Raising Cecropia Moths: All You Need to Know for Success

The cecropia moth, Hyalophora cecropia, is North America’s largest native moth, boasting an impressive wingspan of over 6.2 inches. Raising these fascinating creatures can be an enjoyable and educational hobby, providing a unique opportunity to observe their captivating life cycle.

Before embarking on the journey of raising cecropia moths, it’s important to understand their basic needs. Eggs are typically laid on host plants, such as oaks, cherry, beech, apple, and button bush, with tiny black caterpillars hatching in about two weeks. As the caterpillars grow, they require a steady supply of their host plant’s leaves for sustenance. Providing a proper environment and understanding their life cycle is essential for successfully raising these large, vibrant moths.

Understanding Cecropia Moths

Origin and Habitat

The Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) is native to North America and can be found in a range of habitats from the Rocky Mountains to the maritime provinces of Canada.

Physical Characteristics

Cecropia moths are among the largest and most impressive moths in North America. They have:

  • A wingspan of 5 to 7 inches
  • Dark brown color with white crescent-shaped spots
  • Black oval-shaped spots on the tips of their forewings

Life Cycle

The life cycle of the Cecropia Moth is fairly simple:

  1. Eggs: Female moths lay around 100 eggs on host plants such as oaks, cherry, beech, apple, and button bush in June or July. Eggs hatch in about 2 weeks.
  2. Caterpillars: The tiny, hungry black caterpillars feed on host plants, growing quickly and shedding their skin multiple times.
  3. Cocoons: The caterpillars spin tough, brown silk cocoons that attach to twigs of the trees they were feeding on. They overwinter as pupae in these cocoons.
  4. Adult moths: The adult moths emerge in late spring or early summer, with the sole purpose of mating and laying eggs.

Example: Size Comparison

Species Wingspan
Cecropia Moth 5 to 7 inches
Smaller moth 1 to 2 inches

Characteristics of Cecropia Moths

  • Native to North America
  • Largest moth in North America
  • Dark brown with distinctive white and black spots
  • Wingspans reaching over 6 inches

Caring for Caterpillars

Finding Caterpillar Host Plants

To raise healthy cecropia moth caterpillars, it’s essential to provide them with suitable host plants as a food source. Some common examples of host plants for cecropia moth caterpillar include:

  • Wild cherry
  • Plum
  • Elm
  • Poplar
  • Box elder

Make sure to select a combination of trees and shrubs to provide ample caterpillar food.

Feeding and Diet

Cecropia moth caterpillars prefer to feed on specific host plants, as mentioned above. Ensure you provide an adequate amount of these plants daily or when the leaves start to wilt. It’s crucial to keep their food supply fresh for their optimal growth.

Housing and Containers

It’s essential to provide the caterpillars with an appropriate size container to allow them to grow and develop comfortably. Consider using containers that are:

  • Well-ventilated
  • Easy to clean
  • Spacious enough to accommodate the growing caterpillar

As the cecropia moth caterpillar reaches about four inches long and nearly 3/4 inch in diameter, it will need a larger container to accommodate its size and enable proper growth without restrictions. Remember to regularly clean the container to maintain a healthy environment for the caterpillar.

Raising Cecropia Moths

Stages of Development

Cecropia moths undergo four main life stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult. The eggs hatch in about 2 weeks, and the caterpillars grow over summer. They overwinter as pupae in cocoons attached to tree twigs on which they feed.

Mating and Egg Laying

Adult cecropia moths have one primary purpose: to mate and lay eggs. It usually happens in June or July in the Northeast. The female moth lays around 100 eggs, distributing them in groups of 2 to 6 on both sides of leaves on host plants like oaks, cherry, beech, apple, and button bush.

Dealing with Predators and Pests

Cecropia moth caterpillars may face various predators and pests such as spiders and other insects. Keep an eye out for signs of damage to the caterpillars or their host plants. Here are some methods to control common predators and pests:

  • Regularly inspect the host plants and remove any pests you find.
  • Encourage natural predators like birds and beneficial insects to inhabit your garden.
  • Use insecticides as a last resort, but make sure they are compatible with the moth’s life cycle.

Pros and cons of raising cecropia moths:

  • Pros:
    • Educational and interesting to observe their development.
    • They are North America’s largest native moth, making them a unique species to raise.
    • Contribute to local ecosystems, as they serve as food for birds and other animals.
  • Cons:
    • Handling and managing their host plants requires time and effort.
    • They may attract pests and predators to your garden.
    • Short adult lifespan, as they do not feed and live only to mate and lay eggs.

