Back to Nature (Published on - May 24, 2007)
The Polyphemus moth
Photo by Rick Tremmel
The Polephemus moth has large eyespots that frighten away predators.
Photo by Rick Tremmel
The extraordinary cocoon of the Polyphemus moth is a wonder of nature.
We have a moth. We have a cocoon. After sending around a photo of the cocoon for positive ID, it is generally agreed that the cocoon belongs to the family Saturniidae that often form such cocoons in oak, birch, ash, azalea, bayberry, barberry, birch, button bush, cherry, lilac, plum, poplar, sassafras, spice bush and sweet gum trees.

Gene Kritsky, Ph.D., Editor, American Entomologist, Professor of Biology, College of Mount St. Joseph proposed, “It looks like the silken cocoon of a silkworm moth. The moth has already emerged creating the opening.”

The parchment like cocoon was discovered hanging in one of our oak trees in the front yard. This marvel is an incredible engineering achievement. The silk is woven meticulously into a slightly tear drop design utilizing a leaf as the basis for its structure. The cocoon is cleverly attached to a thin branch with a 1 1/2 inch long delicately woven ribbon-like strap. Quite marvelous!

One of the more common giant silk moths, Antheraea Polyphemus, is nocturnal. The large Polyphemus moth has a wing spread of 3.5 to 5 inches. It hunts its prey naturally by moonlight, but also may be distracted and found near unnatural lighted areas. It lives in broadleaf woods, citrus orchards and sometimes can be found around parks and swamps. There are many members of the Saturniidae family.

The Royal and the Giant Silk moths all belong to the family Saturniidae. Since the Polyphemus moths are most active at night we rarely have the opportunity to observe them, although males have been spotted flying in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, the giant silk moth is decreasing in numbers. Squirrels are likely predators consuming the pupae of giant silk moths, as well, are parasitic insects such as wasps and flies. These insects lay eggs upon or within the caterpillars of the giant silk moth then hatch to feed upon the caterpillar’s insides.

In the south the Polyphemus Moth produces two broods of larva. The caterpillar is accordion shaped, light green with silvery white bars along its sides, and can reach lengths of three to four inches. The Giant Silk Moth caterpillar wraps itself within a curled, dried leaf and then spins a large, silk cocoon. Once the cocoon hardens the caterpillar remains inside for a full season, spring to fall or fall to spring, before emerging into this most handsome moth.

Polyphemus derives its name from Greek mythology after Polyphemus the most famous of the Cyclops. The large eyespots of the Polyphemus moth serve as protection, appearing like owl eyes to frighten away predators. The undersides of this moth’s wings look like dead leaves, enabling the moth camouflage ... back to nature.

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