Antheraea polyphemus

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Geographic Range

Polyphemus moths, Antheraea polyphemus, can be found in all of the continental United States except Arizona and Nevada and in every Canadian province except Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. ("Polyphemus Moth", 2005; "Polyphemus Moth", 2005)

Habitat

Polyphemus moths inhabit deciduous hardwood forests, urban areas, orchards, and wetlands. ("Polyphemus Moth", 2005; "Polyphemus", 2007)

Physical Description

Polythemus moths, as caterpillars, are bright green with a reddish brown head. They have 6 orange tubercles and bristles on each segment of their body. Each abdomen segment has a slanted yellow line that is purple-brown in color. Caterpillars can grow to about 7 cm in length.

As adults, members of this species are large moths. Polythemus moths have a hairy body, and adults can vary from red-brown to dark brown in color. Each hind wing has a large yellow “eyespot” lined with blue and black. The center of this eyespot is uniquely transparent. The front wings have a smaller yellow spot. The margin of both the front and hind wings has a black and white stripe. Wingspan ranges from 10 to 15 cm. Whereas adult males have bushy antennae for detecting pheromones, females have slender antennae.

Polyphemus moth caterpillars greatly resemble caterpillars of luna moths. While polyphemus moths have single horizontal lines along each side of the body, luna moths have vertical yellow lines on each segment. ("Polyphemus Moth", 2005; Hyche, 2000; "Polyphemus Moth", 2005; Hyche, 2000; "Luna, Io, Imperial, Cecropia, Polyphemus Moths", 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    caterpillar 7 (high) cm
    in
  • Range wingspan
    10 to 15 cm
    3.94 to 5.91 in

Development

After about 10 days, tiny polyphemus moth caterpillars hatch from eggs. Larvae (caterpillars) molt 5 times and grow to their full size in 5 to 6 weeks. When caterpillars are fully grown, they wrap themselves in a leaf and build a cocoon out of silk. Cocoons are oval in shape, 40 mm in length and 22 to 24 mm in diameter. While in a cocoon, a caterpillar develops into a pupa and then emerges as an adult moth in about 2 weeks. Polyphemus moths can also overwinter in their cocoons, which increases time as pupae. (Hyche, 2000; Mackinnon, 2007; Vaughn, 2006)

Reproduction

Popyphemus moths mate the same day that they emerge from their cocoons, and mating usually occurs during late afternoon. Females emit pheromones, which can be detected up to a mile away, to attract mates. Mating of saturniids can last from less than an hour to many hours. Females lay their eggs shortly after mating. If unsuccessful in recruiting a male after 2 or 3 days, females stop calling and release their unfertilized eggs. ("Polyphemus Moth", 2005; Day, 2007; Hyche, 2000; "Polyphemus", 2007)

Female polyphemus moths begin to emerge and mate during early spring. Females lay up to 5 eggs singly or in groups of 2 or 3 on the underside of tree leaves. Eggs are flat and round, cream to light tan in color on top with a brown outline, and are about 1.25 mm thick and 3 mm in diameter. In most regions, 2 broods of polyphemus moths hatch per year; one hatches in early spring and the other in late summer. However, in the northernmost part of their range, only one brood hatches per year. In the southern part of their range, many broods may hatch each year. (Day, 2007; Day, 2007; "Polyphemus", 2007; "Luna, Io, Imperial, Cecropia, Polyphemus Moths", 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Polyphemus moths breed once in their lifetime.
  • Breeding season
    Polyphemus moths breed in early spring or summer.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 5

Female polyphemus moths usually lay their eggs on leaves that are a good food source for the caterpillars. They are not otherwise involved in the rearing of their offspring. ("Polyphemus Moth", 2005)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

Lifespan/Longevity

As adults (moths), polyphemus moths live a maximum of only 4 days. Their entire life cycle averages about 3 months in length. This includes about 10 days as eggs, 5 to 6 weeks as larvae, 2 weeks as pupa, and about 4 days as adults. If they overwinter as pupa, this life cycle increases in length. (Vaughn, 2006)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 months
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    3 months

Behavior

Adult polyphemus moths are nocturnal. Adult males can only fly at temperatures above 7˚C. Larvae are solitary and, in captivity, crowding of Saturniids leads to decreased growth and increase likelihood of disease transmittance. (Mackinnon, 2007; Oehlke, 2005; Tuskes, et al., 1996)

Home Range

Little information is available regarding the home range of polyphemus moths.

