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Photo by: Gary Fewless

Location: Brown Co., WI

Date taken: August 27, 2001

Camera: Olympus CL 2500L digital camera

 

Cercropia larva

Cecropia moth (Cecropia hyalophora)

Click here to see adult moth.

At this time of year, you might find a large ( to more than 4 inches) caterpillar with orange, yellow, and blue spiky bumps on its top and sides, feeding on a backyard tree. This is the larva of the largest species of moth in North America, the Cecropia moth (Cecropia hyalophora). They belong to the family Saturniidae, whose members are called Giant Silkworm Moths. Their caterpillars wrap themselves in silk secreted by their mouthparts to form the cocoon in which they develop their adult form. Indigenous cultures from various parts of the world harvest silk from Saturniid species to weave into cloth. However, most silk is from the Chinese silkworm, Bombyx mori, which is in its "own" family, Bombycidae.

The Cecropia moth is found east of the Rocky Mountains, often in and around cities. The caterpillar eats the foliage of many trees and shrubs, including apple, crabapple, lilac, ash, birch, alder, elm, maple, wild cherry, and willow. The adults have non-functional mouthparts and do not feed. There are often found near lights at night in June. There is one generation per year. The animals survive the winter inside a silk cocoon attached to a tree branch.

Contributed by Dr. Michael Draney

Special Thanks to Rebeka Erdman for letting us photograph her pet caterpillar.

© 2001-2004 The Cofrin Center for Biodiversity and the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, All Rights Reserved
Last updated on April 15, 2014