Happy Friday to all of you. So far we’re having a pretty good Autumn. For those of us with an interest in insects, Autumn is the saddest time of year. That’s because in our northern climate, the insects all disappear for 6 months. Some migrate South like the Monarch butterflies, some hibernate either as adults, caterpillars or as pupae (cocoons or chrysalids), and some just overwinter as eggs, waiting for the warmer months next year.
As adaptable as insects are, many do not survive the winter. Sometimes the weather is too harsh, or sometimes winter feeding predators find where they are hidden. There is one survival strategy that seems to work quite well…overwintering underground!!! That brings us to the subject of this week’s Friday flyers---the Imperial Moth. The Imperial Moth is a member of the Saturniid family of moths, and it is the largest North American moth that pupates and hibernates underground!!! It’s also one of our favorites because it is big and beautiful and is common in our area. Imperial moths are a beautiful yellow color with rosy-red markings, with the males having more of the rosy color than the females. Imperial Moths usually have wingspans of 4 to 6 inches, and antennae that look like feathers tapering to a thread at the end. Like most moths, they are night flyers. So the only time you usually see them is if they are attracted to a light, land nearby, and then go to sleep for the night instead of hiding normally. The Latin scientific name of the Imperial Moth is
Eacles imperialis. Imperial moths are found from southern Canada to Argentina, with different forms having evolved as they move further south. There are several species of closely related Eacles moths in the tropics of the Western Hemisphere, which can be confusing during identification. But in our area we only have Imperial Moths.
So what makes Imperial Moths one of our favorites? Well, aside from the size and color of the adults, the caterpillars are fantastic!!! They go through five distinct color stages during their development, which takes about 2 months from the egg hatching to the making of its pupa underground. The fully grown caterpillars can be either green, orangy-red, or black, they have wiry hairs covering their bodies, and they have semi-hard fleshy horns on the front and the back. When disturbed the caterpillars rear-up and swing their raised bodies from side to side in a very menacing behavior. They really can’t hurt anyone, but the behavior is fascinating. Also, they grow to a larger size than almost any other species in our area, sometimes reaching a length of almost 5 inches!!! The caterpillars feed on a wide variety of trees in our area including Pine, Maple, Cherry, and Oak. We have raised these caterpillars on Maple or Oak. The full size caterpillars will easily eat 4 to 6 large sized leaves in a day, so unless you have a forest full of trees in your yard, you can’t raise too many at once. When the caterpillars are full size, they crawl down from their trees, burrow a few inches into the ground, shed their beautiful caterpillar skin, and turn into a drab rough-textured black pupa. Then they wait until Winter comes and goes, and when the ground warms up enough from the Summer sun, they crawl out of their burrows and become the once again beautiful adult.
Like all Saturniid Moths, Imperial Moths, do not feed as adults. They don’t even have any mouth parts to feed with!!! So to compensate for this evolutionary disadvantage, somehow the adults are adapted to all emerge at the same time, usually within the same week in any given location. After they emerge, the adults have only about a week to find a mate and for the females to lay all their eggs. That’s the full adult lifespan!!! These are truly amazing moths!!! So don’t get too depressed by the approaching Winter, because these Imperial Moths are hibernating and developing right now, just waiting for the right time to emerge and show off their colors!!!
Because Imperial Moths are among our favorites, we always have some in our Wonders Of Nature department. The combination of the muted yellow and rose colors is simply beautiful! Right now we have several in stock. Pictured are an 8 x 8” wood frame with a pair of Imperial Moths for only $75, and a black Riker frame for just $20!! You owe it to yourself to come in and visit us soon to see these remarkable moths, and all of the other treasures in our Wonders Of Nature department. And please be sure to check out the newly added pictures in our Friday Flyers album, where we have pictures of all stages of this amazing moth – and some truly incredible caterpillars shots!!
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We took this incredible picture while we were raising Imperial Moths one year. It shows the eggs, with the caterpillars visible inside, and a freshly emerged caterpillar eating its egg shell! Most caterpillars of moths and butterflies will eat their egg shells for their first meal!
Another picture we took of one of our Imperial Moth caterpillars eating his egg shell. He was barely 5 minutes old! You can see the tiny chew marks in the shell.
An Imperial Moth caterpillar at rest. We raised him from an egg!
A full-grown Imperial Moth caterpillar that we raised. He measured around 5"!
One of the most colorful forms of the Imperial Moth caterpillar!
Two color forms of Imperial Moth caterpillars that we raised
A great shot of one of our Imperial Moth caterpillars shedding its skin. Within a short time after shedding, the "new" caterpillar expands to fill his new skin, and then eats and eats and eats to fill it even more! These caterpillars shed five times until they become a pupa.
A female Imperial Moth that we raised, freshly emerged from its pupa.
A male Imperial Moth that we raised. These typically hatch out in August in our area.
A male Imperial Moth, set in a Riker Mount frame, from our Wonders of Nature department. We are selling this frame for just $20!
A stunning pair of Imperial moths. This large frame is only $75!