This beautiful luna moth caterpillar, in her fifth and final instar stage, was crossing the road yesterday searching for a safe place to cocoon. She will eat her last meal soon, somewhere in our beloved Catskills hardwood forest, and begin her transformation, winding her own sticky silk-thread and nearby leaves around her body until her papery brown cocoon cannot be seen under the decaying litter of her chosen host tree. If she is first generation in the northeast, in two or three weeks, she will emerge, her lime green feathery scales just a few shades lighter than her larval skin with dark rusty-purple edging and intricate eye spots adorning her magnificent 4 inch wingspan and long sweeping hindwing tails.
She will only have one week to be this incarnation of herself, to experience flight, to call for her mate with silent pheromones at the midnight hour. If she finds her match, they will remain in copula (if undisturbed) until the following evening. She will lay up to 600 eggs on a host plant (birch, beech, hickory, walnut, sumac, sycamore to name a few) and then she will die.
Some eggs will hatch and survive, and the cycle will begin anew. If she is second generation, like our intrepid road traveler here, she will enter diapause and cocoon through the winter, tracking minimum temperatures and the length of light before emerging in the spring. As we watch her slowly move away from us, now safe on leafy ground, we wonder about this winter and the winters to come. How will she and her kind fare as our world so rapidly changes?