As you can see, the cecropia, which is one of the silk moths, is a large insect.
How beautiful it is with that large, striped furry body!
The large feathery antennae indicate that this is a male. With the silk moths, the males emerge before the females, so they are rarin' to go when the females come out. Like many other moths, he doesn't have functional mouthparts, so he won't be eating. Instead he'll live off his fat reserves, hopefully finding many females with which to mate before the fat supply is gone.
I couldn't resist getting a close-up of the wing - the colors are just stunning.
Next we have a polyphemus, which we found a couple days ago. This male has obviously seen better days:
It was still alive, but the ants were already trying to make off with it. So, I picked it up, blew off the ants, and took it home, where I stuck it in the freezer. This is the humane way to quickly end a moth's life. Like the cecropia above, this is a male - note the large, feathery antennae.
The centers of the wings' eye spots have lost their scales and are transparent. Moths have these eye spots to help deflect the attention of predators. Hopefully the potential predator sees the eye spots and thinks it is looking at something else entirely, like an owl, for example, and leaves the moth alone.
Luna moths, another of our native silk moths, also have eye spots, but the ones on the forewings are small. I found this wing back in early May. It is in pristine condition, except for the fact that it is no longer attached to the moth. "Luna moth green" is one of my absolute favorite colors.
According to my friend Lydia, who is the moth and butterfly guru at the Paul Smiths VIC, we should be starting to see the females silk moths fairly soon. Their antennae are not large and feathery, so you can easily tell them apart from the males. Lydia says that if you find a female silk moth, the odds are very good that she is gravid - heavy with eggs. While it is possible for you to raise her young, if she is not injured you should let her go and complete her life, laying her eggs on the appropriate host plant(s).
If she is lightly injured (say with a torn wing like the cecropia here), you can place her gently in a paper bag, close the top, and set it aside in a quiet place. She will lay her eggs within the bag before she dies. The eggs should hatch about 12 days later (sooner if it is warm). You will then have a bunch of silkworms to raise; be sure you know what species you have so you can provide the right food for them. After they grow up and pupate, you can release the adults to continue their species's survival in the wild.