The wingspan of an adult is between 80 and 175 mm (3+1⁄8 and 6+7⁄8 inches). There is a high amount of variation within this species. The colors of the adult are always primarily yellow with red, brown, and purple blotches but can vary distinctly on this. Light and dark morphs of this species are found in both northern and southern regions of their range. Individuals from the northern regions of their native range may tend to have fewer dark markings. Larvae can be small (approximately 10–15 mm long) and orange with black transverse bands and large spines in the first instar, to 3–5.5 inches (75–100 mm) long in the fifth instar with long hairs and shorter spines and color morphs varying between dark brown and burgundy with white spiracle patches, and green with yellow spiracle patches.
Imperial moths (their many regional morphs, subspecies, and sibling species) range from Argentina to Canada and from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Coast. This species is the widest ranging and northernmost in its genus Eacles. Nominate Eacles imperialis imperialis has been recorded historically from New England and southern Canada, south to the Florida Keys, and as far west as Nebraska. E. i. imperialis may not appear in Massachusetts today except for a population located on Martha's Vineyard. The true northern limits of the nominate's range are unknown because of possible confusion with subspecies E. i. pini in existing records. Subspecies E. i. pini occurs in coniferous and transition zone woodlands at the northern edges of the New England and Great Lakes States and northward into Canada. In the southwest it is replaced by the closely related E. oslari. Other subspecies are found in Mexico and South America. Subspecies E. i. magnifica can be found in Brazil and surrounding regions.
For a map of the distribution of E. i. imperialis click here.
The subspecies of Eacles imperialis:
Eacles imperialis is one of a few saturniid species in a regional decline throughout the northeastern US, with some New England states lacking records for many decades. Reasons for decline have been proposed to be the use of pesticide, insecticides, and herbicides in commercial farming, metal halide street lamps, and the introduction of parasitoids in the attempt to control the gypsy moth population. A population on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, has been the subject of scientific and local political activity, especially concerning preservation of sensitive frost-bottom oak/pine habitat. E. imperialis is certainly a common species of middle-Atlantic states, Appalachia, the Ohio Valley, and Deep South regions, and is associated with forest, rural and suburban habitat. It is possible that to the north, E. imperialis requires specific habitat and that the increasing fragmentation of niches such as coastal or montane pine barrens is a factor.
There is only one brood a year.
Imperial moth larvae are polyphagous with many recorded hosts. However, there are probably regional differences in food preferences. The following plant species are the most commonly reported hosts for the imperial moth: pine species, maple species, oak species, sweetgum, and sassafras.
The female will lay eggs at dusk. It will do so either singly or in groups of 2 to 5 on either side of a host plant leaf. The eggs hatch in roughly ten days to two weeks. Newly hatched larvae will eat the shell of the egg they emerged from.
At the end of each instar, a small amount of silk is spun on the major vein of a leaf. The larvae then latches onto the silk with its anal claspers and prolegs and begins to molt. It first becomes dormant and undergoes apolysis, then after an additional day or so, undergoes ecdysis. The larvae emerges from its old exoskeleton, puffs up, and hardens as it enters the next instar. This species will sometimes eat the old exoskeleton for protein nutrition.
Similar to many other Saturniidae larva, the imperial moth has five instars.
Pupae are dark brown and have spines on their posterior to aid in emergence from their soil burrow. Abdominal segments are moveable but are unable to telescope because of flanges on the anterior margins of the abdomen. Females gonopores appear as two longitudinal slits on the fourth abdominal segment. Male gonopores appear as two short tubercles on the fourth abdominal segment.
Adults can have a wingspan of approximately 3-7 inches (80–174 mm). Adults will emerge once a year to mate. Emergence takes place at sunrise and mating will take place in the following night hours of the day. In the northern part of their range they tend to emerge mid-summer (June–August), while in the southern part they tend to emerge at more varied times (April–October). Males tend to emerge days earlier than females. Once a pair has been linked in a mating event, they are more vulnerable to predators, particularly foragers.
Sexual dimorphism is present in the adult stages of this species:
Larvae feed on a variety of host plants from Coniferous and deciduous trees to shrubs. Examples of some are:
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