Raising Cecropia Moths

Raising Cecropia Moths

Part of Ep. 1705 Raising the Roof

Shelley Ryan visits Stuart Baker who raises cecropia moths. They are strikingly beautiful and cause no harm to the garden.

Premiere date: Jul 22, 2009

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
If you see these in your backyard, don't panic. It's not going to harm your garden in any way. This is a kind of silkworm. I'm with a person who's passionate about silkworms Stuart Baker. What is this exactly and why don't I have to worry about it? Stuart:
This is a cecropia larvae. It's a member of the silkworm family. It's native to Wisconsin. And it grows on trees, apple trees mostly or almost any other kind of tree, you might find it on. And you might see it in your yard. This is a freeze-dried specimen.

Shelley:
I was going to say, this one's really safe. It's not moving!

Stuart:
Normally, they're bright green and they have nice, pretty spines on them. And they're actually quite a dramatic worm.

Shelley:
That could be scary looking.

Stuart:
But really, they don't affect the trees that much. They don't eat that much. They won't defoliate it.

Shelley:
They just kind of munch on some of the apple leaves.

Stuart:
The tree really has no problem with these things at all.

Shelley:
When are we going to see these on our trees?
Stuart:
We see them in late-June, July, and August. And they start out small. When they come out of their eggs they come out as a small, black caterpillar sort of thing. And then they go through about six stages. They'll grow into something big like this.

Shelley:
Big and scary. There's a payoff. One of the reasons we don't want to kill him is because the following year.

Stuart:
Yeah, they turn into these beautiful moths.

Shelley:
This is a cecropia moth.

Stuart:
These are rather faded.

Shelley:
And they're still beautiful.

Stuart:
They're very beautiful. They're bright oranges and reds. I love them. Actually, I'm a computer guy, and I got into this-- Phil Pellitteri asked me one day-- I worked in the Entomology Department. He asked me to babysit one of his cecropia larva while he went on a trip.

Shelley:
A pet sitter!

Stuart:
I took it home and put it in a bottle.

Shelley:
Show me what you do.

Stuart:
I went out and picked an apple branch. I put it in a small bottle with water to keep the leaves fresh.

Shelley:
So he sent you home one of these.

Stuart:
Right, and I put it on a branch in an aquarium.

Shelley:
The branch was just sitting in water, like a vase.

Stuart:
The larvae will eat the leaves. Then, when he starts running out of leaves you get another branch and put it in there. He'll move to that branch. He keeps eating, growing and eating until he's had enough to eat. Then, he will spin up a cocoon hopefully on the branch itself. Or, he might wander around the house and actually spin up under a table or on a chair leg, or somewhere.

Shelley:
Maybe your house!

Stuart:
Which is one of the reasons that I started raising these things outside.

Shelley:
Somebody got a little upset with these in the house!

Stuart:
My wife didn't like that too much.

Shelley:
These are what they'd look like in the wild. And we'd see these in late-August?

Stuart:
They'll start spinning cocoons in late-August, early September

Shelley:
If we see these, don't kill them. These aren't going to harm anything.

Stuart:
These things will winter. They stay in the trees after the leaves fall. And then, well, they need a cold period.

Shelley:
So if you were raising these at home would you put them out in the garage, or something?

Stuart:
I put them in the garage. Some people actually put them in their refrigerators. And that's enough. They don't even need to put them in the freezer. Just the refrigerator for a couple months. Then, take them out and they will actually emerge as a moth. I try to keep them, I take them to my garage then I bring them out in the spring and put them on my deck. That way, they synchronize with the rest of the naturally occurring ones. So that when the moths come out the females will actually attract males from the wild if they've emerged at the same time. And then they'll mate.

Shelley:
That was one thing that I know about them one of the few things I know. When they come out as these beautiful moths they don't have mouths; they don't eat.

Stuart:
No, they can't eat anything. They'll only survive about two weeks, maybe three. Their main function is to find a mate and mate. Then, the male dies. The female lays her eggs, and she dies. Then the whole cycle starts over.

Shelley:
Show me a few of the other ones. Your babies are the cecropias.

Stuart:
I love the cecropias, but these are some more common silkworm moths that you find in Wisconsin. This is a polyphemus. This is a Luna moth. I've never raised one of those but they are natural to this area.

Shelley:
So again, if we see these, no panicking!

Stuart:
No, don't panic. They're perfectly harmless.

Shelley:
They enhance the garden.

Stuart:
One of the reasons I got involved in this not only because I love them but because these are related to the gypsy moth. Some of the control measures used to control gypsy moths also may affect these, depending on what year they are.

Shelley:
You're kind of helping the population.

Stuart:
I hope so.

Shelley:
This is a great idea. Thank you, Stuart.

Stuart:
You're welcome.

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