Polyphemus

These are Polyphemus cocoons, Antherea polyphemus. I started with nine of them, which I got from a nice guy named Dan in Ohio. I found another one locally here in the Dallas area, on an oak tree at a park. Note: park rangers don’t appreciate people walking around with tree loppers. He didn’t say anything, but I got That Look.

And anybody who’s been following this journal, knows what big cocoons turn into…

Last evening when I got home from work, this lovely lady was hanging on the screen, drying her wings. You can’t really see in this shot, how soft her wings are. The back of the wings look like dead leaves; this is a camouflage to help the moths hide. April 6, 2004.

But in this one, you can see how floppy the wings are! She flapped her wings back and forth, pumping them up. The top of her wings are beautiful; you can’t really see it, but the little spots inside the eyes are reflective like hematite.

This is the terrarium the cocoons are in, outside. In order to ensure that they hatch out in the right season so that there will be other moths around (we’ll get to that in a little bit…) they have to be exposed to local temperatures, and even the occasional bit of rain, as long as they don’t get drenched. The paper towel across the back of the glass is for the moths to climb up on; once they hatch out of the cocoons, they need to hang to let their wings fill out.

This is what she looks like after drying for a while. I think these moths are amazing looking. They are called Polyphemus moths after a monstrous Greek giant with huge eyes. These eyespots are believed to startle predators; the moth displays them when disturbed.

These are the two ways you can tell she’s a female: First, the thin antennae; the male would have big bushy ones. Second, the large distended belly. It’s full of eggs. And also full of liquid which the moth will squirt on you if surprised. Be warned.

20 replies
  1. admin
    admin says:

    Nah… silk.

    Although, after reading about the use of male silkmoths in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the idea of moth tincture has some appeal… it’s supposed to be purely YANG, and good for stimulating male energies and longevity.

  2. admin
    admin says:

    Well, I’d offer you eggs… but that’ll be in like a week, and if it’s still snowing there, I doubt you have oak leaves. I don’t know if they’ll eat evergreen oak or not.

  3. admin
    admin says:

    I honestly have no idea. I haven’t raised this particular variety before.

    I love the fact that it totally doesn’t faze me that you have a ton of oak leaves in your freezer. I have about a dozen baggies of brilliantly colored dye concentrate in mine right now… not to mention the Japanese degumming powder…

  4. admin
    admin says:

    You might be surprised… they do fairly well in small spaces, you’d need something like an aquarium, and a source of fresh leaves…

    Eri silkmoths are probably the most bullet-proof of the giant moths, from what I’ve found so far… cecropias are supposed to be really hard, but I’m gonna give them a try too. Polyphemus are kind of medium; they’ll do OK on twigs in a jar inside.

  5. blacksquiggles
    blacksquiggles says:

    My freezer is garbage bags filled with brambles, oak and mulberry.
    with some tupperwared frozen giant walking sticks for good measure (I figure someone will want them eventually)

    I’ll ask the moth list, but I would love some! hopefully I’ll have luna eggs this summer,we could trade, whee 🙂

  6. admin
    admin says:

    Where’s the moth list??? I found some mixed leps lists, but they’re butterfly-heavy…

    And I’d love to have some Lunas… I know we have them around here, although I’ve never hand-reared them. I’ve heard that they don’t make a lot of silk, but it would be exceptionally magical if I could get enough to do something small from it…

  7. zeppo
    zeppo says:

    Gorgeous!
    I have been so damn lucky lately that all of the bug people on LJ have been talking about and showing pictures of their favorite insects.
    Yesterday Myrch posted a cicada wav. file.

  8. admin
    admin says:

    Yah… that’s like the Sound O Summer, here…

    I can even hear the phantom version in my head, when I hear something like a fan… it seems like such an ever-present backdrop, that my head just ghosts it in.

    I’m looking forward to even more moths in the upcoming month or so – should have Samia cynthia and Samia ricini, and caterpillars for both those and Hylaphora cecropia.

  9. atomslife
    atomslife says:

    1) Again a comment about what stunningly beautiful creatures these moths be–and how the photos are mighty nicely done, as well.

    2) You found a Polyphemus cocoon on a tree in a local park? How does one distinguish these from any other hymenoptra’s cocoon? How common are these in the Dallas area (or Texas for that matter)?

    3) Maybe the park ranger was just being sullen that you found it first. ; )

  10. admin
    admin says:

    1) Thanks!

    2) (a) They’re on oak trees, and (b) hymenoptera (bees and wasps) don’t make silk cocoons. To distinguish it from the other *lepidoptera* (grin), it’s mainly a matter of cocoon shape, food plant, and size. Polyphemus are rounded, hanging on oak, rolled in a leaf; cecropia are pointed at the ends, on willow or fruit trees, attached to a stem; Luna are beneath pecan or sweetgum, rolled up in leaf litter on the ground. What you have in different areas varies; we typically have Polyphemus and Luna throughout most of Texas, with scatterings of Cecropia.

    3) Maybe he though I was stealing his lopper or something… I don’t think he saw the cocoon, which was in my pocket (or was I just happy to see him?) – I was just carrying a long pole with a clipper on the end of it, walking along in a public park. I was wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt and shorts and Doc Marten sandals… he was probably thinking, “Damned hippy freak”… or wondering if I was tending a pot patch on the grounds somewhere!

  11. admin
    admin says:

    I haven’t yet. I’ve considered it. This is the first year for anything but standard silkworms; I’m trying the depth of the river with both feet!

  12. sandthistle
    sandthistle says:

    WOW.

    Ok, so, why do you need other moths around? I’m on the edge of my seat here in Illinois, and the sun just went down, so staring at my daffodils in the dark is my only other option for fun… 🙂

  13. admin
    admin says:

    so, why do you need other moths around?

    Well, for sex, of course! It’s what moths live for. I want her to find her some moth love, and make lots of caterbabies for me to raise up!

    And I had another surprise tonight – an Eri moth, from one of the caterpillars I raised! I’ll be posting here inna bit.

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