The Cecropia Moth
(Hyalophora cecropia, Linnaeus, 1758)
Hyalophora cecropia moth image composited by Bill Oehlke
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Superfamily: Bombycoidea, Latreille, 1802
Family: Saturniidae, Boisduval,  1834
Subfamily: Saturniinae, Boisduval,  1834
Genus: Hyalophora Duncan, 1841
Wind Beneath My Wings
copyright C. Odenkirk
The cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia), North America's largest silkmoth with a wingspan
approaching six inches, flies in all Canadian provinces except British
Columbia and Newfoundland. In the U.S., there are some highly localized
populations reported in Washington and Utah, but generally the moth is
absent west of mid-Montana, mid-Wyoming, mid-Colorado, and mid-Texas. To the east,
is it very abundant in many states.
Like all Hyalophora species, cecropia is univoltine,i.e., there is only
one brood each year. Cecropia moths emerge
from mid May until early July in the top half of their range, and tend
to emerge from March through May in the more southern regions. Bimodal
emergences (emergence peaks that occur at distinct periods) are reported in some areas, particularly the midwest, where
approximately twenty percent of livestock emerges in late May or early
June. The remainder of the stock begins emerging about two weeks
Photo by Dan MacKinnon for Bill Oehlke
Cecropia tend to emerge in mid morning from relatively large cocoons
and have little trouble slipping
through the loose valves in both the inner and outer cocoons.
The adult moths
quickly climb to hang and inflate their wings.
SCENTING AND MATING:
Male cecropia have been marked and are known to have flown over seven miles in
search of the wind-born female pheromone scent plume. After the couple
separates the following evening, males are on the wing again and some males
have successfully fertilized as many as three females. Hybridization occurs
with other Hyalophora species where distribution areas overlap. Here in the
H. columbia matings occur just before dawn while cecropia are more
likely to begin mating from 1:00 am until 3:30 am. Cecropia mate readily
in captivity, even in small cages.
Photo courtesy of Mike
The striking coloration of the wings is evident in this mating pair.
The female to the left has a heavier body and lacks the well developed
antennae of the male.
Most Hyalophora species mate in the early
morning hours, just before dawn, and remain coupled until the following
evening. Some populations, however, tend to mate shortly after
EGGS, LARVAE, AND COCOONS:
Large eggs with reddish brown mottling are deposited in short rows of
three to six on host food plants. Black first instar caterpillars eat a
portion of their eggshells and tend to be gregarious, lining up side
by side on the underside of a leaf. Second instar larvae with yellow/green
bodies and black protuberances are also gregarious and progress rapidly.
Third, fourth, and fifth instar larvae are similar in their spectacular
Most caterpillars spend approximately one week in each instar (a growth period
ended by a shedding of old skin) except
the final one of two weeks where a total length of 4.5 inches is often
Large cocoons are always fastened lengthwise to branches,
stems, trunks of the host plant or neighboring locations. Sometimes a leaf
wrap is used, but often the caterpillar will fashion its cocoon without the
aid of any props. A loose valve is spun at the pointed top of the oblong
cocoon and another valve is arranged at the top of a denser, inner
Click on caterpillar to see a large image and to
access a food plant list.
Click notes to access
notes on cecropia.
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