Picture Ohio! – Cecropia Moth Nuptials

Mating Cecropia Moths, Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio
Mating Cecropia Moths, Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio

Last summer I shared a photograph of royal walnut moths mating on a tree in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in northeast Ohio. The large moths were spotted by my friend and fellow photographer Cheryl Osgood (aka Grasshopper) along a hiking trail after heavy rains. A couple of days ago I got an excited phone call from Grasshopper; her keen eyes had found another large moth, a cecropia, freshly emerged from its cocoon. By the time we arrived at the cecropia’s location, a shrub alongside another Cuyahoga Valley hiking trail, the cecropia moth, a female, had been joined by a male and the pair were mating. In the photo above, the female cecropia moth is on the right and the smaller male, which has dark feathery attennae, is behind her on the left. The male’s antennae are used to detect a sex attractant, called a pheromone, that is released by the female cecropia moth after she has emerged from her cocoon. The receptors in the male cecropia’s antennae are so sensitive that he can detect the presence of a female cecropia moth from a range of several miles.

Cecropia Moth Caterpillar on Blueberry Shrub, Ohio
Cecropia Moth Caterpillar on Blueberry Shrub, Ohio

The cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia), one of the giant silkworm, or Saturniid moths, is the largest moth in North America, with a wingspan of 4-6 inches. The caterpillar is also very impressive, and when fully grown may measure five inches in length. The caterpillars hatch around the beginning of June and progress through five stages of growth, called instars. The photo above shows a cecropia caterpillar in the penultimate, or fourth, instar. In late summer the caterpillar spins a cocoon and metamorphoses into a pupa, which will spend the fall and winter in the cocoon and emerge as an adult sometime in May. Many of the pupae are parasitized by wasps or eaten by birds, rodents, and other animals, and only a very small number will survive to emerge as adult cecropia moths theĀ  following spring.

Cecropia Moth Coccoon, Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio
Cecropia Moth Cocoon, Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio

The photo above shows the remains of the cocoon in which the pupa of the female cecropia moth spent the winter. The cocoon, which has an inner and an outer layer, is very tough, and is impenetrable to many small birds. When I visited the cocoon again today to photograph it, after heavy rain and thunderstorms last night, there was no sign of the cecropia moths. With luck, the female will spend the next week laying her eggs on the leaves of a variety of trees, and the male will find and mate with several other female cecropia moths. Adult cecropia moths do not possess mouth parts and do not feed. Their sole purpose, during a brief lifespan of 1-2 weeks, is to mate and lay eggs to propagate their race.

Mating Cecropia Moths, Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio
Mating Cecropia Moths, Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio

Coincidentally, today I received my copy of the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths, by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie. This is the first comprehensive field guide to moths, and covers more than 1,500 species of moths found in northeastern North America. Unlike previous moth guides, which featured mostly illustrations of pinned specimens of moths, this new guide includes more than 2,000 photographs of live moths at rest, the way you can expect to observe them in the field. Buy the Peterson Field Guide to Moths from your local bookstore, Amazon.com, or an autographed copy directly from Seabrooke Leckie via her website, www.seabrookeleckie.com

To quote Seabrooke Leckie from her great new moth guide, “Happy mothing.”





This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Karen Pugh presented us with a signed copy of your book “A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio”. We wanted to send our sincere thank you for this addition to our library. We have advised our members that it is available and I’m sure many will put it to good use. It is a beautiful book and I have identified several places I plan to visit.

    Donna Gottschalk
    Photo Arts Club of Toledo

  2. I just saw a pair of these moths in Michigan. They were in my Lilac bush

  3. I saw one of these in Columbus Ohio. I’m sure of it. Are they known to be there as well?

  4. Dear Writer;
    Had a fascination for these creatures since I was a child, finding both the one’s mentioned here, as well as many varieties throughout the years dependant on where I lived. This night as walking in the front doors of a local store, I found a male of the species listed. Though his scales showed some damage, I still managed to get him to safe location away from people, but not before exciting a small group of locals that happened along as I was removing it from harms way. Many took pictures on their iPhones as I beat a hasty retreat to a Bradfothrd Pear nearby. Was glad to find your article of more than just clever details, and hope to see more of our friends in the future. Warm regards,
    Murray Kriner

  5. We saw a female and male they were mating.
    Barrie Ontario Canada June 07 2021

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