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Hyalophora cecropia:

A Life Cycle Photo Journal.

Part 2: The Caterpillar:
In Changes of Color and Contrast

Scroll down to see a "Cecropia Moth Caterpillar Growth and Development Photo Journal". View the striking color differences exhibeted within a single instar growth period. Study an in depth slide show showing the ordeal of ecdysis into 5th instar shed.

New HD videos showing detailed events in the life of a Cecropia moth can be seen by clicking here.

Included are "real time" action scenes of a 1. Skin shed from 4th instar ecdysis. 2. The Caterpillar eating its old exuvia skin 3. Caterpillar to pupa eclose. 4. Cocoon construction and 5. Adult moth emergence and wing exspansion. Link here.

Eggs of the cecropia moth. They were laid hours after capture of the female moth June 21st 2009. Hatching occured ten days later. This caterpillar hatched on July 2nd, 2009 about an hour ago. The baby is well on its way to finding its first meal.

(Above) 1st instar two day old cecropia moth caterpillars as seen July 4rth 2009 feeding on silver maple leaves.

To the right are larvae on willow July 6th 2009.  The upper left individual is beginning to show signs of orange coloration.

July 7th larvae were spotted preparing to ecdyse into the 2nd instar.

Two cecropia caterpillars: The first to the left is preparing to ecdyse into the 2nd instar while the second has just emerged in the second skin. One larva a few hours later showing the dramatically different color of the second instar phase of growth. The larva is now 6 days old. (July 8th 2009)

To see this ecdysis shed in real time watch the video below. This uncut unedited video shows a Hylaphora cecropia baby caterpillar as it struggles to free itself from its old 1st instar skin. The change from black to a bright orange-yellow is worth waiting for. Remember this is a real time "live" video. I was very fortunate to start the camera shortly before the event started.

 

New HD videos showing detailed events in the life of a Cecropia moth can be seen by clicking here.

Included are "real time" action scenes of a 1. Skin shed from 4th instar ecdysis. 2. The Caterpillar eating its old exuvia skin 3. Caterpillar to pupa eclose. 4. Cocoon construction and 5. Adult moth emergence and wing exspansion. Link here.

These ten day old  2nd instar  caterpillars show different colors from each other. They were both hatched from the same mother. I do not know the reason for this difference. Some larvae showed a darker 2nd instar skin coloration. Might they be color morphs? Note: the far right larva is still in 1st instar.
Before eggs were due to hatch, I did online research looking for advice on what tree species would succussfully host cecropia larvae. Some sources mentioned "silver maple" as a posibility. (Available fruit trees were hard to find and the nearest willow is nearly a mile away.) These caterpillars ate  maple leaves but growth was retarded. Growth of those fed maple developed at less than half the rate of willow fed caterpillars. All larvae eating willow were in 2nd instar while those on maple remained in the 1st instar and were much smaller. Feeding all larvae willow seemed to make a big difference in growth and development. Most of the maple-fed larvae readily accepted willow (July 9th 2009)

July 15th 2009 It is evident all 3rd instar larvae now have very similar colors and markings, the earlier variations, possibly due to earlier diet, seem to have been lost with the old skin. All have been on a diet of willow for 6 days..

3rd instar larvae display a wealth of color and contrast following evolutionary form and function! Ecdysis happened this morning. (July 14th 2009)
A few days later (July 17th 2009) The colors within the 3rd instar have deepened. Greyish toned tubercles now are a beautiful light blue. Background colors are shifting from yellow to a light green.

(July 21st 2009) This advanced third instar caterpillar is growing well. It looks about as large as the 4rth instar individual shown below as it looked a day earlier. The original "greyish" tubercles are now a darker blue with a black band in the middle.

Three closeups showing tubercle color deepening and change in 3rd instar cecropia larvae. The photos were taken on the same individual, July 14th, 17th and 21st, 2009. The change from silver/grey, to light blue, turning to a deeper blue with a black band is evident.

Notice how the tubercles in the above pictures seem to be farther apart in each image taken over time. Indeed, the tubercles are increasingly in less and less proximity to each other. The larva is growing causing the skin to fill out and expand; somewhat similar to the expanding markings or points seen when a ballon is blown up with air. Similarly, so too are the skin highlights enlarging, changing or made noticable.

Questions: Might it be that more colors show up as the skin is stretched out to reveal pigments and patterns previously hidden from view? Would a stretched, thus thinner, skin tend to allow more of the body and/or, at times, new skin within to impact affected color?

