WELCOME To: A Moth In Metamorphosis

This is the story of “Sam” A Cecropia Moth.

Cecropia Lifestyles:
Caterpillars

Connections, discussion questions, and metaphor abound in this story portraying the complete metamorphosis.

This is a combination picture book and video presentation for older children. The media productions compliment the written text found throughout.

First you must be like unto a child:
Try to imagine a Cecropia moth telling us of its life and about its
perceptions of the world; of faced challenges, ordeals and dangers.

Below: This Hyalophora Cecropia moth is depositing eggs on a twig. June 21st in Richmond Kentucky I spotted a female and brought her home. Hours after capture the moth began laying .

These large colorful moths are not seen very much. That is because they are awake and active late at night when most people are asleep. When they are spotted flying around a streetlight or fluttering up against the screen at night they are likely to draw attention from most anyone. Many will be amazed such a large colorful moth would live in temperate North America. A few might even think it is a bat or a small bird.

Here is the story about a giant silkworm moth. We will call him “Sam”. Sam is much larger than most other kinds of moths you might find. His  wings fully spread tip to tip would reach about half a foot across.

From primeval feelings and urges inside, dim dawning awareness slowly came to the forefront of reflexive need. The urge to push out of enclosing confinement became overpowering; the need to chew upon the restriction, mandatory. Energy and light was calling within the very depth of his being to push, eat, squirm and crawl out into a brilliant shiny new world. So…ten days after an egg was laid, a Cecropia moth caterpillar brings itself into the world.

Tactile senses, tastes, light and heat all came flooding upon the sensitive perceptions of the baby larva. An inborn warning refined from 500 million years of trailblazing programming commanded him to "OBEY," "move on, move on" and " find a tender leaf in shade". The command was followed.

Much as some might follow the commands, dictates and creeds of men without reason or thought, so the little larva on the leaf complies with built in instinct. Yet, the insect is a prisoner of his being; he has no choice if he is to survive the harsh dictates of natural order. Unlike Sam, we can rise above, investigate, and discover fresh truths and guidance from both within and without ourselves.

This little larva is in itself a being of great worth; the faculties and promptings being hewn, formulated, submitted, tested, refined, purified and strengthened; forged by a half a billion years of evolutionary chance, discipline and direction resulting in a being worthy of survival; an emissary of nature bringing us a glimmer of creative perfection; a metaphor of spiritual awakening llustrating the need to follow our own guidance as laid before us. All are meditations to be derived from Sam.

Here is "Little Sam" Just after chewing out of his egg. His birthday is June 11th 2010. "Little Sam" is now four days old. He is already eating his fill on dogwood leaves.

Yet, unlike us, Sam has no one to care for him. His first baby meal will be part of the eggshell. He must do everything on his own. His mother laid some eggs in a tree where the babies can all find plenty of  leaves to eat but then she flew away to lay more eggs. Sam will never see his mother. By the time Sam hatches his mother will have died.

Cecropia moths only live long enough to lay their eggs. In less than ten days, all adult moths will weaken and die. This is because no Saturniid silkworm moths ever eat. They do not have a mouth to eat with or a stomach to digest food with. This is part of the reason these moths are inactive except for certain times at night. They must conserve energy reserves stored from last summer as a caterpillar. Yes, that is right. No Cecropia moth you see flying about has eaten or drunk anything since almost a year ago!

But now let us return to the saga of Sam. How will he fare on his life’s journey of arduous ordeal?

Following promptings ancient beyond imagining, Sam is driven to “move on”. Reasons and results unknown, Sam stumbles upon a spot which seems “right”. Protection from harsh desiccating sunlight and a fresh tender leaf underfoot are just the thing for comfort and contentment. Little Sam is soon munching away. In two short months, Sam must consume enough food and accumulate enough energy reserves so he can survive close to ten long months without means of  eating or drinking for the rest of his life.

And such a life is fraught with difficulty and danger.

