What to do with cocoons falling from late winter trees?

odd podThe bare, ugly forests of late winter do have one fun thing to find: cocoons. And the harsh windy storms of this past winter flung some of them onto the ground.  A week ago I found just such an odd pod under an oak tree in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

I found two great sites to help me figure out what I had on my hands. Butterflies and Moths of North America has an extensive library of pictures that you can search by lifestage. They led me to think Polyphemus moth, though I never heard back from the site.

Daniel Marlos at Whatsthatbug, however, gave me a quick response: “We believe this is either the cocoon of a Luna Moth or of a Polyphemus Moth.”

Either way, I have hit the cocoon jackpot. These are both giant silk moths, as in, they are as big as a sparrow and a lot flashier and more fun. If all moths looked like these guys, people wouldn’t even mind having their clothes eaten by them.

Marlos, who has been identifying bugs for strangers since 1998 in newspapers, online and with the help of his book The Curious World of Bugs, assured me that if the cocoon is viable it would hatch into a gorgeous creature. And that I wouldn’t even have to feed it because the moth stage has no “mouthparts” so it can’t eat–only reproduce.

Is it viable? I can only anxiously wait and see. I have been burned by cocoon hopes before. I remember finding some kind of chrysalis when I was in fifth grade at North School in Des Plaines, IL. I kept it safe in my desk the entire school year and regularly checked its condition.  Mrs. David never new, but then nothing ever happened, either. It was kind of smelly when I threw it out.

It could become this green beauty.

It could become this green beauty, the luna moth.

polythemus moth

Or it could be this giant brown moth with fake purple eyes, Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus).

I have seen a grown Polymethus moth and a luna moth caterpiller in this same park. So I think I could release either and it would find a mate. I also got a tip from glorious-butterfly.com that I should tip or, preferably, superglue the cocoon upright so that the moth doesn’t come out all mangled.

Another weird moth thing I discovered: you can buy them online. Your basic saturniidae moth cocoon is going to run you $5-$10. Carolina Labs has living luna moth three pack for $18. Now, if you’re willing to take an earlier egg stage, you can get some discounts, but you will have to set it up with the appropriate food supply and hope it doesn’t get eaten. You can get more prosaic butterflies from a number of stores, including Amazon.

There are people who are now making a living as moth breeders! Well, I’m  not sure how much they’re making, but they’re out there (and hiring in Canada). I wonder if they can train dogs to find cocoons the way they get them to sniff out shed antlers. There’s something that seems slightly wrong about this, like it could introduce diseases or something and we’re now keeping butterflies as livestock for fun. But if it means more moths and butterflies in the wild? Well, it’s certainly a better hobby that catching and pinning a bunch of butterflies. And, as the mother of a toddler, I suspect I’ll be be checking out these cocoon suppliers in the next few years.

 

Odds good for owling in Brooklyn

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How easy is it to see a snowy owl in Brooklyn this winter? Your odds are pretty good–if you’re willing to haul yourself out to Floyd Bennett Field, an old timey airport on Brooklyn’s shore. I got to see one today after looking on eBird and figuring it was the most likely spot.

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What's inside that paper wasp nest?

When you peel back the outer paper of a wasp nest, you find layers of hive, some dead larvae, some wasps springing to life and not much honey. Also a faint odor.

When you peel back the outer paper of a wasp nest, you find layers of hive, some dead larvae, some zombie wasps springing to life and not much honey. Also a faint odor.

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Best ways to get your toddler muddy in Prospect Park

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Do you prefer Zen-like mud play (Forest School) or nature learning and arts projects (Tinkergarten)? Either way there’s a class or playgroup for you in Brooklyn.

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Beagles Run for Rolling Pumpkins in Prospect Park

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Our beagle Huckleberry has invented the sport of chasing pumpkins down a hill in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. His reward is he gets to eat the pumpkin, which he’s able to break into after several rolls.

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Wildlife Rehabbers share their owls with Brooklyn at Raptorfest 2013 in Prospect Park

Wildlife rehabilitator Bobby Horvath introduces my daughter to an owl

Wildlife rehabbers let Brooklynites get close to the hawks, owls and eagle they’ve saved. We got to touch an owl!

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Many Ubiquitous TV Jingles Make Dogs Sing, But Why?

Dog howls to music: does he like it or hate it?

Dogs sing to the most ubiquitous songs on TV. Do they hate the Empire Carpet jingle as much as we do? Or do they like the familiarity of another Law and Order?

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Obamas to Shelter Animals: Drop Dead

the Obamas sell out animal people and get another purebred dog.

Obamas get another rarified purebred dog, then try to assuage their guilt by making a donation to the local shelter.

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Which is more dangerous: giant wasp or fuzzy yellow caterpillar?

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What are those scary-looking 2-inch long wasps doing hovering over your lawn? Killing 160 cicadas in their short lives.

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Green heron co-op forms in Prospect Park

Four green heron chicks in Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Several pairs of green herons are building nests or raising young in what’s becoming a heron co-op near the Lullwater in Prospect Park.

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