Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Of Moths and Butterflies

Since it is winter and so cold and wet outside, we will talk about something that is close to my heart and has fascinated me for a long time.

Look at this tree bark. Doesn't it look strange? It is slightly lighter on one section. In fact, it almost looks like a fungus on the tree. It took us nearly half an hour to spot this. We searched high and low but it blended in so well. We walked everywhere, searching the ground, the leaves, the trees. Nothing. Finally, when I was about to give up completely, this bit of fungus stood out. I said, "Look at that" and then my son said, "That's it!" He had been climbing the oak tree out back when this big, beautiful moth landed on his hand. He had let it crawl on him for a moment. Then it flew away. It's wings were so large and it glided so gently through the air, it looked like a small bird.

When we found it again, I touched it and it took flight. It landed on my daughter's pants this time. Wow! What a beauty! One of my great joys in life is finding and identifying birds, plants, flowers and moths and butterflies. It brings me so much satisfaction to correctly label something. We found out this wonderful bark-colored moth is called a Common Lytrosis. What a horrid name for something so splendid.

After admiring her and taking pictures, we let her go. How do we know it's a girl? Her antennae give it away. She has very fine, thin antennae. Let's examine another moth we found several years ago, so you can see the difference between a male and a female.

We found Neon when he was a big, fat, juicy caterpillar. We loved his little "feet", as it appeared he was wearing running shoes. He looks to be praying here. Isn't that sweet?

He was very large, measuring about 3-4 inches in length. We decided after taking pictures, to put him in a bug box and feed him some leaves. He was so bloated, he refused to eat. Lo and behold!, we were pleasantly surprised to find him start a cocoon immediately.

Here he is after he finished his new home. I had no idea how long he would remain as such and after a few weeks, he was still in a cocoon and we figured he had died or something, for he would not emerge. We didn't want to disrupt him, though, so we set the bug box on the porch and left him...and we are sorry to say, we forgot about him. Many months passed. Fall and winter came and went. In the spring, on one particularly warm day, my daughter saw him emerging.

And he was magnificent! We had never seen a moth so large and so beautiful. We took pictures and reported him to a forestry service, who were quite pleased to know of his existence, as there had been no reported sightings of this type for a long time in our area.

Can you tell he is a "he" now? Look at his "fan" antennae! He is proudly showing them off, hoping to attract a female.

We let him go and he flew to a tree to finish drying his wings. His proper name is Polyphemus Moth...another dreadful name.

Now, this...this is a butterfly, of the name Hackberry Emperor. Isn't that a fine name? He is very lovely to look at and is a good mid-size butterfly. Very gentle. See his proboscis? That is what he uses to dab at nectar with. His "tongue", if you will. Here is a wonderful page that describes all the parts of a butterfly for you to learn: 


I have to tell you, we found another large caterpillar in the early fall, one of which we'd never seen before. Before I was able to photograph him (her?), he cocooned himself. He had "false eyes" on his backside. We have researched but I cannot figure out what he is. He will winter in his jar and hopefully emerge in the spring, to surprise us with his beauty and reveal his true nature. I am looking forward to sharing pictures of him at that time.

I hope these photos will spark a bit of curiosity and  you will search for some caterpillars. Maybe you will find a chrysalis (or cocoon). I have found many in the past and we always leave them alone. If you touch one, it will shake and rattle and make noises. This is to ward off potential predators. The one we have in a jar used to shake himself inside his cocoon for at least five minutes if his jar was accidentally bumped. He has stopped doing that now. I think he is settling down; turning into a butterfly is hard work!

Enjoy finding and classifying butterflies and moths! Let me know what you find!

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