6th Grade Teacher Needs Luna Moth Cocoon Help

Casey4361October 12, 2013

I'm a science teach (teach 6th grade) and this has defiantly been the year of the weird bugs. I got really luck and the inch worms the kids and I found on the side walk cocooned and hatched into a moth in about two weeks. So when I was at the park yesterday and saw a HUGE GREEN CATERPILLAR I couldn't resist trying it again, this time on such a larger scale! However, I've never raised a Luna Moth before. And I'm not sure how to do it.

I have it in a large plastic container with a lid, that I take off ever couple hours to check on it. The lid does not have holes in it but its not air tight by any means. At first I didn't know what to feed it so I took clippings off a bunch of trees in my neighborhood. Now some internet research showed me that none of these clippings are appropriate. But overnight it seems to have cocooned into some oak leaves. so here's my question:

Is this just normal over nigh behavior? Or have I gotten lucky again and its already cocooned? (I did find it at the base of a tree, and the internet told me it cocoons on the ground)

Also, how long can I expect it to stay in its cocoon once its been made? A youtube video said "over winter" so will it hatch in the spring??

Guidance is appreciated.

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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Usually when people find luna moth caterpillars, it's because they're through eating leaves and are traveling to find a place to make their cocoon. They can and do make it in a variety of places. Sometimes they stay in the tree whose leaves they'd been eating and make it on one of the branches. Sometimes they wrap up in leaves, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they make it on the ground or in a nearby tree. Regardless, at this point, it's most likely to overwinter in Missouri. Just keep it protected. I don't keep mine in air tight containers, because my common sense tells me that would encourage excessive moisture and the resulting mold. A plastic container needs some sticks or other rougher objects inside it that the moth can climb onto when it emerges - plastic is slippery, and the newly emerged moth would not likely form properly, since they need to hang to bring the fluids to the wings to expand them. Mine are in cages that are PVC frames with mesh coverings that are outside on my front porch - it's best to keep them outside so the moth will be more likely to emerge when spring occurs. The inside of a heated house is too warm, the moth will probably emerge too early there. It should be protected from critters that might eat it.

Do you remember if this caterpillar had a yellow line along its side? If it didn't, it would be a polyphemus moth, also a big beauty.


    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 10:34AM
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Thank you Sherry!

I'll have to construct a cage. Would it be best to keep out of the snow if possible? I bet they can withstand the snow, but I could leave it on the front porch or under the back porch to keep it out of the snow.

I do think it is a polyphemus. I don't remember seeing a yellow line. I went back to the park where I found it and all the trees in the area were oak trees. Luna Moth caterpillars do not eat oaks, but polyphemus' do. So thanks for letting me know about that too!

What kind of mesh do you use for the cage? How large should it be?

When can I expect it to emerge so as to bring it into my classroom? The internet suggested early May.

Ms. Casey

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 5:22PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

I use cages meant as homes for reptiles - they make good cages for caterpillars and chrysalides. They're made of a heavy duty mesh that zips up around the edge. The smallest I have is 25" X 14", but you don't need one that tall. Ten inches would probably be adequate, since you only need a cage tall enough for the moth to "hang out" in with a little space to spare. You could make a cage out of a bucket or plastic container - clear would be better, so you can view the interior - with something in it for the moth to climb onto to pump up its wings. You could cover it with some type of screen that critters couldn't chew through or maybe bridal veil material would suffice, since polyphemus cocoons are tough and not likely to be eaten. I keep mine on my porch, where they get winter temps but no rain. Snow likely wouldn't hurt the cocoon, but, if you've got a spot on a covered porch for it, that would be better. Enough wet snow for a long period might undermine the cocoon in some way.

Here's a link to the mail-order place where I buy my cages.


Here is a link that might be useful: Reptarium Cage

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 8:39PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I don't know where you are getting your info on oak and lunas. I raise a few lunas on pin oak every year and I know they eat at least a few more oak species. When it comes to oak and caterpillars, oaks support more species of caterpillars in the US than any other plant/tree.

As for when to bring the cocoon into your classroom, I suggest the 2nd week of April. Same advice holds true for luna or poly. Good chance the moth won't be out until early May but a warm winter can have them eclosing in mid-April.


    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 5:34PM
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