Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mystery Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

Well, since it is still too wintery to be blogging about any real live gardening activity, here is another mystery insect I thought I'd post in hopes of identifying since we had such great help last time.

This huge moth (5 inch or 13 cm wingspan) was found on my Aunt's farm in Saskatchewan on June 7, 1992. Since then we have never identified it (or if we did we did not write it down). I plan to get a book out from the library to attempt to identify it but thought I'd post it here in the meantime. Not sure if it is a common or rare moth. I recall we caught it flying around the outdoor house light, where moths are typically found of course. I remember hoards of them around our lights on the farm, but rarely see them in the city here. Not sure if this is a rural-urban difference, declining numbers over time or Calgary's climate.

UPDATE: The moth appears to be a male Antheraea polyphemus with common name simply Polyphemus Moth (see discussion and links in comments below). They are relatively common in North America and feed on numerous species of trees and shrubs, not dependent on a single species of plant like the wood wasp we found earlier this winter (see link above). They range from southern Canada to northern Mexico. There is a good possibility there are some in Calgary or perhaps in our own yard. We'll keep an eye out.


The Blog Fodder said...

Reminds me of a little boy who started collecting moths. He went to the library and tried to borrow a book called "Advice to young Mothers".

Basement Dweller said...

Speaking of the growing season, do you guys start plants indoors in planters?

Do you know if any of the hydroponics-type gear can be had reasonably inexpensively for an indoor herb garden year-round or something like that? The only stuff that I've seen is the AeroGarden stuff that Canadian Tire sells, which seems a rather expensive (although perhaps if you can harvest often enough it would be worth it).

Dave said...

I'm pretty sure this is a member of the Saturniidae (Giant Silk Moths), probably the genus Antheraea, and possibly A. polyphemus. The Stickland Museum has a species page at:

These giants occur in Alberta - I think I saw one just up the street, battering itself along the bole of a street ash, but it was in very poor shape compared to yours. Also, I'm not much of a lepidopterist, so any ids I make are open to debate.

Middle Earth Garden said...

TBF: Are these jokes from before my time, or do you make them up?? :-)

Thanks again Dave! Doing some further reading online, the moth appears to very likely be a male Antheraea polyphemus.

The moth is described to be quite distinct from similar species, and the male clearly identified by the large bushy antennae. The time of year when we found the moth (early June) is when the adults typically appear and they are commonly found attracted to outdoor lights. The typical size of the moth also matches our measurement.

This moth is apparently quite common and widespread across North America. And most interesting, in Alberta the Paper Birch is apparently one if its favourite foods!

So there is a good possibility I could find one this spring in our very own yard, if I'm willing to lose some sleep for the job that is... But at least in the day I can hunt around to see if I can find any cocoons on or around the birch.

This would in part answer my question as to who else may be living off the birch.

We found a cabbage butterfly (I think) a month ago that we're not sure if it came from the birch branches or some fresh veggies we bought at the grocery store. We'll have to see if anyone else emerges.

The Blog Fodder said...

MEG, I believe in recycling. The jokes are older than I am.

Dirty Girl Gardening said...

Gorgeous! I have a similar moth in a cocoon in my garden now... I've been tracking him since he was an adorable fat caterpillar (see my post "I'm in Love!") and not it's about ready to come out.