Cecropia Watch

The story of huge, furry moths hatching on our deck.


Big, beautiful moths? What's not to love? But when fellow author and "moth farmer" Julie Hahnke generously offered to send me several Cecropia cocoons to shelter and hatch, I felt oddly nervous. Did I have the right space?  Enough time to devote to them?  What if I did something wrong??? What if they died?? Quit being ridiculous, I told myself, and answered with a resounding, "Yes, please!" Here is the story of their miraculous hatching.

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May 31

My long-awaited package has arrived in the mail! I opened it gently, knowing that the contents were probably alive, but not knowing their exact state.  

Here they are, seven Cecropia cocoons, looking like a cross between ace bandages and furry sweet potatoes. Julie had kindly sent them to me so I could watch these huge moths “eclosing” (hatching). But she warned me in an email, “There is a chance a couple might eclose en route to you.” Also, “we've had some HOT weather. Hopefully they didn't cook!” 

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My hands were trembling a bit as I unwrapped them.  Thank goodness, none had "eclosed" yet. One was suspiciously light, though, so I cut it open, and found the pupa inside dried and blackened. 

Six left, though.  Can’t wait!

June 2

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So . . . nothing yet. Weather very cool & wet here. Could that be delaying them? Note to self: find out what triggers "eclosing". To help with the waiting, I found and read a wonderful book about Cecropias called Night Flier, by Elizabeth Ring.

Should I move them from my screened porch to an outside location?  Julie had told me that they secrete (read: poop) some smelly substances sometimes. I decided to move them out to a shaded corner of my deck, and perched them amongst the orchids. Somehow that seemed appropriate: amazing moths among exotic plants.

Don't get me wrong: Cecropias are native to Minnesota. In fact, I found a Cecropia caterpillar a few years ago.  (I would never introduce a nonnative species! Bad idea!) Even though Julie sent them from Pennsylvania, they will be right at home here in Minnesota.

June 4

My birthday! Surely a moth will come out, right? Wrong.  

I felt a strong need to make sure these silent cocoons were still alive.  

With Julie's permission, I carefully cut through the tough, spongy outer coating of a cocoon, to find an inner cocoon, which looked like this. 



Even more carefully, I slit through that as well.

Ta-da! This is the "pupa", an inactive moth-to-be. It was the weight of a big peanut and felt like black velvet. And it WIGGLED in my hand! Yikes! It was alive!!

I looked closely, and noticed tiny wings hugging the pupa.  And above the wings were swoops of antennae, looking almost like a collar.

Little pupa, please hatch soon so you can stretch those wings!

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