June 22, 2013

North Cairn: Blessed be the meekest of moths

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But I remain nonetheless fascinated by insects, and entomology will be a serious avocation for me forever, I feel sure. Just when I think I have seen it all -- cicadas and cecropias, ichneumon and damselflies -- some tiny creature will catch me off-guard and remind me how simple-minded and singular my focus is compared to the complexity and diversity of the insect world.

Most recently I was startled by beauty in a bug late one night, when I was herding the dog out into the dark of the yard for her last pass over her territory for the day. I had just turned in the hallway to go down the stairs to the back door, had glanced out of the screen and saw there a pink and yellow furry moth -- a Dryocampa rubicunda -- a rosy maple moth, with wings like the petals of a perennial.

You have to see one to appreciate it, to take in the natural fact of how exquisite a creature of the dark can be. In large numbers it may become a pest, of course, as almost everything can -- including, most obviously, us.

This stunning moth feeds on maples -- mainly red, silver and sugar -- and is part of the Saturniidae family, which also includes the small emperor moth, giant silkmoths, royal moths and the Atlas moth of Southeast Asia, thought to be the world's largest moth -- legendary with its bright orange and yellow coloring and tapestry-like patterns, described by some entomologists as "maplike" in appearance.

But even the humblest of moths is a wonder to me, in part, I suppose, because we see them more often at night, when their colors, however subtle, seem to cast an unanticipated nuance to an evening. You don't expect to be surprised by joy or marvel or beauty in the dark, and then suddenly, there you are, transfixed by a rosy maple moth that lingers for two or three evenings, as though rewarding your appreciation, in the same spot, on an unremarkable, dingy window screen.

Blessed are the meek, I think to myself, glimpsing them. Through them we inherit the earth.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@pressherald.com

 

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