Little Sam and all of his kind must abide within certain essential dictums. All life on Earth is bound by nature’s rules conducive to survival and reproduction.

In Sam’s case the rules as a caterpillar might apply as follows:

The First Commandment of life is: Thou must eat and grow as much as possible lest thou be parasitized or thyself eaten”.

The second is: ”Only eat until prompted to stop. If thou becomes heedless in this matter ecdysis as a caterpillar will not be succesful and thou shalt surely die.”.

The Third Commandment is: “Thou must observe hygienic precautionary behaviors bequeathed thy kind that, perchance, thou mayest avoid becoming infected or sick”.

The Fourth, concerning eclose times, is: “Thou must trust and follow the promptings given you in each stage of life, even if they seem contradictory or very revolutionary. Trust in the instinctual drives given thee for only in this way may thou be guided and given the right action”.

 

Sam is only a few days old. On his leaf home, amidst a system of leaves within a galaxy borne of branches, Sam is surrounded and protected by his Universal Tree of Life. It provides all his needs.

Yet, something is changing. A “tight,” “full” feeling borne of growth combined with some internal clockwork brings in force the Second Commandment. From age old promptings comes the need to stop eating.

Without knowing how or why, Sam obeys the compulsion.  Sam does not know what to do with himself yet; he is undeniably uncomfortable. Sam really does not feel like eating. But soon nature comes to the rescue as Sam obeys another of a long series of innate instructions and, without thought, spins a silk pad on which to attach himself.

Hours later involuntary jerks, twitching, and contractions commence. After exhaustive labor Sam is now a very different looking orange/yellow. Gone is the black skin of old to be replaced by this brilliant hued--seemingly easily spotted--form. Yet Nature, in her wisdom, inscrutable to the eyes of humans, has her reasons and ways. All we can do is marvel, investigate, and humbly attempt to understand within the limitations of our being human.

These are normal 2nd and third instar caterpillars. Sam is a little different. To see pictures of Sam Click on any caterpillar picture.

It is easy to tell when a Cecropia caterpillar has shed its skin because the first three instars or skins are different colors. Sam hatched as an all black larva, in a few days he turned from orange to yellow, and later; he would normally be mostly green.  So far, Sam has had to shed his skin three times since  hatching from his egg. He is now preparing to get loose from the old 4rth instar skin and crawl out. Again, this is very hard. It will take hours of labor. Sam must be successful if growth is to continue. This is yet another of many challenges the larva must overcome if he is to live on to be a moth. (Watch below how Sam works and struggles to perform this chore.)

Of course, Sam was not given or taught these life chores in the same way teachers or parents teach their children. Instead, all insects are born with the knowledge already inside of them. When the time comes to perform an act, the caterpillar will simply follow ancient, tried and true impulses fashioned into its being upon which survival depends.

Sam has been eating and growing for almost two months. He has outgrown four skins and changed colors from black and orange to different patterns of orange, yellow, red, green, black, and blue. Sam has worn almost every color of the rainbow on his own five skins!

Now Sam is feeling "full" and "tight" once more. A restlessness is driving him to wander about. Sam needs and wants to find something but is not sure what it is. That old compulsion to "move on" has seized the fiber of his being. Satisfaction and rest are elusive. It seems Sam must forever  "move on"…but where to? What is the point of all this roaming in aimless directions with no ultimate goal in sight? Of course, Sam did not actually THINK these things out; he just performed the actions as bidden in blind obedience. Every fiber honed into his being was fine tuned to "Obey" the inward law of being a Cecropia moth. Much as your heart beats in your chest, or breathing hard after exertion, so would Sam continue down the proscribed course of his life laid out long before humans ever set foot on the Earth.

Sam in forth instar skin.

Watch as Sam works and struggles to break free and crawl out of his old skin.