Comparison of cecropia moth and their major predators:

Description Cecropia Moth Bolas Spider
Size Large, up to 6.2″ wingspan Small, 8-16 mm in size
Diet Adult moths do not feed; caterpillars feed on leaves of various plants Feeds on moths and other small insects
Habitat Northeastern US and Canada; attached to the twigs of host plants during the pupal stage Near woods, meadows, and gardens where they prey on moths and other insects
Defense Little to no defense mechanisms Emit pheromones to attract moths and use a sticky “bolas” to catch them

Appreciating the Beauty and Purpose of Cecropia Moths

Role in Nature and Ecosystem

Cecropia Moths, known as Hyalophora cecropia, play a crucial role in nature as significant pollinators of nocturnal plants. These moths act as a food source for predators, fulfilling a vital function within the ecosystem. They are typically found in hardwood forests across the United States, from the Rocky Mountains to the Eastern seaboard.

Host Plants

Here is a list of host plants that Cecropia Moths commonly inhabit:

• Maple
• Willow
• Apple
• Birch
• Cherry
• Crabapple
• Boxelder

Variety of Colors and Patterns

Cecropia Moths display an immense array of colors and patterns on their wings and body. The body is red with a white collar, while different shades of brown, black, tan, lilac, yellow, and white are seen on their wings. A unique characteristic are the four white crescent-shaped spots near the center, with two black oval-shaped spots on the tips of the forewings.

Importance in Scientific Study

Scientists study Cecropia Moths to understand Lepidoptera evolution and adaptation. Additionally, they are used to compare rare or endangered species, such as the Monarch butterfly. Cecropia Moths help spread awareness of the importance of preserving nature, with adults often attracted to porch lights, generating curiosity and appreciation for these magnificent creatures.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Cecropia Moth

 

Moth Identification
April 25, 2010
I need help identifying a very large moth. The moth was found in Asheboro, North Carolina.
Sheryl McIver
North Carolina, Asheboro, Randolph County

Cecropia Moth

Hi Sheryl,
Your comely moth is a Cecropia Moth, and judging by the shape of the antennae, she is female.  Male Giant Silk Moths have more developed, feathery antennae to better sense the pheromones of the female.  Giant Silk Moth, including your Cecropia Moth, do not feed as adults, and they only live a few days, long enough to mate and lay eggs.

Hi,
Thank you for your response so quickly.  I found it yesterday….kept it overnight so my son and I could observe it (it was raining hard last night, so I didn’t really want to let it go in the hard rain anyway), and now what to do with ALL THESE EGGS!!!  I’ve been searching online and have discovered that the success rate is about 50%.  Is this accurate in your opinion?
Thanks,
Sheryl

Hi Again Sheryl,
We are not certain what you mean by success rate.  Raising 50% of eggs to maturity seems like a phenomenal success rate.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on leaves of various trees and shrubs including alder, apple, ash, beech, birch, box-elder, cherry, dogwood, elm, gooseberry, maple, plum, poplar, white oak, willow.

Letter 2 – Polyphemus Moth Cocoon (or possibly Luna Moth Cocoon)

 

help…
Your site is wonderful. We have just moved from Southern Calif to South Carolina and would like to learn the flora and fauna here in south. I photographed this cocoon and have been watching it closely but if I miss it I would sure like to know what I missed. Thanks,
Kathy

Hi Kathy,
If you happen to catch the metamorphosis, you will be in for quite a treat. This is a Polyphemus Moth Cocoon. We have images of the moths on our Giant Silkworm or Saturnid Moth page. Sometimes the cocoons are suspended from branches like your photo, and sometimes they are found in leaf litter on the ground.

Letter 3 – Cecropia Moth

 

moth identification
Hello,
Like others, I came across your site trying to identify a moth that I had never seen before. I arrived home to find it clinging to our screen door where it remained throughout the afternoon. We live in Sherwood , Wisconsin which is about 30 minutes southwest of Green Bay . I am a novice, so perhaps this moth is relatively common, but it was the first time I had never seen a moth so large or exotic! Your site has wonderful photos and kind and helpful responses. Would you be able to help me identify this moth?
Many thanks,
Beccy

Hi Beccy,
Thanks for the most excellent photo of a Cecropia Moth, Hyalophora cecropia. It is often considered the largest North American moth, but some writers give that distinction to another Giant Silkworm Moth, the Polyphemus Moth.

