Callosamia promethea, commonly known as the promethea silkmoth, is a member of the Saturniidae family, which contains approximately 1,300 species. It is also known as the spicebush silkmoth, because spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is one of the promethea silkmoth's common host plants. The other part of C. promethea's name, and it's classification as a silk moth, comes from its ability to produce silk, and it does so in the formation of its cocoon.
C. promethea lives in forests in the eastern U.S. It is not endangered and does not damage the trees it lives on. C. promethea hatches from eggs and feeds on its host plants before pupating while hanging from trees during the winter. It then emerges and mates during a specific time of day. The females utilize pheromones to attract males for mating partners, with both sexes mating multiple times. They are the only moth in their family where the sexes are not active at the same time of day, with males being diurnal and females being nocturnal.  The males use mimicry of the poisonous pipe vine swallowtail butterfly as a form of protection from predators.
- 1 Geographic range
- 2 Habitat
- 3 Food resources
- 4 Life cycle
- 5 Enemies
- 6 Protective coloration and behavior
- 7 Mating
- 8 Conservation
- 9 Pest status
- 10 Gallery
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
C. promethea is found in deciduous forests.
C. promethea does not consume any food in its adult stage.
Female promethea silkmoths lay their eggs on the leaves of the host plants of the caterpillars. The eggs are laid at night. A female’s eggs are mostly mature when they are laid in groups of 4-10 eggs at a time. Eggs are white, flat and elliptical.
Once the caterpillars hatch, they are fairly solitary during this life stage. They eat leaves from the edge inwards. The caterpillars eat from several host plants. Caterpillars begin as yellow with black stripes, but become blue-green colored over time. Once they are blue-green, they develop four red and one yellow protuberances. These caterpillars go through several instars or skin shedding, and usually after the fifth shedding the caterpillar is read to form a cocoon. When the caterpillars form cocoons, they are twice as long as they are wide.
Some caterpillars in the Saturniidae family will pupate in the ground. However, promethea silkmoth caterpillars pupate in trees. The caterpillars attach themselves directly to the branches of trees with their silk. Then, they curl a dead leaf around themselves. C. promethea pupates during the winter.
The wingspan of this moth is 3-4 inches, but females are on average larger than males. Males are darkly pigmented, while females are more brightly colored. The males and females both have tan on the edges of their wings. The males have a set of eyespots on their forewings, but the females have spots on all their wings. In the northern part of the promethea silkmoth's range, there is one brood per year and it occurs during the early summer. In the southern part of the moth’s range, there are two broods, with one occurring in the spring and the other occurring in late summer.
C. promethea cocoons and their location typically provide the pupas with sufficient protection from possible predators. Mice may have difficulty predating the cocoons because the branches the cocoons hang from are too thin to support the mouse's weight. Woodpeckers could have trouble eating the pupas since it is hard to open the hanging cocoons without them moving when pecked. Other predators of the cocoons include some flies and wasps.
Protective coloration and behavior
C. promethea utilizes Batesian mimicry, in which an edible species mimics a toxic species as a form of camouflage from predators. Promethea silkmoth females are rust and cream colored, but the males have very different coloration. Promethea silkmoth males mimic the pipe vine swallowtail (Battus philenor), a poisonous butterfly. The topside of the wings of promethea silkmoth males is black, as are the wings of the pipe vine swallowtails, which also have a shiny blue pattern on the top surface of their wings. The promethea silkmoth males do not have this reflective blue pattern, but their mimicry is still effective due to the fact that the blue reflective pattern is only visible on pipe vine swallowtails in a certain light, so the blue is not essential for C. promethea's mimicry to be effective.
The effectiveness of this mimicry was tested experimentally. Promethea silkmoth males were painted with various patterns, then released, and the amount of each group that was recaptured showed that mimicry helped the moths survive. The control group was painted black, to match their actual coloration. One experimental group was painted black and yellow to mimic the tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), which is not a poisonous butterfly and does not mimic the poisonous pipe vine swallowtail. The other experimental group was painted with orange stripes to mimic the poisonous monarch butterfly. The two groups that were painted to be mimetic to a poisonous butterfly both were recaptured more than the group painted to match an edible butterfly. This shows that mimicry, specifically the partial mimic of promethea silkmoth males to pipe vine swallowtails, is adequate protection against predation.
Female promethea silkmoths use the release of pheromones in order to attract male promethea silkmoths. The females remain in place, camouflaged, as they wait for the males to sense their pheromones and come to them. Females release their pheromones at a specific time of day called the “calling time.” For C. promethea this time is late afternoon and into the early evening When males sense the pheromones of a female they travel up the gradient of the pheromones and towards the female. Males are able to detect and locate females from miles away. One C. promethea male has been found to be able to detect and find a female from 23 miles away. A distance this long is likely to be covered in multiple days.
In terms of locating mates, males cannot find females unless they release pheromones, so the females control how frequently they mate. When females do send out their pheromones, the first male to reach a female will mate with her.
Number of mates
C. promethea are polyandrous, meaning the females mate with multiple males. However, not all females practice this behavior, some only mating with a single male. They are the only moth in the Saturniidae family known to be polyandrous. This is likely because C. promethea is the only moth that is both diurnal (males) and nocturnal (females). This allows for egg laying and mating to occur at different times of day, so there is no trade off between the two activities. Male butterflies are polygamous, as well. Polyandrous females are more fecund, due to laying more eggs. A female’s eggs are mostly mature when they are laid.
C. promethea is not endangered and there are no specific management practices in place to maintain or control the species.
While these moths do live on many species of trees as a caterpillar they are not reported to cause any noticeable damage on their host trees.
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