Cecropia moths stir like phantoms in the twilight

Moths: as night falls, these denizens flit like phantoms through the twilight world. By Don Scallen.

June 5, 2010 | | Blogs | Environment | Notes from the Wild

Moths: Strange and wonderful phantoms of the twilight world.

By Don Scallen

At this time of year as you turn off your bedside lamp and pull the covers up, strange and wonderful creatures are stirring outside your door. Among these denizens of the dark are cecropia moths. Flapping six-inch wings they course like phantoms through the twilight world.

See the slideshow of moth photos below.

They are the largest of our Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and viewed closely are breathtakingly beautiful. However, as they are strictly nocturnal, you are not likely to see them often.

They are also not as common as they once were – lights, pesticides and parasitic flies introduced to control gypsy moths have seen to that — but they still do occur throughout our hills.

I grow their caterpillars every year. They are a young boy’s dream – fat green mini- monsters bristling with mace-like spikes of blue, yellow and orange. In late summer they pupate and then lie dormant over the winter in tough cocoons that hang from branches.

In the spring, when a female emerges, she releases an intoxicating perfume into the night air. Buoyed by evening breezes the perfume eddies through the ether, eventually caressing the large feathery antennas of male moths. From even kilometers distant, they flap upwind intent on being the first to reach the waiting female.

Then the marathon lovemaking begins. In an awe-inspiring demonstration of endurance, male and female usually stay coupled through the remainder of the night and then through the daylight hours – sometimes 19 hours or more!

No wonder. This is the female’s only chance to make whoopee. Shortly afterwards she lays over a hundred eggs and then dies. The male? He may live to mate again, but his time is short as well. In a mere two or three weeks he’ll join the female in moth heaven.

LINKS

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory

Teachers Guide to Butterflies (download PDF)

Lepidoptera on Wikipedia

A list of LINKS on VirtualMuseum (Canadian Museum of Nature)

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Don Scallen is a naturalist who teaches elementary school science.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

Comments

2 Comments

  1. What a fascinating and beautiful creature. I had no idea we had a moth so large (and colourful) in our area. I’ll have to research them some more myself and try to figure out how I might see one in the flesh.

    Dave Welfare on Jun 14, 2010 at 8:33 am | Reply

  2. Fascinating and gorgeous! Thanks for sharing with those of us not so familiar with “creatures of the night”.

    Bette-Ann on Jul 29, 2010 at 12:04 am | Reply

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