Common Food Plants of the Saturniid Caterpillars We Offer

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To help customers identify food plants of indigenous Saturniidae moth caterpillars, we have assembled the following information. First, we're providing a list (not exhaustive) of moth caterpillar species and some of their known food plants. Based on our own experiences, we've listed the food plants in a sort of order that represents our observed palate preferences of each caterpillar species, but that does not mean the caterpillars won't eat the other listed food plants; it just might take them a little longer to decide to go for it. Caterpillars do want to live.

Below the lists are photos of the food plants, to help with identification/recognition of the plants. We've set links into the list names so that you can click on a name and it will pop down to the food plant.

Do keep in mind that if a caterpillar will eat the leaves of a plant from a certain genus, it will likely eat the leaves of every species in that genus; for example, a pillar that eats paper birch/Betula papyrifera, will also probably eat river/Betula nigra or yellow/Betula alleghaniensis birch as well. Betula is the key, the genus name for all things birch.

This page will probably be a continuing work-in-progress.

Birch (white paper, Betula papyrifera).
Click photos to enlarge.

Paper birch treeBirch leaves and fruitsPaper birch bark

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris).
Click photos to enlarge.

Lilac bush in bloomLilac leaves and flowers

Walnut (black, Juglans nigra).
Click photos to enlarge.

Black walnut leaves in a canopyBlack walnut canopyBlack walnut barkBlack walnut flowers

Maple (there are very many trees in the genus Acer).
Click photos to enlarge.

Maple treeMaple barkDistinctive maple leaves

Persimmon (genus Diospyros).
Click photos to enlarge.

Persimmon tree leafing out in springPersimmon barkPersimmon leaves

Sweetgum (genus Liquidambar).
Click photos to enlarge.
A torn sweetgum leaf gives a pleasent odor of Pine-Sol® or Mr. Clean®. All of our caterpillars will accept sweetgum.

Sweetgum canopySweetgum fruitSweetgum leaves

Wild Black Cherry (genus Prunus).
Click photos to enlarge.
When a branch is snapped off, it gives off a pleasant almond scent.

Wild black cherry bushBlack cherry fruitsBlack cherry leaves and fruit clusters

Northern Red Oak (genus Quercus).
Click photos to enlarge.

Red oak leaves

Chinese Tree of Heaven or Chinese Sumac or Stinking Sumac (genus Ailanthus).
Click photos to enlarge.
Tree of heaven is a noxious roadside weed that grows wild all over the east coast. Trees get as high as 20 feet, but it is most commonly seen as a small shrub. A snapped off leaf or branch gives off a peanuty or Captain Crunch® odor. This is cynthia's natural food plant and the caterpillars will thrive on it.

Ailanthus barkAilanthus leavesAilanthus canopy

Sassafras (genus Sassafras).
Click photos to enlarge.
Prometheas thrive on sassafras. It wilts rapidly, but is easily found in the wild and can be transplanted to one's yard. Gives off a spicy scent.

Sassafras leaves

Red Maple (there are very many trees in the genus Acer).
Click photos to enlarge.
Red maple is a great indoor rearing host for polyphemus and promethea, and an outdoor host for cecropia. It's very common in the U.S.

Distinctive shape of a maple leafMaple leaves in a canopyRedd maple bark


Please note: If you are inquiring about moth rearing but are a different vendor's customer, please read the information on this web site, but contact your own vendor instead. I will gladly answer customer questions on this topic, but non customers are making inconsiderate demands of my time, and I am too busy for this. My information is already available on this site. Please make use of it.

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