Letter 4 – Cecropia Moth

 

moth?
bugman,
I love your site. hey, I found this moth outside my office today. amazing. I only have video of it at this point, I can send a pic of you’d like, but I have been hunting for what it might be and can’t find a picture online. looks like it might be a type of tiger moth, very pretty. I thought it was dying because it really wasn’t moving too much but then I thought perhaps it was a night insect. I scooped it up and took it home. If it died, I was going to preserve it in a frame. It was a glorious site to see it take flight and fly away just after dark. amazing, me and my kids chased it through the yard. I was very proud of my 10 years old daughter. my son (5) asked why we couldn’t keep it and she told him that is wasn’t ours to keep. almost brought a tear to my eye. anyhow, here’s a great little video of it. Perhaps you know exactly what this one is. thanks
Todd

I found the moth, it’s a Cecropia Moth. I am the guy who sent you the video, here’s a pic

Hi Todd,
We are happy to hear you correctly identified your Cecropia Moth.

Letter 5 – Cecropia Moth

 

moth or butterfly?
Dear Bugman,
Would you be able to identify the attached creature? This beautiful insect was discovered in Minnesota as a caterpillar and then has since blossomed into what you see here. The wing span is about 5”. It’s still below freezing temps here so we have it flying around in our office. Do you know what it eats? Any information would be helpful.
Kristin

Hi Kristin,
This is a Cecropia Moth, one of the Giant Saturnid Moths that do not feed as adults. They only live a few days and their goal is to mate and reproduce.

Letter 6 – Cecropia Moth

 

Unknown Moth In Michigan
Fri, May 22, 2009 at 8:38 PM
This moth “as you can see” is about the size of a 18 year old male’s hands.
He or she had red, what looked like furr on his back with a white pach “streak” going crossways on its back.
The Abdomen was also striped red black and white.
Season mid spring and time of night around 1130. The legs also being reddish color, would not know if this would help any.
Much obliged if this spicies of moth was known to anyone.
John Hayes
Michigan USA

Cecropia Moth
Cecropia Moth

Dear John,
The Cecropia Moth, according to much of the information we have read, is considered the largest Saturniid Moth in the United States, though the Polyphemus Moth, a relative, might be equally as large. A primarily tropical species, the Black Witch, might be a solid contender for the species with the greatest wingspan, but the Cecropia Moth represented in your photo probably has the greatest wing surface area.

Clarification: The Black Witch is in the family Erebidae.

Letter 7 – Cecropia Moth

 

What kind of moth or butterfly is this?
Fri, May 29, 2009 at 5:29 AM
My mom found this insect on our back porch this rainy afternoon, and we have never seen anything like it! Can you tell us what it might be? It has brown and red and white wings and a white and red body, and also VERY BIG! Thanks!
Tori
North Augusta, Ontario

Cecropia Moth
Cecropia Moth

Hi Tori,
Congratulations on your sighting of a Cecropia Moth, one of the largest North American moths.

Letter 8 – Cecropia Moth

 

Please identify this HUGE butterfly
April 12, 2010
Bugman, thanks for taking the time to read this and seeing if you can ID this HUGE butterfly (or moth) in my backyard. It is orange white, and truly beautiful. I’ve never seen such a big body before. So large, it could not fly away
Dr. Pournaras
Horry County, South Carolina, USA

Cecropia Moth

Dear Dr. Pournaras,
This lovely creature is a Cecropia Moth, a species found in the eastern portion of North America.

Letter 9 – Cecropia Moth

 

What kind of moth is this?
April 15, 2010
I found this moth out at the barn this morning. I’ve never seem one like this and was hoping that you could help identify what we have.
Thank you
Milton, FL

Cecropia Moth

This is the third image of a Cecropia Moth we have received in the past week.

Letter 10 – Cecropia Moth

 

This was on my front step. Big moth.
May 25, 2010
This is a pretty large moth and I’ve never seen one this big or this colorful in my yard. It was just on my front step this morning and it stayed there all day, moving a little up and down my front wall.
Don’t understand the question.
Altamont, NY near Albany.

Cecropia Moth

Your moth is a Cecropia Moth.

Letter 11 – Cecropia Moth

 

Strange large butterfly
June 11, 2010
Found this in downtown Winnipeg Manitoba Canada in early June 2010. Any idea of the name of this beautiful specimen ? I have never seen anything like it in the city or in Canada for that matter. It was quite large…with wings open it was almost as long as a hand. The body was very fat and roughly 2 inches long.
Stef in Canada
Winnipe Manitoba Canada

Cecropia Moth

Hi Stef,
This is a Cecropia Moth.  Your letter was the second in a few days that mistook a Cecropia Moth for a butterfly.  We have to search for the other letter and post it as well because the image resolution is much higher than your photo.

