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Honey Locust Moth (Syssphinx bicolor), a Comprehensive Guide in 8 Sections

Introduction to the Honey Locust Moth

The Honey Locust Moth is found from the mid-western to eastern United States and generally anywhere there is honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) or Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus), which are its hosts. This moth has three broods from roughly April to September. The life of the adult moths is short and the adults do not eat.

Taxonomy and Naming of the Honey Locust Moth (Syssphinx bicolor)

Honey locust moth on beige background.
Honey Locust Moth (Syssphinx bicolor) — Meganmccarty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Taxonomy

The Honey Locust moth was named and described by Thaddeus William Harris, an American entomologist in 1841. This moth is a member of the family Saturniidae, which is composed of the giant silkworm and royal moths. These moths are considered the among the largest moths in North America (Butterflies and Moths of North America). An example would be the Luna Moth or Cecropia Moth.

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Syssphinx, is possibly a Greek word but the meaning is unknown. The species name, bicolor, is Latin for the two colors of the moth.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name refers to the host plant of this moth. Other common names are bisected honey locust moth.

Physical Description

Honey locust moth on beige background.
Honey Locust Moth (Syssphinx bicolor) — Meganmccarty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Color: Orange to yellow tan to dark gray in color with variation based on when the moth emerges. Moths in the summer tend to be lighter in color than those in the early spring. The tops of the wings can have two white dots or they may not be present. The upper hind wings are often pink.
  • Wingspan: 1.5 to 3 inches
  • Active Flying Time: Spring to late summer.

Lifecycle of this Moth

Green Caterpillar of Honey Locust Moth.
Caterpillar of Honey Locust Moth — Megan McCarty, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Black Chrysalis of Honey Locust Moth.
Chrysalis of Honey Locust Moth — Megan McCarty, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Life Stages

  • Eggs: The eggs are laid on leaves of the host plants about a day after mating. The eggs then hatch about 5 days to a week afterward.
  • Larvae (Caterpillar): The caterpillars are green and have white tubercles (see image to left) and are about 2 inches in length. The area behind the head has two pairs of red horns. A prominent stripe runs down the medial section of the body. Once hatched, they eat leaves of the host plant and pupate to adults in about 6 weeks — about 4 weeks to cocoon and 2 weeks to adult (Project Noah – Honey Locust Moth). However, they can go to cocoon in about three weeks Bouseman and Sternburg 2002).
  • Chrysalis: Black colored and pupation is in the soil
  • Adult: The lifespan of adults is very short and they do not eat.

Habitat

Sandy woodland habitat in Delaware.
Woodland Habitat — Robert Coxe, Image

This moth is found in woodlands with honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) or Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) present.

Range of the Honey Locust Moth in the United States and Canada

Range Map of Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) in the United States and Canada.

This moth ranges throughout North America except for the northwestern areas.

Host and Nectar Plants

Pods of honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos).
Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) with seed pod — Wouter Hagens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The caterpillar of this moth feeds mostly on honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), but will also occasionally feed on Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) (Project Noah).

The adult does not feed on nectar due the reduced mouth parts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any differences between the male and female?

The female is much bigger than the male. The male also has less rounded wings (Bousemann and Sternburg 2002).

Where can I get more information on this moth?

References

  • Bousemann, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2002. Field Guide to the Silkmoths of Illinois. (Champaign, IL: Illinois Natural Heritage Survey), Manual 10.
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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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