae, also known as giant silk moths, a family of big-sized moths with showy appearance.
It naturally occurs in hardwood forests from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast, ranging as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as Florida. The Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences does not consider this species “a serious pest in any parts of its range.”
These moths do not cause trouble for people, apart from crowding the electric lights in spring and early summer. Some scientists believe that moths and other night-flying insects use the moonlight as a useful navigational tool.
When a moth comes near an artificial source of light, like a street lamp, it becomes disoriented and starts flying in circles in a constant attempt to maintain a direct flight path.
While they can vary in size, the wingspan of these moths is around 6 inches. Their wings are brownish, with red near the base of the forewing, and crescent-shaped spots of red with a whitish center. There is a dark eye spot and a tinge of lavender close to the tip of the front wing.
Their body is hairy and reddish, and the belly has alternating bands of red and white. Their host plants are usually maples, but they can also be spotted on cherry and birch trees.
Adults only live for a few weeks, with the sole purpose to mate and lay eggs, while the caterpillars, that are also harmless, feed on leaves all summer. They are bluish-green and have a pair of yellow projections on each body segment on the back.
Hyalophora cecropia larvae are big and feed on a wide range of host plants.
Unfortunately, the number of these majestic moths is on the decline. The main reasons include the destruction of woodlands, parasitoids, ladybugs, and squirrels, as well as our outdoor lights since they interfere with their navigation systems.
Therefore, be prepared to see a cecropia moth this year in the backyard, but make sure you turn off your porch lights in the evening!