Scientific Name: Hyalophora cecropia
Description: Cecropia moths are beautiful silk moths with reddish bodies and black to brown wings surrounded by bands of white, red, and tan.
Size: With a wingspan of 5 to 7 inches, the cecropia moth is the largest moth found in North America.
Diet: Caterpillars feed on leaves throughout the summer. The adult moths don’t eat at all.
Habitat and Range: These nocturnal moths are found in hardwood forests east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. They are attracted to street and porch lights, which is where most lucky viewers encounter them.
Life History and Reproduction: In order to find a mate, male cecropia moths must have extraordinary senses. A female moth produces chemicals called pheromones, which the male can detect from over a mile away! Females lay over a hundred eggs, although many of the caterpillars won’t live to see adulthood. When the caterpillars hatch, they are black in color. As they go through successive molts, they change in color from black to yellow to green and increase in size. At the end of the summer, the 5 inch long caterpillar seals itself into a cocoon and emerges as a moth in the spring. The sole purpose of the adult stage is to mate and lay eggs. Adult moths cannot eat, so if a predator doesn’t scoop them up, they die after two weeks.
Fun Fact: Bolas spiders are able to mimic the pheromones produced by insects like the cecropia moth. Male moths then follow the scent of the pheromones and end up becoming the spider’s next meal!
Conservation Status: Stable. Cecropia caterpillars are found in such low abundances that they don’t cause significant damage to ornamental landscaping. The caterpillars are harmless and the moths are beautiful to see in the spring.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Small, W. E. 1962. Nature Ramblings: Cecropia Moth. Science News Letter 81:368.
LaManna, B. 2004. Cecropia: Beautiful Lepidopteran Behemoth. New York State Conservationist.
Evans, A. V. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.: New York, NY 2007.
Cecropia Moth – Life Cycle
Iowa State University: Department of Entomology
University of Florida