One day when I least expected it, I had a visitor from nature. I was sitting on the floor of my porch when I looked over to the siding on the house and noticed a giant, juicy, green caterpillar. Upon closer inspection I discovered that I had recognized this visitor from my work, for we had raised some and released them. It was none other than a Polyphemus caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus).
What are you doing on my house, Mr. Polyphemus?
Feeling sorry for it because it was at least 40-50 feet from the nearest tree, I decided to try and feed him maple leaves. I know he likes them.
Sure enough within seconds, he was munching away on some tasty maples leaves.
I was happy to help and went on with my outside tasks. I don’t know why I checked on him so soon, but literally 20 minutes later I did. To my shock he had already spun a silk cocoon.
No, no! This is not a safe place! It’s too close to the ground!
I tried pulling him off the house, thinking I could raise him inside until he emerges, however his construction was properly made and his silk cocoon was like superglue.
Now I faced a dilemma. Would he have spun his cocoon had it not been for my maple leaves? Did I do more harm than good? A racoon or skunk can easily walk up to him and consume him! Sometimes our best intentions are blindly made.
Robert Frost felt the same way in his poem, The Exposed Nest, where he writes about trying to restore a nest on the ground after machinery uncovered it.
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could.
Realizing that the exposed silk cocoon now puts my Polyphemus friend at risk, I had to help him out.
I constructed a barrier around the cocoon and the maple leaves, then I placed a patio chair in front of it. Hopefully in a week or so I will find an exit hole in his cocoon and he will be safely flying at night in the trees.
I saw the risk I took in doing good
But dared not spare to do the best I could.
I work at a nature center where we recently raised about 20 Polyphemus moths from caterpillar state. They were donated to us. It was a spectacular show. And the children that visited the nature center loved watching them.
Here are some hanging in their cocoons and a few that just emerged.
Here are a pair stretching their wings. The female is on the left (thin antenna) and the male is on the right (thick antenna). The large spots on their hind wings are solely to ward off predators. They look like large eyes staring back!
I’m so very grateful to be able to work at a nature center and learn about these beautiful creatures. I’m thankful that I recognized the Polyphemus caterpillar on my house and I hope my little shelter keeps him safe and on his way very soon.