Recently, one of our naturalists came across this beautiful giant leopard moth right by the gift shop door. It had JUST emerged from its coccoon and was starting to pump the fluid from its body into its wings, causing them to unfold and eventually harden. Note the progression below as its abdomen becomes smaller and the wings fuller. The whole process was happening so fast that she barely had time to get her camera and photograph it!
Leopard moths are one of our native insects (it’s always nice to hear that). I photographed the caterpillar of this insect last month (see here), and while I intended to keep it around to watch it emerge, I ended up letting it go. Perhaps this is the same individual, for when I turned it loose, it had spun some silk in the jar in which I was keeping it, perhaps in preparation for pupation.
Unlike some of our native insects, which are highly specific in their diets, the giant leopard moth eats a large variety of plants, including forbs and woody shrubs, such as cherry, willow, dandelions, oaks and plantains. I wonder, though, if they become food specific once they start feeding – apparently many caterpillars do: if their eggs are laid, for example on hickory, then that’s what they eat – no heading off in search of a cherry or a willow. Maybe the leopard is similarly inclined.
Now that summer is in full swing, there is so much happening “out there” that there is no excuse not to get out and look for something interesting.