Lifecycle Journal for Raising Saturniidae Antheraea Polyphemus, Callosamia Promethea, and Actias Luna

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Polyphemus and Promethea ova
Ova container

17 May 2012: Once again I am rearing moths, this time Antheraea Polyphemus and Callosamia Promethea. Depending on livestock availability, I might add more. Ova were provided by my partner, Bryan. He is my delightful online fellow moth hobbyist, and we have combined our interest into a livestock business as well. However, our main pleasure will always be where we began, which was simply the joy of raising and observing these magnificent insects.

Ova from Bryan arrived in today's mail. I thoroughly enjoyed informing the mail carrier that he was delivering bug eggs. Ha ha. The larger ova are Polyphemus; they are about the same size as Cecropia ova. The smaller ones are Promethea. These were deposited on 12 and 13 May, respectively. I expect to see action around 22 May. In the meantime, I have sealed them up in a small plastic container to maintain their natural hydration; otherwise, they would probably dry out and die. I can already see the imprint of the forming caterpillars in these eggs. I expect all of them to produce a caterpillar, but we will see.

Hatched Polyphemus ova
Newly hatched Polyphemus caterpillar
Newly hatched Polyphemus caterpillar

22 May 2012: Yea! Three little polies hatched today. They kind of caught me off guard, as it has been rather cold and I keep the windows open; nevertheless, they've made their grand entrance.

Poly babies are quite different from cropy babies in that they are more colorful, in a minute sort of way. Even at the very beginning, they have the famous buff (actually kind of reddish at this point) colored head. Their little bodies are green. Cropies start out nearly black all over, by contrast.

My images are macro; the actual length of the babies is about ¼ inch maximum, with a mega-head. Notice in both ova photos that the poly ova have a tan colored band around each.

So far, the polies are being finicky about eating. I've given them a birch leaf and they are marching everywhere but on it. If they decide to reject birch, I'm in trouble. Only have one other tree in yard, and I have no idea what it is, as the city stuck it in. I'm also a little concerned about last year's systemic treatment. I would not have a 40 year old birch were it not for systemic. Insects destroy paper birch trees by around their 25th year. Systemic gives my tree a break from the oppressive, overwhelming bugs.

Don't know what I'd do without my beloved old Olympus DSLR. The power switch no longer works; I've found a way around that problem. It took these great macro shots. I tried first with my convenient Canon point and shoot, but it could not get a focus on the little bugs. The ever faithful Olympus could!

It's nearly 11:00 p.m., and the three little picky eaters have finally settled onto the birch leaf and are eating. Three miniscule specks of frass stand as proof. Hoping for more pillars tomorrow.

Last poly hatch

23 May 2012: The last polyphemus egg hatched around 10:00 a.m.. No action yet from the promethea eggs.

I'm a bit concerned, as one of yesterday's poly pillars seems to be dying. It crawled off the leaf and is not moving around. It still reacts to touch, but that's it. Will continue observing.

Later . . . My wayward pillar seems to be okay, is now cruising around. It seems like polies just aren't as ravenous as cecropias. They're still ravenous, but not insanely so. Maybe. It's too soon to establish this as fact. As for the new hatchling, it's also doing lots of cruising.

Healthy poly pillarsPoly pillar about 2 days old

24 May 2012: Lots of missing leaf, lots of frass. Dr. Me says all is well in caterpillar land.

All four polyphemus caterpillars are healthy and eating voraciously. They hatched looking scrawny (normal), but are filling out nicely. Poly-porkers.

Luna ova
Prometheas hatching

25 May 2012: Luna ova arrived today, oviposit date 21 May. There are three, but I managed to knock one off while trying to do photos. It's fine, and is sitting in bottom of my incubation container. The eggs have the usual dent, a good sign that a caterpillar is developing in a little C-shaped curve inside each egg. The dent is over the space not occupied by the caterpillar, the inside of the C. Luna eggs are very dark. Not sure whether they come that way, or if it indicates an abundance of moth fluid. Certainly, the glue doesn't seem to be as firm as that produced by other moth species. These eggs are larger than promethea, but smaller than cecropia or polyphemus.

Oh WOW! About 3:30 p.m. I noticed a tiny caterpillar in my incubation container, then saw another exiting an egg. My prometheas were hatching! Caught a great shot of the first little pillar, the next one exiting, and two more that can be seen chewing their way out of their eggs. So cool!

These eggs and pillars are so tiny. The camera can capture what the naked eye cannot focus on.

Poly and promies

26 May 2012: The new promies were still cruising late last night, but by morning had settled on the leaf alongside the huge (comparatively) polies. The last promie, which had opened a small hole in its egg yesterday but never completed it, did eventually get around to it, and I found it cruising around in the incubation container by mid morning today. The polies seem to collect frass on their little spikes.

