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Tuliptree Silk Moth (Callosamia angulifera), a Comprehensive Guide in 7 Sections

Introduction to the Tuliptree Silk Moth

The range of the Tuliptree Silk Moth is centered on the eastern United States and as the name suggests, uses tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) as a host. This moth has 1 (north) -2 (south) broods from roughly March to August. The life of the adult moth is short and they do not eat.

Taxonomy and Naming of the Tuliptree Silk Moth (Callosamia angulifera)

Tuliptree Silk Moth on bark.
Tuliptree Silk Moth — Dr.Thomas G. Barnes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Taxonomy

The Tuliptree silkmoth was named and described by Francis Walker, an English entomologist, in 1855. The moth is a member of the Royal Moths (Saturniidae) and is in the subfamily Saturniinae.

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Callosamia, comes from the Latin, Callo, and the Greek, Samia (freshwater nymph). The two are combined to form the genus name. The species name, angulifera, is a combination of the Greek word, angul and the Latin, ifera, meaning angle-bearing (Indiana Nature).

Common Name

The common name comes from the host plant of this moth, the tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

Physical Description of the Tuliptree Silk Moth (Callosamia angulifera)

Tuliptree silk moth (Callosamia angulifera) with wings folded.
Tuliptree Silk Moth — Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Color: The gender of the moth determines the color. The males are different shades of brown on the upperside and the females are yellowish-brown to orange-brown. White spots are present on the uppersides of the wings and a black spot is present on the forewing.
  • Wingspan: 3 to 4.5 inches
  • Active Flying Time: This moth has a varying number of flights, one in the north and two in south. The generally begin in March or April and go to August.
  • Alternate Names: Giant Silkmoth and Tulip Tree Silkmoth

Lifecycle of this Butterfly

Tuliptree silk moth (Callosamia angulifera) caterpillar on leaf.
Green Caterpillar of Tuliptree Silk Moth — Michael Hodge, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Life Stages

  • Eggs: The eggs of this moth are laid on the leaves of the host tree in rows, the next night after mating (Insects of Iowa). The eggs take about one week to hatch.
  • Larvae (Caterpillar): The caterpillars are the same color as the leaves of the host plant to enable camouflage. Four red “spurs” are present on the head.
  • Cocoon: The is wrapped in a leaf of the host plant. Once it is developed it falls to the ground. If is towards the end of the year, they will overwinter and emerge in the spring.
  • Adult: Like a number of moths, they do not eat. Their lifespan is about 7 to 10 days.

Habitat

Mid-Atlantic Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest
Mixed Hardwood Forest Habitat — Robert Coxe, Image

This moth is found with the host plant, tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), in mixed deciduous forests and in floodplains. These moths are often found, particularly, in those forests with rich soils (Moths of North Carolina).

Range of Tuliptree Silk Moth (Callosamia angulifera) in the United States and Canada

Range map of tuliptree silk moth (Callosamia angulifera) in the United States and Canada.

This moth is found generally from the mid-west and east in the United States and the province of Ontario in Canada. It is apparently most common from Georgia and Pennsylvania (Piegler 1976).

Host Plants

Close-up of white flowers of wild black cherry (Prunus serotina).
Flowers of Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) — Image, Robert Coxe

This larvae or caterpillars of this moth feed on wild black cherry (Prunus serotina), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and as the name would suggest, tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Some researchers (Piegler 1976) and (Bouseman and Sternberg 2002) have noted that the larvae of this moth feed exclusively on tuliptree, while others authorities list more host plants (Indiana Nature). Piegler also showed that while this moth could exist on other plants in later stages of the larva, it could not survive as well in the earlier stages.

Nectar Plants

Tuliptree silk moth (Callosamia angulifera) mounted on styrofoam.
Mounted Tuliptree Silk Moth — Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The adult of this moth does not eat due to the reduced mouth parts. As such is does not have a need for nectar.

Are the sexes different in this species?

Yes, the male of this male is generally darker than the female (indiananature.net). Both sexes have white spots on all of the wings, but those of the female are larger on the forewings. Both sexes have darker coloration in the summer form.

References

  • Bouseman, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2002. Field Guide to the Silkmoths of Illinois. Champaign, Il: Illinois Natural History Survey, Manual 10.
  • Piegler, Richard S. 1976. Observations on Host Plant Relationships and Larval Nutrition in Callosamia (Saturniidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists Society 30 (3): 184-187.
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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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