For kids: Look at that moth!
Meet a man who raises cecropia moths, one of the largest species in North America.
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Cecropias are one of the largest North American moths, based on wingspan and weight. "They're pretty widely distributed in North America from the East to the Rocky Mountains, says M. Deane Bowers, an entomologist and biology professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The moths are less commonly found in Florida, Texas, and west of the Rockies. They also live in Canada.Skip to next paragraph
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"Many of the kids (and adults) don't realize we have such showy moths out there," says Ric Bessin, an entomologist and extension professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. That's because the cecropia is mostly seen at night and only lives for one or two weeks.
"I consider it to be a common moth that we seldom see," Dr. Bessin says.
In spring or early summer, cecropia moths lay tiny, bead-shaped eggs – as many as 300 – on tree leaves or bushes. Larvae, or caterpillars, hatch two weeks later from four or five surviving eggs and immediately feed on those leaves. The caterpillars sport a different set of colors in each of the five growth stages, or instars, that they go through before they're ready to spin their cocoons.
In the meantime, they fatten up on the leaves of apple, maple, and other trees. Despite big appetites, the caterpillars aren't considered pests and pose no threat to orchards and wooded areas, Dr. Bessin says.
Fully grown caterpillars can be up to five inches long and are about as thick as the index finger of an average grown-up. Usually by late summer, they have spun the cocoons where they will remain until the next spring. When the moths emerge, they'll start the process all over again.
Mr. Good loves to speak about cecropia moths. In fact, as part of his work, he visits schools to tell kids all about the beautiful insect and its life cycle.
"Its body reminds me of a tarantula; the legs are kind of like a tarantula.... The legs and body are basically fire engine red.... If you shine a light on their eyes, they're this beautiful fluorescent pink," he says.
"The antennae, how bushy they are. It's kind of like an old man's eyebrows," he says with a laugh. "If this doesn't get somebody interested, they don't like nature."
Clearly, Mr. Good loves nature. And so do the kids he talks to at schools. They ask lots of questions. "Time flies with 20 children in a classroom," he says. "You can go through two or three hours in no time."
What is metamorphosis?
This is the moth's four-stage life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. It starts in the spring and lasts one year, until the next spring.
What is the difference between male and female cecropias?
The male has fuzzier antennae, which he uses to pick up the scent, or pheromone, released by the female as a part of the mating process.
"The females are typically bigger than the males as adults, because they're all filled up with eggs," says M. Deane Bowers of the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Where can I find a cecropia cocoon?
Try looking in a tree, three to four feet off the ground or higher. The cocoon, which is usually a brownish color, is built around a stick and nestled among the stems of small branches. If you don't see one up high, look on fences, old boards, rocks, or even houses or barns.
What are some differences between moths and butterflies?
Butterflies tend to be more colorful than moths, and moths are usually night fliers, but there are exceptions in both cases.
"In general, butterflies have either knobbed antennae or a little hook to their antennae," says Ric Bessin of the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "Moths have threadlike, featherlike antennae."
Where can I learn more about cecropias?