A few weeks ago, I made a trip over to the famous West Jefferson McDonald's. Famous, that is, among the moth-seeking crowd. While those who covet french fries and Big Macs obviously frequent the place, there is a regular contingent who make visits after nightfall, looking for jumbo fliers.
Located right along the banks of Little Darby Creek, there is scads of good habitat in close proximity to this particular Golden Arches. Couple that with the brilliant high-mounted lights that bathe the parking lot in bluish illumination after dark, and you've got a veritable pot at the end of the rainbow for those who want to find the nighttime lepidoptera.
The West Jeff Mickey D's really draws the giant moths: a variety of sphinxes, Lunas, Royal Walnut Moth, Imperial Moth, and many more. There is even a record for the gargantuan Black Witch, a rare wanderer from the tropics. Late June through July seem a bit better for numbers and diversity, but I did manage one noteworthy bruiser of a moth on this visit.
That hand offers a size-scale - this is one big moth! Note the eye spots peeking out, and fully exposed in the first photo. The moth uses them as a defense system. If some predator stumbles into it when at rest, the moth quickly flashes its forewings to the open position. Eek! Suddenly a giant pair of frightening eyes flash in the chickadee's face, sending it packing tail between legs.
The adults do not eat at all, and have no functional mouthparts. They live only to find the opposite sex, mate, and in the female's case, lay eggs. Female moths emit powerful pheremones, which the male senses through his large fernlike antennae. Apparently the boys can sniff out the girls from a mile or more, and steer unerringly towards them in the quest to reproduce.
An adult Polyphemus is a true miracle. Probably only a tiny percentage of all of the eggs laid by a female ever make it to adulthood. The threats are many, and the caterpillars are delicacies for all manner of parasitoid wasps and flies, and hungry birds, beetles, mammals and many others.
I saw firsthand the all too common fate of a caterpillar of another species of large moth recently, and will share that sometime soon.