Giant Night Flying Moths
Tim Gibb, Insect Diagnostician, Department of Entomology, Purdue
Polyphemus is the name of one of several species of large night
flying moths that belong to the giant silkworm moth family (Saturniidae).
These moths may have wingspans in excess of 5 or 6 inches. Mid
summer and fall is a common time for homeowners to call in and
report these moths found in early mornings on a window screen
or door or even driveway close to the home.
These large and colorful moths often attract attention, not
only because of their size and coloration, but also because of
the distinct eye-spots on the wings. With only a small amount
of imagination, one can imagine the eyes forming a part of a
face, complete with pupils, eye-brows and even a nose.
Survival theory suggests that when the moth
spreads its wings and unveils the face, it startles any would
be predators, or curious kindergarten children, for a second – just
enough time for the moth to complete its escape.
What evolutionary theory does not take into account is the fact
that the spots are so beautiful that even amateur collectors
go to great lengths to chase these moths down, contain them in
a bottle or place them into a freezer and then pin them to the
bottom of a 4-H insect collection box. Perhaps this is a case
of evolution having out-smarted itself.