Gone much of day. It's late now. I checked the pillars. The new promie has yet to settle down; it's cruising the lid. The other four are eating in a tight little bunch; they must be gregarious like the cropie pillars are. Not so the polies. They are consistently spread out. One is on the container's side, in prayer position -- time to molt.

Polyphemus in prayer position
Poly and promie
Promethea clique

27 May 2012: Long, busy day. It's late afternoon, and I finally had time to take photos and assess the bugs. The one poly continues in prayer position. It will molt soon. Its head looks very strained. The youngest promie has ceased to cruise and is now settled on a leaf. Being gregarious, it is hanging around a huge poly pillar. The other promies continue hanging out in a tight clique.

Newly molted poly

Roughly 24 hours after I first noticed it was in prayer position, this fat little poly has molted and is feasting on its old skin, yum, yum. The enlarged photo shows the cast-off head plate. Amazing how they do that. I've never seen one eat its head. That's good.

It is thought that, in the wild, it's necessary for caterpillars to devour their cast-off skins so as not to alert predators of their presence nearby. Predators, including insects, actually look for signs of delicious caterpillars by hunting for chewed leaves, strands of silk, frass on the ground, any telltale signs that caterpillars commonly leave. Caterpillars are delicate and especially vulnerable following a molt. The new skin is very tender.

28 May 2012: At least two, maybe three of the remaining polies are now in prayer position. From start to finish takes about 24 hours, which is helpful to know for the purpose of observing an actual molt (I've only ever seen it happen once), or for viewing the eating of the skin. The pillar pauses a bit between molt and skin ingestion, maybe to catch its breath (facetious). It then turns around and starts eating.

Poly on verge of molting, head slipping off
Poly molt just completed

Three polies have now molted. How do I know? Three red head-plates were mixed in among the frass that I dumped today.

Sometimes there are moments that ya just want to capture in the worst way, and it's a total equipment fail! I was shooting a poly whose head plate was slipping off. I knew what was next. However, the point and shoot camera simply could not get focused on it clearly (these bugs are so small). I have a bunch of blurry photos of the pillar shimmying out of its skin. I then went for my Olympus, but the moment was past by the time I got the camera set up. Whine, complain.

The promie clan and the poly independents

29 May 2012: As of this morning, everybody's just eating. These guys do more of that than anything else. The promies, ever clannish, feed in a tight group, all five having finally found each other. The polies, ever independent, occupy the outer perimeter.

The incubation container contains nothing but ova. Hoping the luna make an appearance around 1 June, which will be ten days.

Luna ova at ten days
The entire gluttonous herd

31 May 2012: I skipped a day because nothing much is going on. The herd just eats, and eats, and eats . . . to infinity. Frass is generated in piles. It sticks to everything. The promies have probably molted, but they're so small that I can't really tell. No bright red head plates lying around in the frass. No skins anywhere. They still look the same, only slightly bigger. I like the polies' white markings and contrasting heads. Very handsome.

As for the ova, today is day ten, and I see no change. There are no new caterpillars cruising around in the incubation container. Maybe later . . . Luna eggs sure are wretched looking.

Current containers for larger polies and smaller promies
The clannish promie herd

1 June 2012: I've restructured my bug containers, kind of at Bryan's prompting (he reads this daily). I was thinking about doing it, and had a new container picked out, but was feeling lazy because the pillars didn't seem at all stressed. So, I've done it, and the bugs are happy. Signs of happiness: leaves disappear and frass piles up, while pillars sit around contentedly.

It's kind of funny how quickly they adjust to the soft lifestyle of human care. Mulberry silkworms, which have enjoyed centuries of human care, don't even hunt for fresh food. If some human doesn't drop it on their heads, literally, and chopped besides, they just sit around and die. Wild silkworms have more gumption than that, even when a human moves in on the scene, but they are quite content to just park and eat. A couple of my polies wouldn't even crawl up the tube to the fresh twig. I had to hoist them up. There was a two day old leaf that I had transferred them on, and they weren't in any hurry to move off.

The luna ova continue to sit in the incubation container. No action yet.

Luna ova with caterpillar C and center dent
The littlest promie's been keeping to the fringes
A newly molted third instar poly
Poly feasting on molted skin
Poly gorging on a leaf

3 June 2012: I continue to wait [impatiently] for the luna ova to hatch. Looks like they are definitely going to go the full fourteen days, at least. I'm anxious.

The promies continue to eat and grow, but I can't say that I've caught them molting. I know they have, but they were so small in first instar that it was hard to perceive. The little one, which hatched a day after the first four, has taken to hanging on the fringes instead of with the clan. Whether that's meaningful or not is unknown to me.

