Sunday, June 5, 2011

Polyphemus Moths

Polyphemus- Click to enlar
New life emerges daily at the Bill Roston Butterfly House.  My last three trips have included a Polyphemus Moth emerging from its cocoon, twice in front of a class of fifth graders, welcomed by a chorus of squeals of "COOL".  You can share their excitement as recorded by Kelly McGowan here.*
The Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) is one of the species of giant silk moths called Saturniidae.  When they emerge and start climbing up the stem of a plant they look like a furry bug.  Their small wing buds slowly inflate like an air mattress as they pump blood into the wing vessels.  Within minutes their wingspan is six inches.

Now you can see the prominent eye spots on the hind wings.  It is a tan colored moth, with an average wingspan of 15 cm (6 inches).  It takes its name from another giant, Polyphemus who in Greek legend had a single eye in his forehead.

Polyphemus Caterpillar Wikimedia
With no digestive system, the adult lives only to find a mate and lay eggs.  With only a week to live, they may fly for miles in their search for love, the males larger feathery antennae constantly sampling the air for a whiff of a female.

The female will lay her eggs on a wide variety of tree leaves.  This is fortunate as the caterpillars can eat up to 86,000 times its body weight as it goes through four molts (instars) before reaching up to four inches in length.  Not only does the caterpillar have to eat to grow, it has to eat to sustain the adult moth for up to a week before it dies.  On the other hand, the adult doesn't have to waste time eating.

*  To share in the excitement, visit our FOG partners Bill Roston Butterfly House

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