The Giant Moths of Sullivan County (and New York)

The Polyphemus Moth on my door step last night. I think the eyes and face the pattern make is absolutely striking.

With bird activity at a minimum recently, as is always the case at this time of year, we have the chance to focus our interests elsewhere. For me, that is often in the direction of Butterflies. There has been a real increase over the last few weeks in Butterfly activity and some of them are really neat to observe. If you spend any time right now, you can find Great Spangled Fritillary, White Admiral, Red Admiral, Orange and Clouded Sulphurs, Mourning Cloak, Painted and American Ladies, Bronze and American Coppers, to name a few. Not quite as easy to find however are some of the giant moths that are actually quite common in our area. There are two reasons they are tough to find. First, they are strictly nocturnal. There is only one reason you ever see them during the day, they’ve died. Second, they have a life expectancy of SEVEN days! perhaps due to my location in a mature mixed deciduous/conifer forest right on a lake, I probably get more than my share of these beautiful moths. Through the years, I’ve been visited, nearly annually, by at least one of he species in our area. I’ve had three species visit. Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna Moths! Last night, as a friend was leaving, one of the giants flew in as he opened my door. After the brief startle, we watched the moth, identified it (Polyphemus) and got a couple of photos. What a beautiful moth! The eyes, and I say face, that its markings form are striking! The other striking feature is the size. This moth is six inches wide. I placed it on my had a couple of times to show that it stretched from my wrist to my finger tips, but it didn’t stay put even a second for a photo. I had to settle for photographing it on my stoop. Because these moths are so attracted to light, the only way to save it from flying into my house was to shut off all our front lights. Fifteen minutes late, it was gone. One of the characteristics of all the large moths is that the males all have large “feathered” antennae. They use these sensors to locate the females by the fermones they emit. This moth, is obviously a male. Hopefully, he went on his way, producing the next generation of these fascinating moths! I’ve attached a photo of one of the Luna Moths I had in my yard a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any old photos of Cecropia Moths, so I’ll have to wait for another to show up.

A beautiful Luna Moth!

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