The polies have been busy with molting to third instar. I caught one having just finished, and another enjoying skin-delight. Yet another was doing what caterpillars do -- gorging itself on a leaf.

My caterpillars are all looking healthy and happy. None have died. As for the ova, ova are a mystery until they hatch. If they never hatch, that's also a mystery. I've kept them sealed up and away from sunlight, no plant matter present, which is all I know to do.

4 June 2012: Well, today was day fourteen for the luna ova and - nothing! (Successful new batch started 2 July.) This is traumatic! I've never had a batch-fail before; I'm not used to this. I will recover. Anyway, the polies and promies are doing fine. I haven't tossed the luna ova out. I've put them with the promies. On the off chance they are still alive, they have to be very close to hatching, so being exposed to leaves probably won't harm them at this point. And if they do, I'll never know.

Four fat polies
Four of the promies, somewhat larger

7 June 2012: I left town for two nights (to ride bike in a gorgeous state park). I stuffed plenty food into the worm coops before leaving. Upon returning home, I found the poly-porkers had just about denuded every twig; however, if they'd really wanted to make the effort, they could have found a few more leaves. There they sat on bare twigs, looking sort of like leaf replacements, and a lot like they're about to burst. Strands of silk can be seen among the twigs.

The promies have molted and changed, or, at least one has. All are bigger. They are lean, and have not devoured everything in sight. Nevertheless, I provided them with a large, fresh, perfect leaf for their eating pleasure. None are missing, by the way. The little one, ever somewhat aloof, was hanging out on the other side of the leaf. I have yet to witness any of them actually molting.

No sign of any little lunas. I tossed the eggs with the promie frass. Very disappointing. Wonder if I managed to fry the eggs with sunlight while trying to create a well lighted environment to photograph. I'll never know, I guess.

Pre-molt polies
Four promies getting that whitish look
Poly molting action

8 June 2012: The polies are definitely molting to fourth instar; heads are popping off all over. They are easy to see because of their unusual color. I have yet to see a promie head.

As for the promies, they are all getting that whitish look instead of the yellowish look, a second instar trait. These guys produce tons of frass. It's kind of gross. Because they stay so close together, they end up wearing each other's.

Before going to bed, I checked the status of my bugs. Found two polies completing the molting process. It's a bad photo. I did not wish to disturb them, so shot through the container, which meant I couldn't use flash because it would flare back as a reflection on the container, so I used a flashlight to get a bit of illumination. Bug on left was eating its skin, which can be seen as a gross looking thing dangling above it. The other poly had just shed, and was still squirming around. It's like a preprogrammed thing they do for a period of time and then stop.

Promie togetherness
More promie togetherness

9 June 2012: Because they're all together for a change, I thought I'd do some promie family portraits. Even got face views -- sort of.

Molting to third instar

10 June 2012: There was some heavy molting going on in promie land today. Maybe they aren't so inclined to eat their skins; they're resuming eating leaves instead. One is trying to molt, and getting disgusted as the others tromp right over it. I was surprised to see one produce frass almost immediately following its molt, before having resumed eating. Have never seen that happen before. Promies just seem different. They sure are small, only about 1/2 inch. Bryan says they have Frankenstein knobs. I guess so.

Gorgeous fourth instar poly-worm
Gorgeous third instar promie-worm

11 June 2012: The caterpillars are becoming gorgeous. The poly's metallic gold markings pop out in sunlight. The white promie is so striking.

Another promie has completed its molt. The small one has yet to start. The polies just eat like pigs. It's hard to keep up with their needs.

Poly prepared to molt
Poly-pig gorging

12 June 2012: I hadn't planned to take any photos today, because I didn't expect anything of interest to happen. I did make changes to the worm coops, moving the polies to an ice cream bucket and the promies to the thing the polies had just vacated, leaving one promie behind because it seemed to be molting or something. Anyway, it's late, and I checked the pillars one last time, just to establish that they had adjusted. Low and behold, two of the polies are prepared to molt -- already! The photo is a little gross due to a piece of frass that got included, but the silk anchor can be clearly seen, which is kind of cool. In the other photo, a poly is stuffing itself, as are the promies. I clean the coops, but they don't stay clean for long.

13 June 2012: As of this morning, all four polies are poised to molt. They seem to grow up so quickly! The promies are just eating. Their caterpillar process seems to me to be much slower than the poly-process.

Molting position -- in anticipation of fifth instar
Molting position -- in anticipation of fifth instar
Poly stuck in its skin
Human to the rescue
This one manages on its own

14 June 2012: These guys have been in pre-molt for almost two days! They must be close! Their heads are very dark, and I'm sure they're useless. The new head forms behind it, as it would never fit inside the old head. Weird. Now, if it would just pop off.

