Today I was doing some garden work when I spotted this caterpillar. He was nearly 5 inches long and one of the biggest I have ever seen. The caterpillar is a cecropia moth in it's larval stage. A cecropia moth is the largest moth in North America and rarely seen during the day since it is active at night. A cecropia has a 5 to 6 inch wing span. As a moth, their life span is about two weeks. The reason for the short life span is because they do not eat. Their purpose is to mate and lay eggs. Females emit a pheromone scent that can attract a male cecropia from a mile away. The male can sense the pheromone with it's antennae. A female cecropia moth can lay around 100 eggs on the undersides of leaves. It takes 1-2 weeks for the eggs to hatch. During the larval stage the caterpillars eat and molt many times till they reach the size of the one in the picture above. In late summer, the caterpillar will spin a cocoon and wait for the next spring to emerge. Cecropias are not pest in the garden and are more often the meal to other animals or insects. They can have a large appetite as they develop and grow in size during the larval stage. Their favorite food are the leaves of alder, beech, plum, maple, white oak, popular, willow, lilac, gooseberry, ash, birch, cherry, box elder, dogwood and elm trees.
The Creative Gardener