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Word of the Week: Univoltine

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Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Univoltine [yoo-nuh-VOHL-teen] (adjective): Describing a species that has one brood of offspring per year. The word is often used in reference to insects.

This life strategy is commonly observed in insect species who have life cycles which coincide with that of another species (such as a food or host plant) on which they rely.

The start of spring has us thinking a lot about the animals who are waking and returning. One that comes to mind is an animal that has been sealed up in a cocoon since late-summer, but will be emerging as an adult later this season: A Cecropia Moth!

With their reddish bodies and black to brown wings, this beautiful silk moth is the largest moth found in North America. Their wingspan can be anywhere between 13 to 18 centimeters!

Cecropia Moths are univoltine and have a really interesting life cycle!

Females lay over a hundred eggs late in the spring; their only brood for the year. When the caterpillars hatch, they are black in color. As they go through successive molts, they increase in size and change color from black to yellow to green. They almost look like something out of a sci-fi movie! At the end of the summer, the approximately 13cm-long caterpillars will seal themselves into a cocoon and emerge in the spring as adult moths. Adult Cecropia Moths are born without mandibles, which means that adult moths can’t consume food. With that in mind, if a predator doesn’t eat them first, Cecropia Moths will usually die within two weeks of being an adult. Basically, the purpose of their adult life is to hatch, mate, and lay eggs.

On your next visits to High Park this season, keep an eye out for Cecropia Moth cocoons and/or emerging adults!