Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New feature: Insect of the Week! The Polyphemus Moth

Well, I have already failed in my goal to update my blog once a week. That didn’t take long, but I’m getting back on track and starting a new feature, Insect of the Week!

Insect of the Week!  The Polyphemus Moth

Members of the Order Lepidoptera, which contains the Butterflies and Moths, are considered by entomologists and amateurs alike to be some of the world’s most beautiful insects. The Polyphemus moth is no exception. My Dad caught one of these beauties for me outside his office last Monday.

Check out a photo here: http://bugguide.net/node/view/136372

Polyphemus moths are members of the Family Saturniidae (Giant Silkworm and Royal Moths). This family contains some of the largest moths in the world and some of the most colorfully decorated. They prefer the leaves of trees and shrubs, and each species has their own particular favorites. Caterpillars can grow up to 4 inches long. When they are done munching, they spin a cocoon of silk. After several months, the adult moth emerges. The large eyespots on the wings are thought to be used as a defense against hungry predators by surprising the would-be snacker and giving the moth a chance to escape.

Although the adult moths are beautiful, they do not live long. Most species survive for only a few weeks. They have vestigial (useless) mouthparts and so cannot eat. The sole goal of their adult lives is to reproduce.

It’s very easy to tell the difference in gender of these moths, just look at their antennae! Male moths find females by following their pheromones, which are good-smelling chemicals (to the moths, anyway!). The males have very feathery antennae which allow them to smell the pheromones. Some male moths can detect a female moth from over a mile away!

Other well-known members of this family include the Luna moth (http://bugguide.net/node/view/523517/bgimage) and the Io moth (http://bugguide.net/node/view/172049/bgpage).

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to have a Polyphemus moth in my collection. Come back later this week to learn about one of my favorite insects, the ambush bug!

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