Later, I find a poly in distress. Apparently, its silk pad came loose and it cannot get out of its skin. A little assistance is in order. It can pull free if something provides an anchor or counter pull. I did both, and the poly was free in no time.

Another poly does just fine without help, which is normal. A need for assistance is rare. If predators don't get these bugs, they are very capable in the wild, just doing what they're supposed to do.

A poly was so intent on eating its skin that, although I was poking around in the coop and even touching it, it continued to eat, nonstop. Maybe they've grown accustom to domestication.

The little promies are just busy eating. I've got the three big ones in the container vacated by the big polies, and the two smallish ones are still in the nursery container. One of the two has made the changeover to white, but the smallest one still shows a lot of stripes. Both are eating and making the usual mess. And the three big ones sure produce an abundance of frass. It's a pile.

Have you taken note of the mandibles on these beasts? I'm glad they aren't inclined to bite.

Molting position -- in anticipation of fifth instar
Big eating-head
Feasting Promie
Promie on the march

15 June 2012: It's mid afternoon, and I'm waiting [impatiently] for one last poly to molt. That head looks ready to blow. All other caterpillrs, both species, are just eating and eating . . . Molting adds some variety.

So, because I'm bored, I decided to go for a big eating-head shot. Fifth instar pillars have big heads for big eating.

The promies are just eating and wandering, but I figured it was time for a few photos. They're not very good. I wanted to catch action, but if I were to move the container to better light, they would all freeze for a while. Instead I used a flashlight, but the focus didn't turn out real great.

16 June 2012: Poly molted overnight, and I wasn't about to sit up all night waiting for it. No photos. Nothing exciting happening today.

Big, impressive 5th instar poly-glob
Has someone molted?

18 June 2012: The fifth instar polies are gorging and growing huge. Like showing off a fine horse at halter, I'm having this one stretch to display its impressive and robust conformation.

Then there are the promies. They continue to be smallish, but . . . has one molted? If so, it's sneaky. Its head seems no bigger than the other two. Its knobs, by contrast, are suddenly much bigger and there's that color change. If so, we're looking at fourth instar.

Discarded promie skin
Discarded skin and possible responsible party
Inside view of discarded skin

19 June 2012: I missed the molt (accomplished overnight), but someone did leave a nice hunk of skin behind for photographs. Focus isn't perfect, but oh well. The critter climbing around is still greenish, as opposed to chalky white. This is probably an immediate post-molt coloration, and it will turn chalky white as its skin ages a bit. I believe we're now in fourth instar for these guys. Promies are subtle molters, so it's easy to miss what they are up to.

The polys are just eating and getting bigger, and bigger, . . .

Promie runt molting to third instar

20 June 2012: I have a promie runt. It hatched a day later than the rest, and has consistently been ages behind the others, as opposed to just one day behind. Anyway, it molted to third instar today, with a little help, as it had secured itself to a snippet of leaf, that weighed less than itself and wasn't attached to anything, so it couldn't pull away from its old skin. I provided the final pull.

I actually thought the runt was sick and wasting away, but it was just molting on that snippet, down in the litter on the bottom of the container. To each his own.

Pair of cocooning polys
A cocooning poly
Cocoon is filling in quickly

21 June 2012: Well, it's the beginning of the end in poly-blob land. At least one has accomplished the infamous cleanse. Sorry. No photos! If you really want to know, you'll have to raise some caterpillars yourself. I heard it; thought it was a large normal. Ha! Cocooning will start very soon. I had better clean up the mess.

As for the big beast in the top photo on left, it is a prime specimen. It has yet to cleanse, which results in a smaller pillar. I like 'em big! This baby is BIG, HUNGRY.

It's 10:30 p.m. CDT, and I have two cocooning polys. I suspected two had cleansed, not because of two cleanses, but because of the size of one big one. I was right, and they are quite in sync in terms of construction. Cocoons are amazing structures, built from one continuous flow of caterpillar spit, that results in one continuous thread. Polys form a valveless cocoon.

It's now 10:40, and the cocoon is being filled in quickly. The caterpillar has also turned around to work on the other side. Soon no more caterpillar.

Pre-molt promie on silk anchor
Possible pre-molt promie
One big poly

22 June 2012: Doubtful there will be any new cocoons today. Everybody's eating. That big poly is so used to me now that, if I touch it, it just keeps eating.

23 June 2012: Two promies are in pre-molt, I think; all other pillars are in eating mode. The two promies will molt to fifth instar.

One promie is obviously well anchored with silk, a typical procedure for molting. The other is not anchored, so I think it's in its pre-pre-molt repose.

