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A Comprehensive Guide to the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)

The Cecropia Moth is a large brown colored moth that is in the Giant Silk Moth Family (Saturniidae). It flies throughout North America in old fields, forest edges, and roads. The Cecropia Moth feeds on maples (Acer spp), cherries (Prunus spp.), birch (Betula spp.) and dogwoods (Cornus spp.). It is considered to be the largest moth in North America (National Wildlife Federation).

Taxonomy and Naming of the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)

Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) on branch.
Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) — Marvin Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Taxonomy

The Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) was named and described by Carl von Linnaeus in 1758 in Systema Naturae. This species is sometimes considered to be a subspecies of C. argiolus. It is a member of the family Lycaenidae and is in the subfamily Polyommatinae.

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Hyalophora, comes Hyalos and phoros, both Greek words meaning transparent and carrying (Indiana Nature). It presumably describes the wings of the moth. The species name, cecropia, comes from Greek mythology and was the dragon that guarded the golden apples in the Garden of the Herperides (Wikipedia). This may be in reference to the larva of this species.

Common Name

Alternative common names for this moth include Robin Moth (Bouseman and Sternberg 2002), Cecropia Silkmoth (Butterflies and Moths of North America).

Physical Description

Cecropia moth with outstretched wings.
Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) — Ed Loth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Color: Males and females of this moth are the same. Each wing has an eyespot that is white or has accents of red.
  • Wingspan: 4.25 to 6 inches, in some cases larger
  • Active Flying Time: Individuals that overwinter emerge in May, while others emerge in June and July.

Life Cycle of this Moth

Cocoon of cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia).
Cecropia Moth Cocoon — Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Green cecropia moth caterpillar on leaf.
Green Caterpillar of Cecropia Moth — Berksquat at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Eggs

The reddish-brown eggs are laid on both sides of the leaves of the host plants.

Larvae

The larva or caterpillars can grow up to 4 inches long and have five instars each of which lasts about a week. The first instar is black, while the second instar is yellow. Subsequent instars are green with the red or orange that is often thought of with the larva of this moth.

Cocoon

The cocoon is placed along branches and is spun of silk, making it a member of the silkmoth family.

Adults

The male adults are brown with a white eyespot with reddish coloring. The adults do not feed and instead use energy reserves until they die in 1 to 2 weeks.

Range of the Cercopia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) in the United States and Canada

Range map of cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) in the United States and Canada.

This butterfly flies generally throughout the United States and the southern tier of provinces in Canada.

Habitat

Successional forest habitat in Europe.
Successional Forest Habitat — Sten Porse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This moth is found in early sucessional stage forests in both urban and rural areas.

Host Plants

Close-up of flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) flower.
Flower of Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) — Miller Jan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The larvae of this moth feed on many plants making it a generalist among butterflies and moths. Some of the more common hosts include birch (Betula spp.), dogwoods (Cornus spp.), rose (Rosa spp.), poplar (Populus spp.), maples (Acer spp.), and willows (Salix spp.).

Nectar Plants

Cecropia moth (Hylaphora cecropia) on tree.
Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) — Thomas G. Barnes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Like a number of moths, this moth does not feed on nectar and instead uses its reserves to mate and then dies after a 1 to 2 weeks of life as an adult.

Other Wildlife Uses

Pupa of cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) on blue background.
Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) Pupa — Megan McCarty, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The pupae of this moth can be eaten by bluejays and woodpeckers (Manley 1982). Birds also find the caterpillars attractive as a food source.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are the male and females of this moth different?

No, the males and females of this species look the same.

What other moths look like this moth?

The cecropia moth is distinctive among the moths by its size. Bouseman and Sternbrg 2002, state that the Columbia Moth is similar but it is smaller and lacks the red markings.

Interesting facts about this moth?

This is often considered to be the largest moth in North America.

References

  • Bouseman, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2002. Field guide to the silkmoths of Illinois. (Champaign, Il: Illinois Natural History Survey).
  • Manley, Thomas R. 1982. Downy Woodpeckers as Predators of Hyalophora cecropia Pupae. Journal of the Lepidopterists Society 36(1): 60-61.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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