 

 

After hours of "wanderlust" wandering, something seems “right” about the immediate surroundings. As Sam pauses in his journey and feels the current placement of twigs, leaves, and other material surrounding him, he feels good. The more Sam feels and touches what is near him, the better he feels. Soon, without thinking about it, Sam begins to attach silk threads to adjacent leaves and draw them toward him. Sam has never done this before. Certainly, this caterpillar has never fashioned a protective shelter of any sort except, sometimes, to hide under a leaf from the elements of sunlight and rain. Yet, now, new urgings come into play. The internal clock is ticking; the program of life is running. Sam finds himself drawing together a framework of leaves and twigs around himself. A need of being is met; fulfillment is at hand. The old desire to eat is gone. In its place is this urgent overriding necessity of collecting more around himself. Sam is now to the point of reaching all around and bringing together and closer everything that can be pulled and bent toward him. All this time more silk is being added to the project. As one looks on it becomes apparent Sam is spinning his cocoon.

It seems that the more Sam did, the more he was stimulated to do and through doing so was revealed more about his own inner nature. Latent dormant talents were brought to fruition as the caterpillar went on to follow his calling and produce a work allowing his being to fruit and flower. The expression of full potential resulted in the crafting of a complex cocoon.

From our vantage point outside, Sam is slowly disappearing from view. In the next few hours, a cocoon outline is clearly visible. Cocoon construction is now the sole important focus in Sam’s life. He will be driven to labor almost nonstop for many hours until a secure stronghold has been built. After Sam has finished the outer protective silk covering, he must work to suspend a pupa chamber within a shock absorbing, insulating matrix. Then a tough, hard cylindrical case lined with “mother of pearl” type dense inner lining must be completed with himself inside. Of course, an escape hatch for future moth emergence is critical! As you watch the cocoon spinning video below; think about how you might accomplish this. Study a Cecropia cocoon and look at the parts.

Sam has been relentlessly focused on this material showcase of life. Spinning and weaving has become ever more intricate. Days later, Sam is deep inside the cocoon he has built around himself. His body is changing. Sam is now completely helpless. The larva is fully at the mercy of what is going on inside of him. Everything is changing. He can no longer hang on to anything because his legs and prolegs do not work. He can’t even eat because his mouth does not work. Sam appears to have become dysfunctional. Nothing he is accustomed to works. Everything is changing. Sam has become a prepupa. (Watch a video farther down and see Sam change from a greenish caterpillar/prepupa to a rich brown colored pupa within the cocoon.)

Sam is driven by instinct to do something very revolutionary in his life. Here he is building his cocoon which he will stay in all winter.

 

But all is not finished. Even more drastic change is in store. Complete metamorphosis is required for many insects to live out their lives. Adults are very different from larval, or immature, stages. Sam must go through the processes necessary for him to become a moth. The change from a crawling caterpillar of the ground into a beautiful being of the air requires fundamental regrowth and repatterning to take shape. Sam must become a pupa if he is to go on and live a complete life. In a sense, the pupa can be seen as a crucible within which these changes will take effect. The old caterpillar dies to its old form to allow the new image to take over, and thus accomplish that for which it was created: to be transformed as an adult and bear fruit by propagating its kind.

Ten days have passed. As Sam lays helpless enclosed in the cocoon, involuntary twitching and internal rhythmic systolic contractions within his body are felt. By natural decree a very different being without legs, mouth or feet, a pupa, has formed inside him. At this point it is hard to know what Sam is. Is he the caterpillar turned to a prepupa or is he the pupa inside? Soon a jade green alien looking head appears to slowly work its way out of Sam. (Or what might have been Sam.) Over time more and more of this new shape slowly reveals itself. Looking closely gives clues as to what this is all about. Patterns of adult head, antennae, wings, thorax, and abdomen are all outlined upon the new pupa skin  under which the developing moth will form.