Note: Many caterpillars seem to be growing and/or developing at different rates. This was more apparent during the first three instars. As growth progressed the differences seemed to become less pronounced. Pupation started for five of the six larvae between the 10th and 12th of the month. However, the cocoon from one particular fast growing caterpillar was found already completed on August 8th.

This gives a total time as a caterpillar between 37 to 41 days. (This is much shorter than the average 60 day larval time period given in textbooks.)

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New HD videos showing detailed events in the life of a Cecropia moth can be seen by clicking here.

Included are "real time" action scenes of a 1. Skin shed from 4th instar ecdysis. 2. The Caterpillar eating its old exuvia skin 3. Caterpillar to pupa eclose. 4. Cocoon construction and 5. Adult moth emergence and wing exspansion. Link here.

Above is a caterpillar called "Sam" I raised from a spring 2010 brother/sister mating from cecropia moths raised on this site. I insert these here to show off the striking color contrast between the 2009 and 2010 lcaterpillars. This individual is from a group feeding on dogwood. Many of these larvae are much more yellow in body color than the willow fed ones in 2009. Sam is a beautiful yellow instead of the more normal green. The picture to the left shows the caterpillar just after ecdysis into third instar (June 29, 2010.) The second was taken nine days later. Compare this individual with the "July 21st 2009" photo of an advanced third instar caterpillar seen above. Again, compare tubercle color development.

Here is a study in contrast. Both larvae shown above are in the 3rd instar of growth but are obiously diffently colored. They were both fed dogwood ( instead of willow) and are a result of a next generation 2010 brother/sister mating from the 2009 brood. The black larva eventually reverted to normal green in its 4rth skin. The yellow one, along with many siblings, remained a paler hue showing a light green in the 4rth instar .
                                  Why do you think these different color forms appeared?

Here is an old 3rd instar exuvia skin left after ecdysis into 4rth instar. The opening is clearly visable where the larvae exited the old skin. Cecropia caterpillar newly shed into 4rth instar. The appendages and head are huge. The skin itself, under the right lighting, has a "thicker, folded, baggy" appearance. The ever-growing larva will stretch the skin to its maximum size, at which time, it will abandon the skin for a larger one.  A basic body color change of "more blue/ yellow with less black" continues to express itself. Black markings have disappeared on the body and claspers. (July 20th 2009)

The same caterpillar as viewed from the top showing the large head. Also, a strikingly beautiful aqua blue color in the upper dorsal region contrasting with the palette of colored tubercles is a nice surprise. The 3rd instar black spots are gone on top as well. (see above comment.)

Above are two 4rth instar cecropia caterpillars as seen July 24rth 2009. The one to the upper right is seen two days after the shed while the larger left larva ecdysed about  4 days ago.

Notice the more predominant darker green color in one compared to the other, especially in the head, legs and claspers.

To the left is the same larva as the upper left one seen directly above. This photo shows off the beautiful blue on the back contrasting with the blue, red and yellow tubercles. When positioned in the more comfortable preferred posture as seen above, the colors are more subdued and camouflaged. The caterpillar is usually shaded from intense sunlight by the canopy of foliage above. Colors we find more appealing to our sensibilities only become apparent when the larva is in bright or direct sunlight. This is detrimental to its health and also increases exposure to predators. The lighter blue colored upperparts true function is to hide the insect from being spotted from one looking upwards towards bright sunlit foliage thus being presented with the larva's back dorsal area from below, (as positioned above).

Views and hues of Sam, a 2010 brood pale colored caterpillar.

July 17th Sam, the caterpillar,  is now four days into his fourth instar time of life.
The interplay between pigment and irridescent color becomes ever more complex.
Here are photos of Sam as he appears in different lighting conditions.
Which one represents the "real" Sam.

Sam showing off his beautiful blue irridescence.This is how he is seen from above in bright sunlight.

Sam is drinking raindrops after a morning thunderstorm

Full sunny conditions appear after the storm revealing a yellow side to his nature.

"Sam" is the name given to a particular caterpillar raised during the summer of 2010. Sam is also a character in a story for children telling of the adventures of a cecropia moth lifestyle. To read this story and view photos of some unusual colored caterpillars link to http://moth.onenessbecomesus.com

Above: This late 4rth instar caterpillar is shown one day before it began the process of ecdysis into the fifth and last skin. Compare how it looks now, July 28th 2009, with how it appeared 8 days ago, July 20th.

