Saturday, October 25, 2008

Large Moth

Antherea Polyphemus

This beautiful moth was photographed right outside my front door earlier this year. Its wingspan was about five inches across. I had noticed a furry looking large bug stuck on the screen when I left the house, but did not look closely. It was a wasted opportunity because when I returned, this moth was motionless at the bottom of the door. I could have observed it emerging from its cocoon and watched its wings unfurl!

I did a bit of research and found this is a giant silkmoth, named for the eyespots on its hind wings. Polyphemus was the Cyclops of Greek mythology, blinded by Odysseus in Homer's poem, The Odyssey. I learned the feathery antennae catch the pheromones of the female moth, helping the males to find a mate. Once they have emerged as flying moths, they can not eat and die within about a week.

As with countless other beautiful species, these moths too are under assault. Some parasitic wasps and flies, introduced pests, are thought to be decimating the population of the polyphemus caterpillars. It is also thought that leaving outdoor lights on at night distract and disorient these large moths, interfering in their mating chances. I was glad then to know my decision to not have an automatic yard light on my property was a good one, and may have contributed to this moth being on the screen door in the first place.

When I first moved to Spirit Creek farm, the lights of Topeka often glowed in the eastern sky, but the rest of the local sky was dark. But each year, more and more mercury vapor lights ring the horizon, and the recent towering lights along the interstate are so bright that even being over five miles distant, they interfere in viewing the night sky. I have witnessed aurora borealis several times from the knoll where my barn sits. Often it is such a faint glow that it is easily obscured by the interstate lights now. Do we honestly need all this extra light? Really?

I have a yard light, an incandescent bulb, but I can turn it on and off at will. Rarely do I ever need to turn it on. On clear nights, the starlight is sometimes bright enough to cast a faint shadow as I walk my property. Once human beings turn off their electric lights, they discover they have a very serviceable and reliable natural ability to see in the dark. But, in the dark, even a little bit of artificial light is blinding. People in the city have no chance to realize how well they can see in the dark. If the artificial light is blinding to humans, I wonder how much worse it is for all the animals, who have been evolving much longer than humans on this planet, without the benefit of artificial light. Why are human beings such a destructive force on everything they touch? Why did our technology outstrip our collective wisdom at such an incredible rate? And what can we do to change?


Blue-eyed Blonde said...

Isn't nature amazing? To have the moth visit you is a privilege most of us don't have. I grew up on a small farm in the 1950's and our parents awakened us to all the wonders of living on the earth. I remember the Northern Lights, as we called them. Our dad would occasionally wake us to see them. I agree with you about being able to see in the dark without lights.

I never got used to being out at night alone, however. We had panthers, lots of coyotes, rattle snakes, in our area and they all scared me half to death. But my siblings and I used to sleep outside on hot summer nights--invariably a thunderstorm would chase us indoors.

I like the name of your farm. Jan

Jackie said...

Hi, Jan. It's great to "meet" another Kansan! I remember the first time my parents showed me the Northern Lights. I was three or four years old, and the entire northern horizon was glowing red, as if there was a fire just over the horizon.

Snakes are why I go out at night IN the winter! (No snakes then!) ; )