Dave wanted to image the caterpillar, so he set up his white box, which is essentially a small white tent that allows him to display subjects on a clean background under controlled conditions. While I'm not used to shooting this way, Dave was kind enough to allow me some time with the caterpillar and white box, and the above photo is one of the results. Displaying an animal in this way makes for interesting images, and details really pop. This is how Dave shot all of the images for his award-winning Curious Critters book - check that out RIGHT HERE.
Joey Chestnut look like a chump. All they do is eat, eat, eat, and grow, grow, grow. When a Cecropia cat first hatches from its tiny egg, it is hundreds of times smaller than the massive bruiser shown here. Through a series of molts, with each growth stage termed an instar, the caterpillar blows up into a truly awe-inspiring bag of goo. The colorful orange and blue clubs adorned with spines add a nice touch.
If you're quiet, you can hear the caterpillar chewing from some distance away. Plant matter is vacuumed in via the mouthparts (shown above) and soon expelled out the other end in the form of frass (caterpillar poo). The frass pellets are substantial, and some people first discover Cecropia caterpillars by the ever-growing piles of frass below the feeding tree. Had I been on my game, I would have photographed that, too. Cecropias aren't overly finicky eaters, and have been found snacking on a wide variety of woody plants including birch, elm, maple, ash, cherry and many others.
Tami Gingrich, who raises Cecropias, was kind enough to allow me the use of her beautiful image of an adult Cecropia. What a showstopper this animal is! It is the largest indigenous moth in North America (the increasing numbers of tropical Black Witches may change that), and is the size of a small bat. No one, and I mean no one, would not stop for a double-take if they spotted one of these moths. If someone were to ignore one of these marvelous moths, I would feel compelled to declare them devoid of intellectual curiosity, and in a later stage of nature deficit disorder.
For all of their ornate beauty, the adult Cecropia, like the other giant silkmoths, will live for but a week if that. It has no functional mouthparts and adults exist only to find a mate, and reproduce. They are little more than incredibly showy flying gonads. Once a pair has mated and the female has dropped her eggs, the moths soon wink out. It is the caterpillar stage that lasts by far the longest, and (arguably) is the most important facet of the moth's lifecycle.
The Cecropias have a friend in Tami, who raises many of them. She's got quite a handful of cats here, and is lucky that her fingers don't have the taste and feel of cherry leaves. Keeping this number of livestock in food is no small matter - the caterpillar rancher must regularly harvest substantial amounts of foliage to stoke their insatiable appetites.
Moths are truly bits of magic, transforming from odd-looking tubular goo-bags to some of Nature's most stunning winged creatures.