After much effort; pushing, straining, pulling, and struggling; the pupa finally breaks free from the old caterpillar skin. Imagine trying to take off your clothes without hands or feet while stuck in a little cylinder with hardly room to move around. Imagine these clothes fit tightly on your body like your skin does. Think of these clothes as your real skin because, if you were a prepupa, they would be! Now the skin covering your whole body must be broken open from the inside and pushed out of. Remember…no hands or feet or mouth, and you are stuck in the dark inside a cramped cylinder. Could you do it?

The arduous effort is over, a major life giving challenge has been met; but there is more to come. As Sam rests, the skin of the pupa is firming up and darkening. Sam’s color is changing once again. In another day, Sam will be a rich dark brown. He could also turn a more golden brown. Pupae are individuals just like we are. Individual characteristics can be found in insects too.

So here is Sam. He has enclosed himself in a chamber of darkness. He cannot crawl about, eat, drink, or even enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. There is nothing to do but wait in this self-made prison for release. But from where will release come? What is to become of Sam?

 

Peek at and witness an event few people ever watch but is common in nature. Sam struggles and twists and turns in the small confining space of his cocoon. He must shed his old caterpillar skin succesfully to become a pupa.

 

One important new commandment has been given. The old directive to eat and grow has been replaced and superseded by a new law: a fifth Commandment: “Thou now must conserve thy energy resources as much as possible”. Precious resources must be used only for reproductive ends. Any other use is a waste and will only lead to an earlier death. Sam is now, for the rest of his life, bound by this fifth Commandment; this axiom of physics. Remember, he can never eat again. All life functions must rededicate themselves to conserving as much as possible allowing Sam to survive close to nine months in the cocoon; emerge the following summer; give his legacy of DNA to another; and finally, die.

To this end, the life functions within the pupa begin to slow down. To be awake and active is pointless. Sam has no concept of this thinking. He is inexorably carried along by the lifecycle programmed within him. He does what is bidden by the matrix of his existence.

Hence, Sam slips into ever-slowing levels of life function. Nature’s evolutionary tried and proven methods continue to perform as needed. Just what goes on in the chemistry of diapause is little understood by the minds of men. Only the inscrutable wisdom of the All-Wise is privilege at this time to such understanding!

So…the long months pass but yet, to Sam, they are, perhaps, but a fleeting moment.

Fall has arrived; the snow, cold weather, and blizzards of winter have come and gone. Elements of ice and bitter cold that would normally kill a caterpillar are passed by without care or worry. More months pass as springtime warmth flirts with the seasons. As Sam begins to terminate his diapause state of dormancy, eclosing at the right time is crucial. If Sam does not emerge as a moth from his cocoon at the same time as the others, all of his life struggles will have been for nothing. Sam must be out with the others to find a mate and donate his share to the species gene bank.

Sam is fully awake and feeling very pent up. He has become something very different. All of his feelings, wants, needs and urges have been rewritten. A new sixth commandment--"Procreate and spread thy lineage"--has been added. Not only must Sam be ever so frugal with his limited energy resources but it is imperative to get moving and do his part to propagate the species. This sixth life Commandment now supersedes all others. Sam will automatically give up his life to bequeath his portion to the next generation.

The problem then is: When will the other Cecropias emerge from their cocoons? Which warm spell of springtime might be substantially long enough where a pupa might be fooled into a chemical response eliciting "now is the time" when it is actually too early? When warmth comes, what should the duration be before it is taken as a signal for flight to commence?

After about three weeks of warmth, Sam was beginning to show change. Pupa colors were beginning to show faint traces of the moth he would become. But, all of a sudden, it became quite cool. It was cloudy with rain. On clear nights there was even a touch of frost in the air. Inner biochemical workings within the pupa were prepared for just this eventuality. Sam’s biological activities were again put on “hold.” When warmth returned and days continued to lengthen, a new countdown to emergence would restart. Longer day periods would also be used as a clue for arrival of the summer season.

