Meeting Mothra

Let me be frank: I knew absolutely nothing about the giant moth I met today. I really dislike bugs and strive for a mutual-avoidance policy. Yes; that’s pretty closed-minded of me. However, I got to be a part of something immensely hopeful and rather special, so I’ll share this with you to spark your interest. It certainly sparked mine and I slipped down the rabbit-hole of internet research to learn more.

The two co-chairs of the Altona Forest Stewardship Committee are much more bug-oriented and monitored the cocoons they received at a entomological presentation over a period of weeks and released two cecropia moths into (we hope!) Altona Forest. They are native species to our area – the largest moths in Ontario. Part of the giant silk moth family, their silk is stronger than the silk commonly used for fabrics. They are spectacular creatures.

These moths are beautiful – with velvet wingspans of about 11-15 cms. The bottom wings move independently of the top like sliding doors as they open and move. Each wing has a partial ‘eye’ with the top wings having a full black eye at the tips. The bands of creamy white occur near the base, at 2/3, and the edges of the wings. They have striking russet-red and white banded bodies with red legs.

The first to emerge from chrysalis and gain strength was a female (we believe) who was released on May 21. She emerged from her container and … perfect for the non bug-lover… immediately flew onto my back and climbed almost to my hair. She sat there posing for many photos against my black t-shirt. She then flew to a cedar at the edge of Altona Forest and nestled herself into the tree’s cover. We watched her for about an hour as a speck against the tree.

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On June 2, the second (who we hope is a male) was released in the same location. He was more hesitant and enjoyed the branches of an apple tree before heading (the wrong way) over a rooftop and hopefully to the protective cover of a nearby tree.

Cecropia are night-flyers and the two released will hopefully have found shelter during the bird-feeding daylight hours. While hidden, hopefully the male will pick up the scent of the female with his large fern-like antenna, and find her to create a new generation in Altona Forest or our neighbourhood. The forest has many larval host trees – birch, ash, dogwood, sugar maple and apple.

These moths have a limited life span in this life-stage; only a couple of weeks. Their emergence from the cocoon stage is temperature or weather dependent: this ensures that they all emerge at the same time to allow for a viable breeding window. Since these specimens were partially raised indoors in two different homes (and slightly different methodologies) after their obligatory cold-weather stage, their emergence was not synchronized. We hope they find partners!

Their primary focus once they emerge is to survive to breed. The females constantly move their wings to release pheromones that the males are able to pick up even a couple of kilometers away! They are easily seen and offer a large delicious meal for many birds or other predators – so their short time as moths is precarious.

Since cecropia moths are nocturnal and only in flight for a few weeks (late May to early July each year), sightings are rare. Have you been lucky enough to see this moth in Altona Forest or the near-by area?

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Many thanks to John and Larry for inviting me to the ‘release party’ – more photos

Post Script: Just days after meeting the giant moth above, I met a second member of the giant silk moth family with a 6″ wing span on an Altona Forest south trail. These are 2 of 4 local giant silk moths – this one is called polyphemus.

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Resources ~ Begin Your Reading Here

Cecropia Moths – wiki

Cecropia Life Cycle

Photo-story of Life Cycle

Attributes and Range

Giant Silk Moths – The 4 Types

Butterfly and Moth Guide – Ontario

Meeting Mothra ~ © 2016 Natasha G

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