Status: Not Listed
Cecropia moths are beautiful silk moths with reddish bodies and black to brown wings surrounded by bands of white, red, and tan. With a wingspan of five to seven inches (13 to 18 centimeters), the cecropia moth is the largest moth found in North America.
These nocturnal moths are found in hardwood forests east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada. They are attracted to street and porch lights, which is where most people encounter them.
Caterpillars feed on leaves throughout the summer. The adult moths don’t eat at all.
In order to find a mate, male cecropia moths must have extraordinary senses. A female moth produces natural 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 increase in size and change color from black to yellow to green. At the end of the summer, the five-inch-long caterpillar seals itself into a cocoon and emerges in the spring as a moth. 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.
This species is stable. Cecropia caterpillars are found in such low abundances, they don’t cause significant damage to ornamental landscaping.
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.
Evans, A. V. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.: New York, NY 2007.
Iowa State University
LaManna, B. 2004. Cecropia: Beautiful Lepidopteran Behemoth. New York State Conservationist.
Small, W. E. 1962. Nature Ramblings: Cecropia Moth. Science News Letter 81:368.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
University of Florida
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