I attempted a shot demonstrating the size of my mega-poly, a likely female, but could not get a decent focus. This is as good as it gets.

24 June 2012: I suspected this very still, very contracted poly was suffering from an excruciating belly ache. It was. Everything about it said distress. Some hours later, it's feeling good again, busily pulling leaf litter together and anchoring it with silk -- the beginnings of its cocoon and a much needed rest.

Precurser to a major shift in the life of a polyPoly waits as a significant portion of its anatomy is shutting downIf only there were an easier wayWrithing and straining in its miseryMisery is past, and cocoon construction beginsPost molt, hungry promie and its discarded skinProbably fifth instar at last

As for the molting promies, they've molted. They are, once again, busy eating everything in sight. Caught the underside of one, and its discarded skin, through the transparent, but not clean, wall of the container. The other was near the top and easy to photograph.

Poly's head behind cocoon wall, working tirelessly

Later, the poly's cocoon is progressing. As in the photo, its head can sometimes be seen behind the thickening curtain of silk strands.

Poly cocoons, probably a male and a female

25 June 2012: These poly cocoons are probably a male and a female, based on size and weight. The big one is new, and the critter within will work on it for a couple more days, but is no longer visible.

As for the promie herd, they are spread around in their container. They froze when I opened it, but are probably either eating or just hanging out, taking a break.

Big, well fed promie

27 June 2012: Holding pattern -- it's all about just keeping everyone fed. I've got promies left, and they are either fourth or fifth instar. I photographed the biggest one, crawling around on my fingers for perspective.

New luna ova

2 July 2012: Hadn't posted anything for a few days because nothing was happening. The promies just keep eating and growing. All of them look almost the same now, with just slight variations in size. They are slow to cocoon, fast to eat. I shot the photo when the twigs were nearly denuded; otherwise, they are hard to find.

Promie constructing a cocoon within a leaf
Another promie laying silk for its cocoon

Bryan, my partner, sent me new luna ova, as the previous batch had been a total fail. Maybe I exposed them to too much sun, in an effort to get a good photo. I had better not fail this time! Anyway, they arrived today. I've discovered new ways to get good macro shots, and no longer need bright sunlight.

It's almost 10:00 p.m., and, at last, there's some action in the worm coop! I opened it to ascertain that the critters had enough food for the night. Low and behold, two huge messes! Upon inspecting, I found a cocoon taking shape within a carefully curled and anchored leaf, with more construction going on outside. It's really cool how the pillar does that!

I also found a smaller pillar laying down lots of silk for its cocoon. A bit of camera flash brings the silk to life -- in both cases.

Very rotund promie, minute head and neck

4 July 2012: Life is easier now -- only two promies left eating. One is huge, very rotund. I lifted a leaf to have a look at the pillar underneath it, but it wasn't gripping very hard and slid right off, so that only its anal prolegs were gripping anything. It looked rather comical, trying to get a hold on the smooth plastic, so I took a couple photos before giving it a hoist onto a leaf.

5 July 2012: Nothing new in the worm coop. Nobody's got the scrunched look of pre-cocooning stage yet.

A nice stretch displayThe critter is looking scrunchedThe promie runt just keeps eatingDefinitely scrunchedFolded over almost in halfHunting for just the right leaf to curlLaying silk on the face of its chosen leaf

6 July 2012: This promie does a nice stretch for the camera but, in actuality, it seems to be off its feed and scrunching this morning, so I suspect we'll have a cocoon later.

As for the runt, food is all that matters.

Definitely scrunched . . . and waiting.

Once the anatomical conversion is completed (the shut-down), the critter begins its hunt for a proper place to cocoon. And, having found it, lays silk on a leaf face that it will curl and cocoon in.

Promie builds cocoon within its curled leaf

Later, the leaf is curled and the pillar continues to build. It achieves some amazing contortions as it bends its head way back over its body to lay silk.

Only the runt is eating now.

Lunie hatchling
Another lunie hatchling

7 July 2012: Lunie pillars are hatching! This was kind of unexpected, yet, not really. Due to the insane heat we've been enduring, knowing full well that heat speeds the incubation process, I'd been checking the lunie ova every day, even though the oviposit date was 29 June. I was kind of figuring the earliest arrival date would be Monday. Obviously, not so.

Bryan was right: Lunas love birch. The six little terrors settled right down on the birch leaves and started chowing. The usual frass pile is accumulating -- specks, of course. Unlike the polies and promies, these guys did not spend up to twelve hours cruising around in search of greener pastures.

Three day old lunie sure has enough fuzz on it
Three day old hungry lunie collecting frass

10 July 2012: I'm still not real excited about the photo quality I'm achieving, but oh well. The little lunie-terrors have been gorging for three days and they've expanded some. The leaves are disappearing and the frass is piling up, thus we know that all is well.

