Gentle Giant

I conducted another outing to the prairie meadow yesterday morning, after the previous morning’s wonderful findings (if you missed that post, you can view it by clicking HERE). 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:

Polyphemus Moth

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:

 Polyphemus Moth closeup 

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! But what a beauty … a Gentle Giant indeed!

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