At our Memorial Day weekend Butterfly Count Day at Audubon House, ORCA and Audubon volunteer, Cindy Hersh (Stewardship Class of 2015) brought in a picture of a beautiful Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) which she recently found locally here in Sebastian, Florida.
Butterflies and moths together make up the order Lepidoptera and Giant Silkworm Moths such as the Polyphemus are of the family Saturniidae. Probably the most famous example of a moth in this family are the beautiful green Luna Moths which are very rarely seen here.
The moth is named after Polyphemus, the mythical one-eyed cyclops in Homer’s The Odyssey. The adult moths are strikingly large over boasting a wingspan of 4.5 to 5 inches.
The pictured moth is a male which is discerned by the particularly bushy and feather antennae. The male’s antennae are used to detect pheromones which are released by the females.
Polyphemus Moths boast a very large range from Canada down to Mexico are the most common Saturnids found in Florida and even at that are not commonly seen. All Lepidoptera have suffered a decline in numbers due to the usual environmental impacts humans have had on nature, primarily destruction of habitat and chemical poisoning (herbicides, lawn pesticides, and insecticide sprayings).
The adult Polyphemus Moth lays its eggs on a wide variety of tree host plants including Oaks and Maples. There are two or more generations per year of this species in the south and only one in the north. The fifth instar larva (after 4 molts) pupates inside a self-spun silk cocoon and after a variable period of time emerges as the adult moth. Like all Saturnids, the beautiful adult moth has a very short life span of less than one week due to its having vestigial mouth parts and thus unable to eat. It only has time to procreate to begin the life cycle one more time.