The Polyphemus Moth

by Jeff Ausmus at

Female Polyphemus Moth and Larva

Pictures courtesy of Joan Ausmus.

Descriptive Qualities:

The Polyphemus moth is common in all parts of the United States.

Map of this moth's Area:

Polyphemus Life Cycle

Polyphemus Eggs Polyphemus Larvae, 1st Instar Polyphemus Larva, 2nd Instar Polyphemus Larva, 3rd Instar Polyphemus Larva, 4th Instar Polyphemus Larva, 5th Instar
Polyphemus Cocoon Polyphemus , Male Pupa Polyphemus , Female Pupa Polyphemus Promethea Moth Polyphemus Promethea Moth Polyphemus Moths Pairing

Eggs and Larva
Depending on the size of the particular moth, about 200 - 250 eggs per female. Polyphemus larva look yellow when they first hatch, and they have a very distinctive brown head. As they get close to shedding into 2nd instar, they start to look more green. They look similar, but not quite the same, as lunas in all of their instars. Their head remains brown in all instars.

Scenting and Mating
Female Polyphemus usually put their scent out between 3:00 A.M. and dawn. Males may come in at any time during that period. It is easiest to put the female in a metal cage with holes big enough that they can mate through it (about a half inch or 3/4 inch hole should do nicely) but small enough that the female cannot escape. That is the best way to do it if you don't have the luxury of staying up all night to watch them. I usually stay up and wait for the males to come in, and then put them with the female. This way is the only real way to tell how many came in. Polyphemus moths mate readily in captivity.

Polyphemus larva usually make their cocoons fastened to a twig on the tree they are feeding on. However, in some cases they crawl down from their tree and make their cocoon in or on nearby surroundings. Polyphemus have 2 broods in most of their area. In the south, they sometimes have 3 broods.

Personal Markings or Characteristics
Polyphemus are almost impossible to see if they have their wings closed, because they closely resemble a dried leaf. However, when their wings open, they have a large "eye" on each of their two bottom wings. This is used to scare predators away.

Caring For Polyphemus, In All Stages:

Here are some notes that may be helpful when trying to raise Polyphemus larva, especially if it's your first time raising them.

Caring for the eggs
To care for Polyphemus eggs, just put them in a small container. It is best to be small, because the caterpillars like to crawl a lot when they first hatch, and if you put them in a bigger container, they will crawl away from the food you put in with them, and might not be able to get back. That's a lot of area for such a small caterpillar.

Food Plants

Here is a list of all food plants that I have ever used to raise Polyphemus on. In the odd occurance that you can not come by any of these, you should contact me. Experimenting with other foodplants could prove worthwhile.

Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)
Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)

Polyphemus usually eat almost anything you give them. In the past, I've had them eating Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). However, the particular strain I had in Summer 2000 wouldn't eat much of anything, even the things that are normally their favorite foods.

Raising the Larva (Inside)
Polyphemus larva are pretty easy to raise. They seem to be pretty resistant to most diseases and will eat most anything, usually.

Raising the Larva (Outside)
Polyphemus larva are easy to raise outside. You just find a suitable host plant and put the larva on it. It is best to put them on a branch and then put the branch inside some sort of netting, so that they are protected from predators like insects, birds, and rodents.

Caring for the cocoons
Caring for Polyphemus cocoons is pretty simple. You should put them in an area where it is fairly moist, if the cocoons dry out, they will die. If you just put them outside they should be fine. You cannot leave them inside, because they will hatch, but you can keep them in the refridgerator. If you do this, it is best to spray the cocoons with a light mist every once in a while so they don't dry out.

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