The Polyphemus moth is a giant silk moth, named appropriately since the wingspan averages 6 inches and can be even greater. Though hard to miss when they fly to doors and windows at night attracted by light, their lives are very ephemeral. Their lifecycle is around 3 months. In the less than two months they live as caterpillars, they eat up to 86,000 times their weight, which would translate into us eating a lot of salads. They can grow up to 4 inches long in their last instar phase, before spinning the silk cocoons in which they pupate. This incredible appetite explains how they get so amazingly big when they emerge as moths. They are definitely very hungry caterpillars! However, they don’t eat once they are transformed, and are only alive as adults for 4 days.
The name Polyphemus comes from the large eyespots on the two hind wings, which refer to the myth of the one eyed Cyclops Polyphemus. These spots are used to confuse potential predators. Research suggests the pattern on the hind wings look like the head of the great horned owl, so this might cause some otherwise hungry predators to avoid them assuming they might be on an owl’s menu. When viewed up close, these spots have a beautiful transparent center, shown here as somewhat reflective in the photo, and seem almost 3D which makes them more vivid. The scales surrounding this transparent center are blue and yellow, and the body itself is so fuzzy it looks like fur. Given their large size, without the characteristic patterns of legs and antennae, their large furry bodies at a distance could almost be mistaken for some magical creature of the night.