Letter 12 – Cecropia Moth

 

As Big as my hand butterfly or moth?
June 10, 2010
Found June 10, 2010
I have no idea about identifying bugs but this wonderful giant was on my back porch and i can’t help myself with the curiosity. Its body is what was the most striking instead of the wings. It is extremely bright red with white stripes.
Please relieve my curiosity!
Kasey
Hannibal, Missouri

Cecropia Moth

Hi Kasey,
This is a positively gorgeous photo of a Cecropia Moth.  It is one of two candidates for the largest Giant Silkmoth or Saturniid Moth in North America.  The other candidate is the Polyphemus Moth.  Luckily, in the world of insects, the loser and winner contests like that could care less which is the biggest.  Alas, the world of academia is not so altruistic.
P.S.  She is a female Cecropia Moth.  Had we written back to you sooner, we would have told you to watch an night to see if she attracted a mate or six.  Female Giant Silkmoths release pheromones that will attract a male from miles away.  We identified her as a female because of her antennae.  The antennae of the male Giant Silkmoths are much more feathery, because the antennae are the sense organs that pick up the scent of the female’s pheromones.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

29 thoughts on “Raising Cecropia Moths: All You Need to Know for Success”

  1. Actually, the black witch (and its counterpart, the white witch) are actually the largest members of the Noctuidae; the black witch is in fact a desert species, very common in southeastern AZ

    Reply
  2. the black witch is not a Saturniid, but is in fact the largest member of the Noctuidae. And it actually is much more commoln in the the arid parts of its range, which extends up into southeastern AZ

    Reply
    • Dear Zarathos,
      Thanks for your input. We are sorry we did not clarify that the Black Witch is not a Saturniid Moth, but rather a member of a different family. The Black Witch is in the family Erebidae, in the superfamily Noctuoidea, but it is not in the Owlet family Noctuidae which is also in the superfamily Noctuoidea. The Black Witch has been taxonomically reclassified. We will clarify this misunderstanding in our posting.

      Reply
  3. Thank you so much! I was so curious about “her” because she showed up a couple more times. Unfortunately she left at nights but she would visit me during the days and was so beautiful every time she did.
    P.S. sad new. I say “was” and “did” because I found her in the yard the other morning where a predator of some kind did enough damage to end her life span. Thank you though for relieving my curiosity. I plan, as an artist, to pay more attention to the micro world that I was just introduced to.

    Reply
  4. I have been housing 3 cecropia moth cocoons in my refrigerator over the winter. When should they come out of the fridge so that they emerge in time to be released during their mating season?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Large Cecropia Moths can reach six inches, and we imagine really large ones can exceed that upper number in the normal size range.

      Reply
  5. I too had one of these big months by my front door I posted it on face book for my friends they were all amazed like me.

    Reply
  6. I live I Terre haute , Indiana and have never seen anything like this. I wenttothe gas station I pulled up next to what I thaught was a bird. Nope it was this scared me. the wings was bigger then dollar bills and its body is bigger then a normal sizebic lighter.

    Reply
  7. You should never pick up moths or butterflies by their wings. In fact, don’t touch the wings at all. The wings are not only sensitive but are covered in a powder they need to be able to fly. It’s likely it did not fly because you made it unable to. Next time just handle it by holding it on your hand, with the feet touching you. Just don’t touch the wings.

    Reply
  8. I saw a Cecropia moth this weekend in southern Minnesota, it’s coloration was slightly different – lighter at the wing edges but all the other distinguishing markings were there as well as the large size

    Reply
  9. Had one of these in my compost bin yesterday here in southern Michigan. They are so colorful. It’s sad they only live a few days.

    Reply
  10. I just found one today on my door, she is resting on my WELCOME sign. I’m located in Yreka, a far Northern California town. She’s beautiful & her wings have perfect Nike symbols.

    Reply
  11. I had one identical as the top photo, but larger than the photo, it was on a brick window ledge, it covered over 3 bricks, at the very least, 8” do they get that large, I’ve got a photograph of it,my Mom took it about 10-15 years ago!
    Just wondering, thanks and GOD BLESS!
    Sincerely. Paul

    Reply
  12. I had one identical as the top photo, but larger than the photo, it was on a brick window ledge, it covered over 3 bricks, at the very least, 8” do they get that large, I’ve got a photograph of it,my Mom took it about 10-15 years ago!
    Just wondering, thanks and GOD BLESS!
    Sincerely. Paul

    Reply

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