Predators exert strong top-down pressure on herbivorous insects, but research on how predators affect herbivore fitness often focuses on the more active juvenile and adult life stages while ignoring the pupal or cocoon life stage. Few studies have investigated predation of lepidopteran pupae or cocoons and even fewer have investigated species that are not forest pests. Here we present a study on overwinter survival for two moth species in the family Limacodidae, a group of polyphagous species found in deciduous forests. We placed cocoons of the saddleback caterpillar, Acharia stimulea (Clemens), and the spiny oak-slug caterpillar, Euclea delphinii (Boisduval), in the field under saplings of six different tree species and monitored predation and survival. This is the first study to examine predation rate among different host plants within a site. We found that cocoon predation was fairly high and differed significantly between limacodid species (29% for A. stimulea vs. 22% for E. delphinii). Predation rate did not differ among the six host plant species that we tested and also did not vary annually. Through phenotypic selection analyses, we found that cocoon mass affected both the likelihood of predation and overwinter survival; larger cocoons were less likely to be depredated and more likely to successfully emerge the following year. Overall our results indicate that cocoon predation is an important source of mortality for these two limacodid species and that there may be positive selection for greater cocoon mass for both limacodid species.
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