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Usually found in deciduous hardwood forests, urban areas, orchards and wetlands, this moth (Antheraea polyphemus) was last seen perched on the chicken coop door of The Why Filesí very own S.V. Medaris. Thinking of what a terrific Cool Science Image the moth would make, Medaris quickly grabbed the digital and snapped these photos.
Named for Polyphemus, the sailor-eating, one-eyed giant in Homerís Odyssey, the polyphemus moth can have a wingspan of up to 6 inches. Roughly the size of an extended adult human hand, this is one enormous moth! However, the polyphemus moth is not named for its large size. Instead, the moth takes its name from the transparent eyespots on its fore and hind wings. These eyespots trick would-be predators into thinking the moth is something more dangerous. A cyclops, perhaps?
Lucky for sailors, this Polyphemus is not interested in them as a meal. In fact, adult polyphemus moths are not interested in anything as a meal. Adult moths do not eat or drink. Ever. They do not even have mouths! All eating and drinking is done while the moth is still a caterpillar. The caterpillar must be sure to eat enough to produce the energy needed to spin a cocoon, hatch from that cocoon and survive approximately one week as a moth.
During their short time as moths, these critters have only one goal: to mate. Females count on their eyespots to camouflage them well as they lay on the ground, not moving or flying for days at a time, waiting for a male to find them. The large, furry antennae seen in extreme close-up here, allow the males to track the females thanks to pheromones, chemicals of love released by the female. After mating, females usually lay 200-300 eggs.
Photo Courtesy S.V. Medaris