Three weeks later: again Sam is stirring. The pupa is more responsive to touch. It seems that Sam is more aware of his immediate environment. Diapause is over; it is terminated! Now it is time for the final climax, the time for Sam to fulfill the reason for his being; to emerge, unfurl his long pent up wings and fly into a world beyond imagining!

All through the woods, the same feeling is felt. A map of warmth and light patterns has been read and interpreted. Those with the right way will be saved from a life of pointlessness and set forth on the path to fulfillment. These chosen will live out their lives to the fullest. They will use all resources to the utmost thereby transporting themselves beyond a mere branch, leaf or tree. Hopefully, to them, otherworldly pitfalls such as street lights, cars, bats, birds, and other perils, will not deter them from their journey or snatch them from a moment of fulfillment.

The morning sun is beckoning to Sam. The light filtering in deep within the cocoon stirs his being to the core. Every cell in his body gets the message. All that has culminated from 500 million years of evolutionary direction reverberates in his being. The Message, "It Is Time! (not to be ignored)," is sent. Cecropia moths everywhere are heeding the call, "The time is right, the time is now. Rejoice, the time is at hand. Come; receive the Call of thy fathers and forefathers. The Time is at hand, the Time is NOW!"

Sam has no choice but to accept this invitation. This universal awakening call is part and parcel of all life. It is a hallmark of survival.

Urged ever onwards, the new form pushes and struggles out of the cocoon. Body fluids have helped soften the pupa chamber allowing escape. Sam is in a big hurry. Seconds count. Urges bordering on desperation command the moth to "find a secure place to cling on and position thyself so gravity can assist in wing development."  Sam did not have to scurry far. Indeed, the cocoon itself was right underfoot and wonderfully served the purpose. Instinctively relieved, Sam could now get on with the process of becoming a creature of the air.

He pushed hard from within. Moving his wings and stretching the body caused fluids within the abdomen, swollen with excess fluids, to flow into and gradually expand two little pads on either side of the body that would later become large beautiful wings.

Cecropia Moth Cocoon Emergence: of Challenge and Change. Sam is on his way to fulfilling his life's mission.

 

Cecropia moth emergence from a cocoon is detailed. Watch a pupa change color as it awakens from diapause and prepares to eclose as a moth. Witness how little flabby pads are transformed into large beautiful wings suitable for flight. See mating and propagation followed by recycling.
This video is part of a full complete metamorphosis lifecycle edition found on the "home" page on this site.

 

. Sam had a strong need to keep pushing. He also felt a form of relief when wing pads were moved up and down. In so doing Sam seemed to lubricate expansion and facilitate fluid flow. Every so often Sam would forcefully expel excess fluid from his hind end. This helped lighten his body and prepare it for flight. Gradually, Sam could feel the increased weight of the new wings. He shifted his position to accommodate, then resumed pumping until the wings were completely filled out. The wings were very large and heavy. They were also very floppy and cumbersome. Sam was obliged to let them hang downwards in a closed position. If Sam did try and move about the limp soggy wings would fall over making travel very awkward. His only choice was to stay inactive, letting nature take its course while the wings stiffened and dried while achieving correct camber for flight.

Within a few hours the morning warmth and drying sun would do their work. Sam was now on his way to becoming a full-fledged Cecropia moth. Tonight, he would join the thousands deep in the woods, hoping to answer the call of numerous females.

As night fell upon Sam’s world he waited. It still was not time yet. Sam would remain in a sort of energy saving torpor.

If he was disturbed, Sam could not fly away. His life processes would be too slow for that. Instead the moth might release its hold and, convulsively flapping once, unconsciously fall to the ground. At this point the moth may settle down once more or begin quivering its wings as a warm up maneuver for flight. Energy is very precious and flight is a very costly undertaking. Any activity not directly related to reproduction is in violation of the Fifth Commandment. The penalty of using energy reserves carelessly is a shorter life with less chance of propagation opportunities. So the decision for active flight or energy saving sleep is an important one. Yet, the choice made is not the result of careful planning or even a reaction based on observation of what is going on. Sam experiences little awareness. His life is based on simple impulse, drives, and programmed reaction to stimulation. Indeed, Sam was not aware of any possible danger, nor could the concept of danger even be a part of him. Only if the reflexive order to warm up was triggered to be transmitted to the workings of his body might Sam actually fly away. Any flight would be the culmination of a minute or two of “wing shaking”. A fast efficient get away was not possible. Of course, why is means of a fast efficient getaway given as an option to a creature unable to utilize it or conceive anything from which to get away?  