Communication and Perception

When ready to mate, female polyphemus moths emit pheromones that attract males. Males use their sense of smell and touch to find females. Although larvae (caterpillars) have eyes, they are small and primitive, resulting in poor vision. (Cook, 2004; Day, 2007; Hyche, 2000; Oehlke, 2005)

Food Habits

Caterpillars feed on leaves of broad-leaved trees and shrubs such as sweetgum (Liquidambar), birch (Betula), grape (Vitis), hickory (Carya), maple (Acer), oak (Quercus), willow (Salix), and members of the rose family (Rosaceae). Larvae also eat their egg shells after hatching and their freshly molted skin. A caterpillar eats 86,000 times its body weight. Adult moths have a reduced mouth and do not eat. ("Polyphemus Moth", 2005; Day, 2007)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves

Predation

Polyphemus moth caterpillars are preyed upon by yellowjackets and ants. They are also parasitized by wasps. Larvae and pupae are consumed by raccoons and squirrels. The green coloration of caterpillars makes them difficult to spot. Adults also practice mimicry; they have eyespots on their hind wings. (Cook, 2004; Day, 2007; Hyche, 2000; Cook, 2004; Day, 2007; Hyche, 2000)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Polyphemus moths act as prey for certain insects, raccoons, and squirrels. They are also parasitized by some wasps. Because they consume a large quantity of leaves, they may also considerably contribute to nutrient cycling. (Day, 2007; Hyche, 2000)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known direct positive effects of polyphemus moths on humans, though many are hand-raised by curious individuals. (Tuskes, et al., 1996; Day, 2007; Tuskes, et al., 1996)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Polyphemus moth caterpillars are occasionally considered pests to plum orchards in California. ("Polyphemus Moth", 2005)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Polyphemus moths have not been evaluated or are not considered threatened by the IUCN, US Fish and Wildlife Service or CITES.

Other Comments

Polyphemus moths are so named for the large eyespots on their wings. They are named after the Greek myth of the Cyclops, Polyphemus. ("Polyphemus Moth", 2005; Cook, 2004; Tuskes, et al., 1996)

Contributors

Rutika Kalola (author), Rutgers University, Stevie Steffey (author), Rutgers University, David V. Howe (editor), Rutgers University.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

bog

a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

estuarine

an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Texas AgriLife Extension. 1999. "Luna, Io, Imperial, Cecropia, Polyphemus Moths" (On-line). Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System. Accessed November 09, 2007 at http://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/cimg296.html.

Big Sky Institute at Montana State University. 2005. "Polyphemus Moth" (On-line). Butterfiles and Moths of North America. Accessed November 07, 2007 at http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species?l=3290.

Reiman Gardens. 2007. "Polyphemus" (On-line). Reiman Gardens, Iowa State University. Accessed November 09, 2007 at http://www.reimangardens.iastate.edu/documents/filelibrary/images/oct_30_2006/idcardoct302006.pdf.

Cook, M. 2004. "Polyphemus Silkmoth- Antheraea Polyphemus" (On-line). wormspit.com. Accessed November 07, 2007 at http://www.wormspit.com/polyphemus.htm.

Day, L. 2007. "How to Rear Saturniid Moths" (On-line). Accessed November 09, 2007 at http://butterflywebsite.com/articles/lizday/moth.html.

Hyche, L. 2000. "Polyphemus Moth" (On-line). Accessed November 09, 2007 at http://www.ag.auburn.edu/enpl/bulletins/polyphemus/polyphemus.htm.

Mackinnon, D. 2007. "Polyphems Moth" (On-line). Accessed November 07, 2007 at http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/polyphemus_moth.htm.

Oehlke, B. 2005. "The Polyphemus Moth" (On-line). Accessed November 07, 2007 at http://www3.islandtelecom.com/~oehlkew/zpolmoth.htm.

Tuskes, P., J. Tuttle, M. Collins. 1996. The Wild Silk Moths of North America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Vaughn, C. 2006. "Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)" (On-line). Accessed April 14, 2011 at http://butterflies.aa6g.org/Butterflies/Raised/polyphemus.html.