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 WELCOME To: A Moth In Metamorphosis

Antheraea polyphemus: A Lifecycle Photo Journal.

(reported as it happened)

Eggs have just been laid as this polyphemus moth flies off in search of another place to deposit more eggs. She will only live about a week to ten days. Eating or drinking is not possible because saturniid moths do not have a mouth or digestive system. They live only on the reserves accumulated last summer as a hungry caterpillar.

Polyphemus moth eggs laid  May 25th, 2009 Hours old larva eating first meal, June 3rd, 2009
Polyphemus early 2nd instar caterpillar.

This late 3rd instar polyphemus caterpillar is 1 month old. (July 2nd 2009).

A day later the larva is seen preparing to exit (ecdyse) into the 4rth instar. This process took about two days.   (July 3rd 2009)

Ecdysis to 4rth instar is complete. Note the larger head size. Soon the caterpillar will turn around and eat the dead skin for its nutrients. This photo, taken July 4rth under natural diffused lighting conditions as found under a maple leaf, nicely illustrates the camouflage effect of the skin coloration.
This is the same caterpillar  eight days later. The head is much smaller in proportion to the larger body size (the body has grown but the head has not). Notice how the shape of the larva is hard to recognize. Body shape and texture reflects sunlight in different angles to help hide the caterpillar so it has a better chance of not being spotted by predators. (July 10th 2009

Above: An underneath view showing the poweful claspers in action as the caterpillar crawls about searching for a new leaf. (July 10th 2009).      

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Two days later the larva has once again stopped moving about and is not eating. Underneath, a new skin is forming. Another wait begins as the caterpillar prepares to ecdyse into the 5th instar of life.

One day later (July 13th ) ecdysis has occured. The insect has literally crawled out of the old skin. Having anchored its hind end to the leaf with the old skin, the new skin detaches allowing the caterpillar to "exit" by crawling onto the leaf. Look above and find the 4rth instar skin it has left behind.

Just after ecdysis the new head capsule shows a much duller "peach" color. This will deepen to deep orange as the skin hardens.
A few hours after the ecdysis shed the old skin is once again recycled for its nutrients. Soon eating will begin in earnest. The larva grows prodigiously. It must store enough food to last it the rest of its life. (spinning a cocoon, overwintering as a pupa, changing into a moth and finally propagating the species the following summer.
A fully colored 5th instar head.

The six-week-old caterpillar is consuming a couple maple leaves per day. Growth is rapid. Notice how much smaller the head capsule is in relation to growth in body size. 4 days makes a big difference! (scroll up to see the head-to-body ratio just after the shed to 5th instar)

Below: The heavily humped segments, color patterns and somewhat angular shape help to hide the caterpillar among the jagged edges of partly eaten leaves. (July 19th 2009)

Below, 5days later, the eating machine is still consuming and growing It has been eleven days since ecdysis into 5th instar. A few more days of voracious maple leaf consumption before pupation at last! (July 24rth 2009)

On August 10th,  Signs of the coming pupation are observed.I noticed more waste than usual undeneath the caterpillar. The larva had not moved or eaten recently. August 12th a new cocoon was visible.

Total time as a caterpillar from hatching to pupation lasted from June 3rd until August 10th or 12th; a total of  about 70 days. A note of interest: The six cecropia and single polyphemus caterpillars reared by me all spun cocoons within a week, yet, the polyphemus hatched from its egg thirty days before the cecropias. Note:  Growth was rapid and appetite was good but, on the 25th it stopped eating and was seen crawling about. It seemed pupation was imminent. The larvae was put on some branches to spin a cocoon on but, instead, it went into a false cocoon forming state where it hung motionless for two days, spinning only a small patch of silk. 

Seventy days is likely an unusually long time for a polyphemus to grow. The caterpillar may have become dehydrated for several days which may have slowed its growth. Once I realized the pupation signs were false, the larvae was misted and given fresh leaves at which point it ate greedily until actual pupation commenced. I bring this up because the cecropia larval state only lasted about forty to forty five days, yet, cecropias are larger moths which also spend the winter in their cocoon.

Two views of a polyphemus cocoon as it was spun on a maple twig August 12th 2009. (Photo taken August 24rth 2009) The larvae drew leaves around itself while spinning the oval shapped cocoon. Look closely to the lower left and you can see a small part of the cocoon hidden from the top view by the leaf. The lower right view shows an exposed side view. Compare this cocoon with those of the the cecropia moth.click here.

Fall has arrived so this Polyphemus moth will remain in its cocoon for the winter. It will emerge in the spring.
All moths and butterflies go through a process called complete metamorphosis. The adult must emerge from the pupa and expand its wings. Click on the thumbnail photos below to see a full size snapshot of this process as seen in a polyphemus moth. Note: The pupa was taken out from the cocoon to show the first photo sequence.
1. Polyphemus male early pupa sequence cr 2011 0011.jpg 2. Polyphemus pupa early sequence cr 2011 0201.jpg 3. Polyphemus pupa male early sequence cr 2011 0251.jpg 4. Polyphemus eclose male 3 cr 0141.jpg
5. Polyphemus eclose male 3 cr 0181.jpg 6. Polyphemus eclose male 3 cr 0201.jpg 7. Polyphemus eclose male 3 cr 0221.jpg 8. Polyphemus eclose male 3 cr 0291.jpg
9. Polyphemus eclose male 3 cr 0481.jpg 10. Polyphemus eclose male 3 cr 0541.jpg 11. eclose male 3 cr 0631.jpg 12. Polyphemus eclose male 3 cr 0871.jpg
Polyphemus pupa adult eclose cr 172.jpg Polyphemus pupa adult eclose cr 180.jpg Polyphemus pupa adult eclose cr 187.jpg
Polyphemus pupa adult eclose cr 194.jpg Polyphemus pupa adult eclose cr 200.jpg Polyphemus pupa adult eclose cr 231.jpg
An adult male Polyphemus moth. Compare this individual with the female on top of the page. The antennae are larger allowing the male to find a "calling" female. Polyphemus moth color can range from a rather dull brown to a rich reddish hue. This male came from southern Texas while the female (see top of page) is a central Kentucky native.
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A personal statement about myself.

I have had a deep fascination with insects, especially Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) literally since kindergarten. Instead of playing “Cowboys and Indians” with the neighbor kids I was out in a nearby field poking around at all sorts of critters. However, it was always the mystery of the beauty and flight of the butterflies that deeply absorbed my attention.

It really was an all consuming passion. Early grade school years saw me collecting butterflies and then going to the college library to classify them. When it was possible to travel a little south of northern Minnesota it was challenging to see if I could find hybrids of white banded and red spotted purples. I thought about things like,” Female white morph sulphur butterflies are so common; why can’t I find any white males?” and so on.

One outcome of this rather eccentric childhood is this current website.

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