Top Photo: Polyphemus (pol-uh-FEE-muhs) moth cocoon hanging from twig in Earth Moves.
Some silk moths spend the winter in cocoons in the leaf liter. Some burrow underground. At least some Polyphemus moths winter as pupa wrapped up and hanging from a twig or branch of their host tree via a peduncle. The further south Polyphemus moths live, the more likely this behavior. Occasionally, though, these hanging cocoons drop off into the leaf liter.
The one pictured here was found hanging from a young maple in Earth Moves. These exposed cocoons are sometimes preyed upon by squirrels or woodpeckers. I’ve seen chickadees working diligently to open dangling Polyphemus cocoons for the juicy pupae within.
Polyphemus moths are named for the single “eye” on the wings of the adult moth. In Greek mythology, Polyphemus was the giant cyclops encountered by, and who entrapped, Odysseus and his crew on Sicily while the hero made his way home from Troy. Polyphemus was the son of Poseidon.
The caterpillars that don’t attach their cocoons to the host tree or shrub seek more terrestrial places to pupate during fall and can sometimes be found crossing paths as they do so.
The adults emerge in late spring to early summer, mate and lay eggs. Though they may lay more than 100 eggs, they lay only a few on any given host tree.
Their life span as adults is measured in days. Consider yourself lucky to have witnessed one of these creatures in any stage of their lives, egg, caterpillar, pupa, or adult.