Cecropia Moth

Hyalophora cecropia
Saturniidae (giant silkworm and royal moths)

Adults are butterfly-like but have stout, hairy bodies and feathery antennae. The body is red with a white “collar” and white bands on the abdomen. Seen from above, the overall color of the wings is dark brown or gray, with a reddish patch at the base of each forewing. At roughly the center of each of the four wings is a reddish-rimmed, whitish crescent. The postmedian line (the bold line that runs parallel to the outer edge of the wings) is lined with red on its outer margin.

Larvae are large and bluish-green. At the top of the second and third thoracic segments there are two round, reddish-orange tubercles with black points. Atop the abdominal segments there is a double row of yellow tubercles. Along the sides are rows of blue tubercles.

Wingspan: 3¾–6 inches.
Habitat and conservation: 
With their variety of host trees, cecropias occur nearly anywhere in our state. Maples, for example, grow in parks and backyards yet also constitute a large part of our state’s natural forests. Willows predominate near water, so cecropias can be found near water, too. Cecropias are most likely to be found in places where forested and open areas meet. This nocturnal species is attracted to lights at night. In some regions, numbers are declining due to habitat loss, pesticides and more.
Larvae feed on more than 20 species of Missouri trees and shrubs, notably various maples (including box elder), willows, plums and lilacs. As with other giant silk moths, the mouthparts of the adults are small or absent; the adults live for only a few weeks without feeding, relying on food consumed and stored by the caterpillars.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Breeding resident.
Life cycle: 
Adults fly from early April through June; each moth only lives for about two weeks as an adult. They are nocturnal and in the hours before sunrise emit scents to “call” to potential mates. Eggs are deposited on the leaves of host plants. The cocoons are brownish-gray and are attached by silk along their whole length to a twig. Although there is only one brood in our state, they emerge over a long period of time and can be found from April through June. This moth overwinters in the pupal stage.
Human connections: 
Butterfly and moth collecting is a hobby that many people enjoy, and the cecropia moth is the “jewel” of many collections. Many more people take just as much pleasure out of spying a live moth resting on a backyard tree.
Ecosystem connections: 
The thousands of different caterpillar species that graze on tree leaves perform a natural pruning service. The adults provide a sizeable meal for their predators. Cecropia numbers are also kept in check by several parasite species.
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