Monday, October 28, 2013
Their range includes most of the Eastern United States from Nebraska to Maine. There are some reports that they are declining at an alarming rate in the northeastern part of their range. The population decline in these locations could and probably is due to habitat loss. Throughout the rest of their range their numbers are secure to abundant. The adults are large with wingspans up to 5.5 inches and are yellow with variable lavender spots. Males are smaller than females.
These large moths do not feed as adults, instead they get all the nutrition they need as caterpillars. If you've never seen one of these in their larval form, it is truly impressive. When hatched they are barely visible and possess an incredible appetite. They feed voraciously and reach lengths up to 3 or 4 inches when ready to pupate. They manage this in the span of several weeks. It has been said that if a human baby gained weight like a caterpillar, they would weigh as much as a hippo in a single weekend. They feed on a wide variety of tree species like oak, hickory, walnut, pine, maple (including box elder), Norway spruce, sassafras, sweet gum and many others.
Moths are covered in furry scales that protect them from cooler nighttime temperatures. These large moths take it to a whole new level with what appears to be a winter-weight coat, complete with scarf and leg warmers. After midnight the females will begin signalling for males by emitting a pheromone. The males are capable of "smelling" the females from distances of more than a mile. He uses his large, feathery antennae to home in on her scent. Females will lay eggs one at a time, or up to 2 to 5 on the leaves of host plants. Eggs hatch in a couple of weeks. When ready to pupate they will move to the base of the host tree and burrow into the ground to pupate for the winter.
Naturalist Gene Stratton Porter wrote about the Imperial Moth in her novel "A Girl of the Limberlost" It was a prominent character in the plot development of the novel. She had a life long love of silk moths and shared her passion for their beauty in the book Moths of the Limberlost.