With a wingspan of up to 5 ½ inches, the Polyphemus moth is one of the largest and most striking Lepidoptera in Vermont. Due to its enormous hindwing eyespots, this moth was named after the Greek myth of the Cyclops Polyphemus. Adults emerge from their cocoons in the late afternoon, and mating occurs the same day, from late evening to early morning. After hatching, females begin releasing a pheromone in order to attract males and mate. They lay their eggs that evening, singly or in groups of 2 or 3 on leaves of the host plant. Newly hatched caterpillars eat their eggshells, and caterpillars of all ages are solitary. Older caterpillars eat an entire leaf and then cut the leaf petiole at the base so it falls to the ground, perhaps a defensive measure to eliminate signs of feeding.

Identification

Upperside is reddish to yellowish brown; forewing margin is usually lighter than the basal area; forewing submarginal line is pink, or black and pink. Clear oval eyespots are ringed with yellow, blue, and black; hindwing eyespot is separated from the basal area of the wing by a thin pink line. Underside has rust, brown, and pink markings.

Conservation Status

Resident – uncommon
Vermont S3
Global G5

Flight Period

The Polyphemus Moth has one brood in the north from May through July. Though we have few records for this moth, it was seen during our survey from the beginning of June through the end of July. Extreme dates: 8 June 2003 in Plainfield (B. Pfeiffer) and 28 July 2004 in Bennington (K. Hemeon).

Distribution and Habitat

Found very sporadically, and predominantly in northern Vermont. Preferred habitats are deciduous hardwood forests, urban areas, orchards, and wetlands. Caterpillars feed on a wide variety of trees and shrubs including Oak (Quercus), Willow (Salix), Maple (Acer), and Birch (Betula).

View a live map of reported observations on iNaturalist Vermont.

Read species account on iNaturalist.

Map of reported locations by block during the 2002-2007 survey.

Map of reported locations by block during the 2002-2007 survey.