The night is moving on. As the earth spins upon its axis, the evening passes into early morning. New scents are in the air. Smells for which Sam was specifically designed to follow for miles are wafted from the trees. Sam is aroused. Fellow moths are now active. Finally, after a year of life overcoming challenges, labor and the threat of predation: the time is now!  Females are calling from their cocoons. The trees are abundant with the sweet alluring scent. Sam warms himself up for flight and takes off. Powerful wing beats swiftly carry him smoothly towards a homing beacon pheromone of smell. Sam’s large antennae are tuned to this specific scent. He is now a creature of the air. Forces we can only guess at bid him to “come and follow me.”

But on this first night of flight Sam becomes confused and disoriented. Normally navigating by stationary moonlight,

Sam homes in on something else. This acts on his senses much like the moon but when directional navigation is focused on this particular light, it causes Sam to slowly turn in his flight. The more he follows this different light, the more tightly he spirals into it. Many other male Cecropias are also drawn in, completely unaware.

Sam is helpless in this new exotic environment. Nothing in his multimillion year old honed survival programming that has worked so well for so long has prepared him for this. Sam flies erratically. He is confused. His inborn navigation says one thing yet he is doing another. Insects of all kinds are lured into this vortex of confusion. It has become a feast for predators. Nighthawks are on the hunt as are Little Brown Bats…SLAP…it seems this story has ended! How will the world of men unwittingly affect the fortunes of others?

This is a Cecropia moth metamorphosis lifecyle story shown complete in one half hour long video. This photo sequence includes: a caterpillar hatching from its egg, larva growth in all instars, a detailed 4rth instar shed, cocoon construction, pupa formation, adult moth emergence, wing expansion, mating and more.

Arduous Ordeals: A Cecropia Moth Metamorphosis Lifecycle Journey

Meditate and wonder; Experience the marvel of a complete metamorphosis while listening to sumptuous music of Debussy and Holst. Witness events common to nature but rarely seen.

Cecropia moth lifecycle metamorphosis is chronicled in detail. See a caterpillar eat its way out of the egg. Look as a larva changes from black; then yellow; to showing patterns and hues of orange, black, yellow, blue and green. Watch the caterpillar work out of its old 4rth instar skin. Study the form and function of cocoon construction. Witness an event inside a cocoon seldom seen as a prepupa becomes a jade green pupa, then deepens to a rich golden brown color. Finally, wonder as a moth emerges, after spending nine months in a cocoon, into a beautiful Hyalophora cecropia adult. See in detail how wings change from stubby little useless pads into large aerodynamic instruments of flight. And most of all, come away with an appreciation of what is so often trodden underfoot without awareness or care.

 

 

 

Experience cecropia moth caterpillar growth and development. See colorful skin changes from black, orange to green and more. Witness what a caterpillar goes through in the 4rth to 5th instar shed process.   http://lifecycle.onenessbecomesus.com/caterpillar.htm

Watch a caterpillar as it builds a silk frame strengthened eith leaves and proceeds to spin a cocoon. Watch what happens hidden within a cocoon as a cecropia pre-pupa sheds into a pupa, then slowly changes color from green to a rich deep brown. see http://lifecycle.onenessbecomesus.com/cocoon.html

camera02.gif To see a monarch butterfly metamorphosis in transition click on one of these links.    "Egg" "Caterpillar" "Chrysalis"  "adult butterfly"   .   HOME

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