Polyphemus Moth

Anthera polyphemus

Dan Mackinnon

The Polyphemus Moth is one of our biggest moths, growing up to a 5 1/2 inch wingspan. It has brownish-yellow wings with a black and white, wavy line on each. It has a small, mostly yellow eyespot on each forewing (front wings), and larger blue, black, and yellow eyespots on the hindwings. Underneath, the moths' wings look like dead leaves.

Polyphemus Moths are usually found in forests, but can also be seen in marshes and parks.

Copyright 2001, Terry Carr

Lacy L. Hyche, Auburn University

Polyphemus moths leave their cocoons in the afternoon in early May. Neither the male or female adult moths eat; in fact, they don't even have mouthparts!

As soon as she has fully emerged and rested (later that night), the female begins releasing a type of scent called "pheromones." Male moths detect the scent from far away and come to mate with her.

David Wilbur

Lacy L. Hyche, Auburn University

The Provincial Museum of Alberta

After mating, the female lays 3 to 5 eggs on the underside of a leaf.

When caterpillars hatch from their eggs, they first eat their own eggshells, then start working on leaves. Eggs are always laid on the right kinds of leaves, so caterpillars don't have to look for food.

Caterpillars are bright green with yellow stripes and red and silver spots. They also have a brown "v" on their rears. They grow up to 3 1/2 inches long.

Copyright, Bob Jensen

Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service

Host plants of Polyphemus caterpillars include many trees and shrubs, such as: oaks, maples, pines, birches, American Hornbeam, hawthorns, American Beech, ash, Witch Hazel, Black Walnut, Yellow Poplar, Black Cherry, Quaking Aspen, Elderberry, alders, Sassafras, blueberries, grapes, willows, hickories, elms, chestnuts, and American Sycamore.

Caterpillars are vulnerable to predators, including birds, small mammals, and predatory insects. There is also a type of wasp which is a parasite of caterpillars. The wasp injects eggs into the caterpillar. Then the wasp larvae hatch and feed on the caterpillar's body. When they are ready, each wasp forms a cocoon on the outside of the caterpillar.

Caterpillars munch on leaves, gettig bigger and bigger. They eat an entire leaf, then cut the petiole. This keeps smart predators, like birds, from seeing where they feed.

 

As they grow, caterpillars molt. They molt four times before they are fully grown.

When the caterpillar is ready, it wraps itself in a leaf and builds a cocoon with silk from its mouth. Some caterpillars crawl down the tree and make a cocoon in grasses.

Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, Jacalyn Loyd Goetz

Lacy L. Hyche, Auburn University

The cocoon hardens and turns brown. Inside the cocoon, the caterpillar will turn into a pupa (resting stage). If it is early Summer, the pupa will change into an adult moth and mate. If it is late Summer or early Fall, the pupa will overwinter and emerge the following May.

Some cocoons stay stuck to a tree branch all Winter. Others fall to the ground when the leaves fall.

Interesting Facts:

You can tell a male adult moth from a female by its antennae. The male has large, feathery antennae which help it detect the female's scent (pheromones).

Polyphemus Moths use mimicry to defend themselves. Besides looking like dead leaves or bark when their wings are folded, these moths will open their wings suddenly, revealing the large eyespots. These eyespots mimic an owl's eyes, and can surprise a predator, such as a squirrel or bird.

 

These moths are nocturnal, only flying at night. By day, they use their camouflage to hide from predators. Predators of adults include small mammals, such as mice, squirrels, and bats, as well as birds. Caterpillars also do most of their eating by night.

The picture to the right shows a Green Lacewing nymph preying on a very young Polyphemus caterpillar.

Lacy L. Hyche, Auburn University

Copyright, Mike & Cindy Ederegger/M&C Photography

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #1 (Early Stages)
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #2 (Close Up)
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #3 (Turning Around Inside Coccoon)
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Bulding a Coccoon #4 (Working On Bottom)
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #5 (Working On Top)
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #6 (Demonstrating Figure Eight Weaving Pattern)
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #7
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #8
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #9
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #10
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #11
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Caterpillar Building a Coccoon #12
Video
Mark Moran
Polyphemus Moth's Head Under a Microscope
Link to Image
Uglybug.org
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:

FOOD
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Black Oak

Barred Owl

Black Oak

Barred Owl Mi

American Sycamore

Big Brown Bat

Mockernut Hickory

Green Hawthorn

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Green Hawthorn

Silver Maple

American Crow

Red Maple

Sassafras

Green Lacewing

Willow Oak

Willow Oak

Fiery Searcher

Witch Hazel

Virginia Pine

Pennsylvania Firefly

Virginia Pine

Wild Grape

White-footed Mouse

Sassafras

Highbush Blueberry

Great Crested Flycatcher

Silver Maple

American Hornbeam

Least Shrew

Common Elderberry

Mockernut Hickory

American Robin

American Sycamore

American Elm

American Toad

Kentucky Bluegrass

Yellow Poplar

Raccoon

Smooth Crabgrass

Witch Hazel

White-breasted Nuthatch

Switchgrass

American Beech

Striped Skunk

Virginia Creeper

Black Cherry

Southern Leopard Frog

Poison Ivy

Common Elderberry

Black Willow

Relationship to Humans:

Although Polyphemus caterpillars eat a lot, there are usually only a few on a tree, so they don't do much damage. Adult moths are often attracted by lights at night, and may show up on your window screen or doorstep. These beautiful moths are always a treat to see, especially since they are not seen as often as their butterfly cousins.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Arthropod
CLASS
Insect
ORDER
Lepidoptera
FAMILY
Saturniidae
GENUS
Antheraea
SPECIES
Antheraea polyphemus

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