Promie runt-turned-blob of blubber
Super-tight overstuffed promie blob trying to curl
Promie cocoons, valve end

As for the one remaining promie, the runt, it just keeps eating, growing, no longer looks like a runt. It looks as if its nonexpandable, super-stretched skin cannot hold another micro-milligram of leaf blubber.

11 July 2012: Just took one more shot of super-stuffed promie. It can hardly move, and it's all curled up. Looks comical!

I've added a valve view of a couple promie cocoons, following a powwow with Bryan. I was wondering if promie pillars laid a lot of silk on their leaf stem so the leaf containing their cocoon would remain attached to the tree in autumn. He said yes. Bryan always knows these things. So, then I asked which end of the cocoon was the valve end. I suspected stem end, and that was correct. Thank you Bryan! You're the perfect moth partner!

A vacated poly cocoonThe big boy is expanding his wingsExpanding, different viewFully expanded wingsFully expanded, different viewFirst poly-boy to eclose today; he's rust
Second poly-boy to eclose today; he's brownSecond poly-boy to eclose today, full spread

This big poly-boy was an unexpected surprise. He cocooned on 21 June, and probably pupated a week later. Now he's eclosed! I saw him, at around 3:30 p.m., trying to climb the plastic deli container I had him in. He couldn't get a grip on the plastic and kept falling down, so I quickly moved him to a mesh lined breeding cage where he was much happier and could expand and dry his wings perfectly. Like all of his kind, he's a wonder!

And then there were two -- the other male eclosed. Wish I hadn't missed the event. Must have happened very soon after I left them to make dinner and process photos. I wondered. He'd been terribly wiggly in the past, but was very still today, so I suspected maybe his big event was imminent as well.

The two male moths are different colors; one is rust (first moth) and the other brown. They are from the same brood.

First instar lunie pillar
The last promie is working on its cocoon
Lunie pillar
Silk laying contortion

12 July 2012: Well, the last promie pillar has shrunk considerably, and its lost mass is a pile of grossness on the floor of the worm coop. I shall clean up later. The promie is on a cocoon location hunt.

One of the two poly-boys was being kind of hyper, which results in self destruction, so I turned him loose. Can't imagine he'll find any girls out there. Some predator might find him. Sad but not unusual.

13 July 2012: Another caterpillar has disappeared forever (and I won't miss the feeding frenzy). So, now I can focus on the lunie herd.

Female poly
Wing eyes on poly-girl
Egg laden abdomen of female poly

14 July 2012: This big female poly eclosed today. I expected that this one would be female due to the size of the caterpillar and cocoon. Her coloration is kind of somewhere between the two boys, her brothers, but more like the rust colored boy. The clear spots on her wings are larger than what both males had. I can smell her pheromones all over the garage -- moth perfume.

Might as well put her outside and see if she calls anything in, like one of her brothers. If they've survived, they're probably the only polies out there. But I could be wrong.

I took a couple photos while she was outdoors in a breeding cage. It was dusk, and the dimming light shone through her wing-eyes. The eyes are not holes, but simply clear wing membrane -- no scales. I also shot her rotund, egg laden abdomen.

Lunies, second instar

15 July 2012: The female poly did not call a mate in last night. She's laid a few eggs, no doubt infertile, unless something happened while no one was looking.

There's been some molting going on in Lunie-land.

Large body of female poly-moth
Very striking polyphemus ova
Lunie pillar, not certain whether 2nd or 3rd instar
Moth breeding cage

17 July 2012: I have put the poly-girl out for three nights in a row; she calls, but no males answer. I'll try one more night.

I pity the creature. She doesn't bat around in the cage, but just sits there, patiently waiting for the prince charming that never comes.

18 July 2012: After four nights of calling, still no suitor for poly-girl. What a waste. She is laying very striking looking, however infertile, ova around on her cage. She's patient, but, sadly, also fading, as this is her fifth day of existence.

The lunie pillars are getting bigger, so it's now easier for the camera to see their details.

I've added a cage shot for those who might be wondering about cage construction. There's no rule except that it keep a moth inside while still allowing moths access to each other through the cage wire. This construction is very simple.

19 July 2012: I moved the poly-girl to a different location last night, just to see whether that would make a difference. It didn't. There are no boys out there. Have to wonder what became of the males I turned loose. The poor girl is about spent.

Well, it's night, and the moth is calling again, and laying eggs -- seems to be a simultaneous activity -- so, I put her out again, for what it's worth. She's probably happier out there in any case -- a creature of the night.

