Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) – Luminous beauty

Polyphemus moth caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus) in New Jersey Pinelands. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Polyphemus moth caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus) in New Jersey Pinelands. Photo by Donna L. Long.

 

These photos of a Polyphemus Moth, fat and eating steadily, reminds us  our the natural world moves with its’ own rhythm. Getting ready for fall, the caterpillar eats until must pupate one last time. This larva seems to be in its last instar or growth stage before wrapping itself into a cocoon. See also Insects in Winter.

Polyphemus Moth Prepares for Winter’s Cold

It will probably spend the winter as a cocoon in the leaf litter beneath the Blackjack Oak it was eating. Next year it will emerge as a beautiful night-flying Polyphemus Moth.

I was in the Pinelands (Pine Barrens) last Saturday. I took a nature photography workshop and the Whitesbog area was our project place.

Polyphemus moth caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus) in New Jersey Pinelands. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Polyphemus moth caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus) in New Jersey Pinelands. Photo by Donna L. Long.

We spotted this fluorescent green caterpillar hanging upside down from a Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica) tree.

The photo is good but it doesn’t do the caterpillar justice. It was luminous. The sunlight backlight the caterpillar as it ate the leaves of the Blackjack Oak.  It is about five inches long and thick,

Polyphemus_Moth_(Antheraea_polyphemus)
Polyphemus_Moth_(Antheraea_polyphemus). Photo by By The High Fin Sperm Whale, Wikimedia

Identifying the Polyphemus Moth

After we spent several rapturous minutes madly shooting photos, we decided it was a Luna moth larva. But we were wrong. One of our group, an entomologist,  had the book Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner, in his car trunk.

We debated and decided that the yellow lines that pass through the spiracles, confirmed that this is Polyphemus Moth. Spiracles are the pores on the side of the caterpillars body, that the animal breathes through.

Whitesbog in Brown’s Mill, NJ.  It is located in the 1.1 million aces of Pinelands National Reserve. The Pinelands is commonly called the Pine Barrens. The Pine Barrens is located on the Atlantic Coastal Plain and habitat is known as a Pine-Oak Forest. To learn more about the Pinelands, visit the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.

 

Polyphemus Moth Life Facts

Polyphemus Moth lives across North America except for Arizona and Nevada

Habitats: barrens, woodlands and forests.

Host plants : apple, ash, birch dogwood, elm, hazel, hickory, oak, rose, and willow. Especially favors birch, rose, and willow family plants.

Polyphemus_Moth_(Antheraea_polyphemus).By The High Fin Sperm Whale, Wikimedia
Polyphemus_Moth_(Antheraea_polyphemus).By The High Fin Sperm Whale, Wikimedia

Natural history information was obtained from, Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner. (Amazon affiliate link) This book has 512 pages of butterfly and moth caterpillar photos and information.

 

See also: Moths of Philadelphia: A Checklist 

Butterflies and Moths Information 

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth and Its Life Cycle 

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