Polyphemus Moth

Perhaps you may recall the photo of the wild silkworm cocoon posted back in April. I was becoming a little discouraged at the lack of activity and wondered if we should place the cocoon, which was housed in a terrarium and protected from the sun by our shaded porch, into full sun. My worries were for nothing because during the heat wave Thursday, sometime in the mid-morning hours, a gorgeous female Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) emerged from her cocoon.Female Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

The Polyphemus Moth is so named because of the giant eyespots ringed with yellow, blue, and black on the hindwings. In Greek mythology Polyphemus is the one-eyed Cyclopes and son of Poseidon and Thoosa; the name means “much spoken of” or “famous.”

The Polyphemus Moth also has a pair of transparent spots on the forewings. Antheraea polyphemus is one of North America’s largest moths with a wingspan of four to six inches. Like the Luna Moth and Cecropia Moth, the Polyphemus Moth belongs to the Giant Silkworm Family or Saturniidae.

Male Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus). Note the comb-like feathery antennae of the male, which are nearly double the size of the female. The large antennae can more easily detect pheromones released by the female. 

I was hoping a female would emerge, knowing that she would release pheromones, which would attract a male. Thursday night we set up the terrarium outside in a sheltered area around back. The following morning, sure enough, I discovered a perfect male specimen clinging to the back door. They don’t fly very well when their wings are not warmed sufficiently so he was easy to capture. I placed him into the terrarium with the female. Her abdomen is bursting with eggs and she had already begun to deposit unfertilized eggs everywhere—on leaves, her old cocoon, and the glass walls of the terrarium. That night I woke up every hour on the hour to try to photograph their mating, but I don’t think a pairing took place.

Female Polyphemus Moth with abdomen swollen with eggs.

She is continuing to deposit eggs each evening. Her abdomen is still quite swollen. I am keeping my hopes up that they will get it together so the male will fertilize her eggs and we can then rear the caterpillars! Both male and female emerge without mouthparts; they do all their eating in the caterpillar stage.

Polyphemus Moth Cocoon found on White Birch tree (Betula papyrifera) April 1, 2012.

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