Semitransparent lunie pillar

20 July 2012: The lunie pillars are growing, making them more photogenic. They are kind of transparent, allowing a somewhat decent view of their guts.

Lunie pillar, third or fourth instar -- I've lost track
Lunie pillar, different view -- I've lost track
Gross blighted pillar has since made full recovery

27 July 2012: I know: It's been ages since I last made an entry. All the critters do is eat, anyway. I suppose they've molted again and are probably fourth instar. I don't even know that. I just manage to keep them fed and cleaned out, as we have a guest and I'm busy (mostly having fun).

There were two runts. First one died, and then the other. I noticed nothing amiss until each, in its turn, turned up in the frass pile. They were unusually small runts. Looked like they were forever stuck in second instar, while the others moved on. So, anyway, I have four left, and they all seem healthy. One had had a sort of blight, and it looked gross, so I isolated the critter and swabbed it with diluted bleach (can you believe that?). It never stopped eating and never slowed down. When it molted, the blight went also, and then it was fine. I moved it back in with the others.

Lunie fangs

29 July 2012: This ferocious beast was gnashing its teeth as I photographed it. Actually, it only has mandibles, and was probably just thinking about more food. It was working its mandibles, which made it look vicious, but these caterpillars aren't vicious.

Discarded rag of skinNewly molted culpritThe famous arch

1 Aug. 2012: Wow! It's August! Summer is disappearing. So are the caterpillars. I have four lunies remaining. One molted this morning, leaving its rag of skin behind. It's currently sitting around, drying its new skin to firm it up. Caught another in the arch position. Lunies have an especially nice arch, as it is quite exaggerated.

Folks tell me lunie pillars and poly pillars look much the same, but I see a lot of differences. Polies have a somewhat vertical light strip on each segment, whereas, lunies have one long horizontal stripe. Both pillar species have little knobs from which bristles arise, but lunie knobs are pinkish; poly knobs are metallic platinum. Polies have buff colored heads and thoracic legs; lunie heads are green, black, brown, and their thoracic legs are black.

3 Aug. 2012: I've got three pre-molt lunie pillars and one expanding glob of a lunie in an eating frenzy, as it molted a couple days ago. At least, with three in repose, the food isn't disappearing too rapidly. I suppose, by tomorrow, it will be.

Lunie head, fifth instar
Lunie hindquarters, fifth instar
Entire lunie, fifth instar

4 Aug. 2012: Bryan would know for certain, but I think this beast is fifth instar. Stretched, it's about 2 inches long. Its head is now almost solid brown, with just a little bit of lighter trim. Its butt and anal prolegs are color coordinated to match, and its little bumps are now also brown, kind of the color of chocolate, but it's not appetizing on a caterpillar.

These new changes make it kind of more similar to poly pillars, but the head color is wrong, and the bump colors are wrong, and polies don't have that highly defined coloration on the hindquarters. Dominant poly markings are buff, or they could be called tan. Dominant lunie markings are very dark brown. The lunie still has the horizontal stripe.

A fine herd of lunies among leaves
Lunies on an ice cream lid, for perspective
Stretched mega-lunie

8 Aug. 2012: Inmates of my lunie-bin just continue to be a herd of ravenous eaters. Nothing of interest going on other than the lengths and girths they are attaining. The huge one has been fifth instar the longest by a couple days, though all of them hatched on the same day and from the same brood.

For perspective, ice cream lid is Blue Bunny Family Size. The white UPC box is 1-1/8 inches.

The lunies' bumps have mostly shifted back to pink.

Lunie pre-cocoon coloration change
Hunting for just the right piece of real estate

11 Aug. 2012: Had a very busy morning, so never found time to check pillars until nearly 1:00 p.m. Surprise! I was greeted with a huge mess to clean up and a pillar that's changing color -- a lunie pre-cocoon trait. It hasn't yet started its cocoon, but it will, soon.

Seems like the pillar wants to cocoon on top of the water container, so I cleaned off the frass collection, then I had to drive away a pillar that was gorging overhead and dropping piles accordingly.

A completed lunie cocoonSetting up some leaves with silk anchorsCaterpillar mouth in silk spitting modeSilk strands being strungIndustrious pillar pulls the lid down on its cocoon

13 Aug. 2012: To begin with, I've finally gotten around to photographing the cocoon from Saturday's pillar industry. It's a fine gossamer creation, typical of lunas.

Today, I've got another busy pillar, and, due to the location of its cocoon, was able to get some photos of the construction process. Caterpillars use their mouths differently during the cocooning process compared to during the eating stage. During silk spitting, the mouth is wide open, constantly. It's a rather amazing organ, and the camera helps us see it.

So, two down, and two still non-stop eating.

