Right now is the time of year that we begin to see what Mother Nature has been up to all year. We start to hear the first crickets and katydids chirping. The moths and butterflies are in full breeding and feeding capacity. Fledgling birds of all kinds are exploring a world without a nest.
This is the caterpillar of a Cecropia Moth, the largest moth in Minnesota. This one is almost ready to spin it’s cocoon. Caterpillars are eating machines. Their sole purpose in life is to eat as much as possible, as fast as possible, to gain enough nutrients to survive through winter and to completely rearrange their bodies into a moth.
These caterpillars might look like a big juicy meal for passing birds. To discourage this idea these caterpillars have a fairly obvious method of protection. Their bodies are covered with brightly colored, spike covered nodes. The bright colors and prickly appearance is enough to fend off most predators.
Late in summer these caterpillars spin a cocoon of silk around themselves. (Humans use this same silk to make cheesy shirts and bad ties) This silk chamber is where they will spend the next NINE MONTHS! They will spend the entire winter in a dormant state tightly locked behind a silken barrier. As the temperatures increase in spring they completely rearrange their bodies. The loose their spike and mouths. They gain wings, antenna and the reproductive drive to pass on their genes.
Adult Cecropia Moths never feed, they don’t even have mouths. All the energy they use in their short lives comes directly from the leaves they ate as caterpillars. These moths have one thing in mind, sex. The males will follow the pheremones released from the females for up to ten miles. The females will lay a couple hundred eggs. They live for a few short day in June and then die after spending the last fragments of the energy the acquired the previous summer.
This female has narrow antenna. The males antenna are much wider and they act as a receiver for those irresistible pheremones that the female pumps into the air. Butterflies do not have these feather like antenna.
Because the adult moths do not have any obvious protection from predation as they did as caterpillars they have also changed their behaviors. The adults are most active at night when ever watchful birds a sound asleep.
Moths and Butterflies do not have two wings but four. They have two wings on each side that act as a single wing. Moths typically have ‘hairy’ bodies whereas butterflies do not. Moths are typically nocturnal and butterflies diurnal. Both have wings covered in tiny scales. These scales are the ‘powder’ that is left in your hand after capturing a moth or butterfly!
Up Next: I know I promised Parasitic Wasps but I am still identifying the exact type of wasp! Until then I have some more caterpillars and other insects lined up!