Watch the climax of a 36 hr endeavor as a cecropia moth caterpillar struggles out of its old skin. The video below shows ecdysis to 5th instar as it happens. See the larva slowly work the old skin back towards the rear. Watch the skin split and the insect crawl out

This is a "live" real time video of a cecropia caterpillar shedding into 5th instar. At about 1PM  I noticed a caterpillar motionless on a twig. Observation confirmed it was beginning the long wait for its body to prepare for ecdysis. The long 35 + hr ordeal culminates in this 20 minute video showing contractions; the skin being gradually pushed towards the rear; stretching, bending downward motions; the old skin breaking near the head; and finally, slowly splitting open to reveal the new skin underneath. This video was shot June 25th 2012 with a new camera.

 

New HD videos showing detailed events in the life of a Cecropia moth can be seen by clicking here.

Included are "real time" action scenes of a 1. Skin shed from 4th instar ecdysis. 2. The Caterpillar eating its old exuvia skin 3. Caterpillar to pupa eclose. 4. Cocoon construction and 5. Adult moth emergence and wing exspansion. Link here.

HomeMonarch EggCaterpillarChrysalisButterflyCecropia MothCecropia LarvaeCocoonCecropia AdultA Story of SamPolyphemus MothVideosSmall Wonders

Of Ordeal And Patience:

A 4rth instar caterpillar is preparing to ecdyse into it's 5th and last skin as a larva.  A long wait and arduous labor for the caterpillar lies ahead. This is a difficult time lasting a couple days. I have been watching closely hoping to observe and photograph the actual event. ( I missed one yesterday.) This larva assumed the present position sometime  in the late afternoon of July 28th. 2009

The close watch began the morning of July 29th.  and lasted all day into the morning of July 30th,  During this 27 hour time span, from 8:00AM until 11:00AM the next day,  the caterpillar  exhibited periodic stretching, spasmodic contractions and occasional violent twitching. It seemed a long and arduous struggle was taking place with no immediate discernable result. When, finally, the long wait was over the larva proceeded to break free of the confining skin and slowly move itself forwards while working the skin backwards. I got an ecdysis photo sequence but the larva had shifted position so most pictures were partly out of focus. The left image catches a tittle of the drama of what I saw.

Below is a 41 frame photo sequence showing details of ecdydsis skin shed into 5th instar. To view a larger picture click on a thumbnail image. To view as a slideshow sequence click on the upper left photo and then use the navigation tools below each full size image to advance to the next frame.  Note: clicking on any of the 15 thumbnails will bring up the 41 image slideshow.

 (Yes, patience can be rewarded. A third try yielded the results shown below.) August 1st, 2009

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Above: July 28th 2009 Here the caterpillar is recycling as it eats the discarded old skin. Again, just as in the fresh 4rth instar skin, the appendages are huge. The larva shows rapid growth and eats prodigiously. I need to go get more willow leaves!
Left: Soon it will be time to clean up the frass once again!
Above are two caterpillars. One just shed a day ago into the 5th and final instar, The other is still in the 4rth skin. Can you tell which is which? Hint: look at the head sizes and how "loose" the skin looks in one and how "filled out" and "stretched" it is in the other. It's the same pattern of growth as seen earlier in the previous shed. (July 28, 2009
Two views of a caterpillar as it looks at about 5 days after its 5th instar shed. It is GROWING! Notice the color difference. The top shows an irridescent pale bluish sheen in direct light. ( August 4rth, 2009)

A cecropia caterpillar is seen begiinning to draw pieces of vegetation together and glueing them with strands of silk. The process continues as the silken framework of the future cocoon, reinforced by leaves and twigs, begins to take shape. (August  9th, 2009)

See how the caterpillar builds the cocoon. . watch the transition from the picture above to the photo below. click here or on the cocoon below.

New HD videos showing detailed events in the life of a Cecropia moth can be seen by clicking here.

Included are "real time" action scenes of a 1. Skin shed from 4th instar ecdysis. 2. The Caterpillar eating its old exuvia skin 3. Caterpillar to pupa eclose. 4. Cocoon construction and 5. Adult moth emergence and wing exspansion. Link here.

HomeMonarch EggCaterpillarChrysalisButterflyCecropia MothCecropia LarvaeCocoonCecropia AdultA Story of SamPolyphemus MothVideosSmall Wonders