Surprise, surprise! This morning, I thought the sludge was a bit much for one pillar, but only one had turned amber and only that one was cocooning. However, about 5:00 p.m., I checked the lunie-bin. Low and behold, a smallish, green pillar was building a cocoon. That's three down!

Maybe the last one will surprise me and start one also. I wouldn't mind. Not even sure whether it's eating or just wandering. So, I dumped all the frass and we'll start over. Frass, or the lack thereof, will tell me what I want to know.

It's eating; soon there will be frass.

15 Aug. 2012: The last of the luna pillars has cocooned, which means I get a much deserved break from pillar raising. It's been almost three months of stuffing their hungry little mouths. Loving the freedom!

Now we wait . . .

19 Aug. 2012: I received a report today of a bacterial disease that strikes mature caterpillars that are feeding on paper birch. Naturally, I became deeply concerned. The party told me that pillars having the disease make a cocoon, but they never pupate. They sometimes live as long as three months in the cocoon, as pre-pupae, and finally die. So, I cut open all my cocoons. I wore surgical gloves in case the contents were gross. They weren't. Each cocoon contained a perfect, healthy, lively pupa. Relief!

Promie cocoons are double chambered, with padding in between. The inner chamber is so tiny, a custom fitted pod with no room to spare. Had to wonder how the caterpillar manages to fashion such a thing. Promies don't wiggle around in there; my promies never seemed to move, so I wondered if they were dead. They just had no room to wiggle; now I know. I opened these cocoons very carefully, keeping inner tip of suture scissors tilted toward cocoon wall at all times. The scissors just barely slipped by the pupae.

Lunies are entirely different. Their cocoons are roomy and loose, not very substantial. They easily crunch up in one's fingers. Inside, the pupa is surrounded by a loose net. So, in a sense, the cocoon is double chambered, but neither chamber is heavy duty construction, and the inner one is just threads that hold the bug in suspension.

What amazing insects these are. What amazing design went into them! Caterpillars are brainless, yet they fashion these wondrous cocoons. And their lifecycles are so cool.

25 Aug. 2012: Checked my bugs today to watch for any signs of eclosure. Saw none, but the bugs were alive and well. Discovered something interesting. The luna pupae are attached to their cocoons via a thread at the tip of the abdomen. Cecropias don't do that; open their cocoons and they drop right out. I believe I have one female and three males.

Not sure what the genders of my promies are. It's hard to view them because they make such hard, dense, tight fitting cocoons. They move a bit by simply turning around and around in there. The lunas also turn around, but they do so swiftly and with lots of abdomenal flexing.

Cute little promethea pupa in its super-tight cocoonVery active luna pupaInner netting layer of luna cocoonCocoon collection, lunas and prometheas

26 Aug. 2012: Cocoon and pupa photography session today. I wanted to capture what was left of the luna netting. Luna pupae suspend themselves within their cocoons in an inner layer of netting. I've cut it, but it can still be seen. Before I cut it, a net completely surrounded each pupa. Then, within that net, the pupa was also firmly attached to the inner wall of its cocoon by a silk thread attached to the tip of its abdomen.

Promethea cocoons are thick, hard, tight fitting, like being encased in customized cardboard.

Lunas are very active within their cocoons; promies are very inactive, hardly moving at all.

2 Sept. 2012: Luna eclosure: What a disaster! I thought they were in diapause, so did not have a proper set-up for them to eclose. As the result, they couldn't expand their wings properly. Wish I had noticed what was going on in time, but I didn't. They are alive and well otherwise, two males, two females, but are flightless and their most glorious beauty is lost forever. I'm so sad.

Luna heartache

18 Sept. 2012: I wasn't going to post this photo, but I guess I'm over the trauma of it now. Here's what happens when moths and butterflies don't have adequate space for their eclosure; they can't expand and shape their wings properly. It seems we've learned a significant lesson from this. Mostly, white luna cocoons eclose same season; brown cocoons are diapause. When there's an exception, it seems to be that a brown one ecloses. Though all moths in northern latitudes tend to be univoltine, if multivoltine species are shipped from southern latitudes, they will continue to be so in their new place of residence at least for the first season of their relocation. Very inconvenient.

22 May 2013: I got some cocoons from Bryan to replace last year's luna disaster. We've just had our first several days of too warm, too humid weather, the kind that moths love and humans hate. This morning I was greeted by my first eclosure of the season. He's perfect!

Luna male in a fine poseLuna under the lid of his eclosure container, where his wings formed perfectlyThe face of luna

15 June 2013: I've had three promies eclose over the last week or so. As usual, the first to go was a male, followed by a female and then another female, with a big gap in between.

Female promethea expanding wingsFemale promethea calling

See my cecropia page for more information and ideas.


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