(This post originally published in October 2010)
I conducted another outing to the prairie meadow yesterday morning, after the previous morning’s wonderful findings. Yesterday was again quite productive. I first did some wildflower photography, especially trying to make some pleasing blurs as the flowers gently swayed in the light breeze. But I also came upon a couple of interesting critters, one of which I’m featuring in today’s post. I had spent ~3 hours in the meadow and decided after such a great day that I’d make my way to the trail that leads through the woods and back to the parking lot. As I neared the trailhead, I suddenly stopped. I wasn’t sure what I had seen, but something had caught my attention from the corner of my eye. I took a few steps backward and looked again. As I did, I saw this monster on the main stem of a woody plant:
This extremely large caterpillar, a Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) was quietly snuggled up to the plant stem. With the overnight temps ~55°F, he was warming up as the sun arose over the trees that line the perimeter of the meadow. I had never seen a caterpillar this large … he measured approximately 3″ long and was about as thick as a typical cigar … a giant of a caterpillar! After making the above image, I walked around to the other side and made one from that angle:
This angle shows his little feet, appearing like little suction cups! And note that the feet look to be very roughly textured … for better holding onto plant surfaces. Not knowing what this was in the field, I looked it up after I got home. The description for the Polyphemus Moth’s caterpillar reads “… to 3 1/2 inches long and is plump, bright green, with yellow bands, and has red and silver tubercles.” Pretty accurate description! It’s preferred habitat is deciduous woodlands … I found this guy ~25 feet from the woods. And it’s food includes “leaves of many different trees, including alder, basswood, birch, chestnut, elm, hickory, maple, poplar and sycamore.” Before I left, I marked the area with some fallen, dead limbs so that I could try to find him again during my next visit (in just a few minutes, after I post this entry!). I would love to be able to photograph it’s cocoon, and better yet, the emerging moth! My biggest fear now is that when I go back out to where he was, I’ll trip over this monster and break my leg! Oh, but what a beauty … a Gentle Giant indeed!