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- Moths of the Limberlost - 1/25 -


A book about Limberlost Cabin


Gene Stratton-Porter

To Neltje Degraff Doubleday

"All diamonded with panes of quaint device, Innumerable of stains, and splendid dyes, As are the Tiger Moth's deep damask wings."


CHAPTER I Moths of the Limberlost

CHAPTER II Moths, eggs, caterpillars, winter quarters

CHAPTER III The Robin Moth

CHAPTER IV The Yellow Emperor

CHAPTER V The Lady Bird

CHAPTER VI Moths of the moon

CHAPTER VII King of the hollyhocks

CHAPTER VIII Hera of the corn

CHAPTER IX The Sweetheart and the Bride

CHAPTER X The Giant Gamin

CHAPTER XI The Garden Fly

CHAPTER XII Bloody-Nose of Sunshine Hill

CHAPTER XIII The Modest Moth

CHAPTER XIV The Pride of the Lilacs

CHAPTER XV The King of the Poets

CHAPTER I Moths of the Limberlost

To me the Limberlost is a word with which to conjure; a spot wherein to revel. The swamp lies in north-eastern Indiana, nearly one hundred miles south of the Michigan line and ten west of the Ohio. In its day it covered a large area. When I arrived; there were miles of unbroken forest, lakes provided with boats for navigation, streams of running water, the roads around the edges corduroy, made by felling and sinking large trees in the muck. Then the Winter Swamp had all the lacy exquisite beauty of such locations when snow and frost draped, while from May until October it was practically tropical jungle. From it I have sent to scientists flowers and vines not then classified and illustrated in our botanies.

It was a piece of forethought to work unceasingly at that time, for soon commerce attacked the swamp and began its usual process of devastation. Canadian lumbermen came seeking tall straight timber for ship masts and tough heavy trees for beams. Grand Rapids followed and stripped the forest of hard wood for fine furniture, and through my experience with the lumber men "Freckles"' story was written. Afterward hoop and stave men and local mills took the best of the soft wood. Then a ditch, in reality a canal, was dredged across the north end through, my best territory, and that carried the water to the Wabash River until oil men could enter the swamp. From that time the wealth they drew to the surface constantly materialized in macadamized roads, cosy homes, and big farms of unsurpassed richness, suitable for growing onions, celery, sugar beets, corn and potatoes, as repeatedly has been explained in everything I have written of the place. Now, the Limberlost exists only in ragged spots and patches, but so rich was it in the beginning that there is yet a wealth of work for a lifetime remaining to me in these, and river thickets. I ask no better hunting grounds for birds, moths, and flowers. The fine roads are a convenience, and settled farms a protection, to be taken into consideration, when bewailing its dismantling.

It is quite true that "One man's meat is another's poison." When poor Limber, lost and starving in the fastnesses of the swamp, gave to it a name, afterward to be on the lips of millions; to him it was deadly poison. To me it has been of unspeakable interest, unceasing work of joyous nature, and meat in full measure, with occasional sweetbreads by way of a treat.

Primarily, I went to the swamp to study and reproduce the birds. I never thought they could have a rival in my heart. But these fragile night wanderers, these moonflowers of June's darkness, literally "thrust themselves upon me." When my cameras were placed before the home of a pair of birds, the bushes parted to admit light, and clinging to them I found a creature, often having the bird's sweep of wing, of colour pale green with decorations of lavender and yellow or running the gamut from palest tans darkest browns, with markings, of pink or dozens of other irresistible combinations of colour, the feathered folk found a competitor that often outdistanced them in my affections, for I am captivated easily by colour, and beauty of form.

At first, these moths made studies of exquisite beauty, I merely stopped a few seconds to reproduce them, before proceeding with my work. Soon I found myself filling the waiting time, when birds were slow in coming before the cameras, when clouds obscured the light too much for fast exposures, or on grey days, by searching for moths. Then in collecting abandoned nests, cocoons were found on limbs, inside stumps, among leaves when gathering nuts, or queer shining pupae-cases came to light as I lifted wild flowers in the fall. All these were carried to my little conservatory, placed in as natural conditions as possible, and studies were made from the moths that emerged the following spring. I am not sure but that "Moths of Limberlost Cabin" would be the most appropriate title for this book.

Sometimes, before I had finished with them, they paired, mated, and dotted everything with fertile eggs, from which tiny caterpillars soon would emerge. It became a matter of intense interest to provide their natural foods and raise them. That started me to watching for caterpillars and eggs out of doors, and friends of my work began carrying them to me. Repeatedly, I have gone through the entire life process, from mating newly emerged moths, the egg period, caterpillar life, with its complicated moults and changes, the spinning of the cocoons, the miraculous winter sleep, to the spring appearance; and with my cameras recorded each stage of development. Then on platinum paper, printed so lightly from these negatives as to give only an exact reproduction of forms, and with water colour medium copied each mark, line and colour gradation in most cases from the living moth at its prime. Never was the study of birds so interesting.

The illustration of every moth book I ever have seen, that attempted coloured reproduction, proved by the shrivelled bodies and unnatural position of the wings, that it had been painted from objects mounted from weeks to years in private collections or museums. A lifeless moth fades rapidly under the most favourable conditions. A moth at eight days of age, in the last stages of decline, is from four to six distinct shades lighter in colour than at six hours from the cocoon, when it is dry, and ready for flight. As soon as circulation stops, and the life juices evaporate from the wings and body, the colour grows many shades paler. If exposed to light, moths soon fade almost beyond recognition.

I make no claim to being an entomologist; I quite agree with the "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table*", that "the subject is too vast for any single human intelligence to grasp." If my life depended upon it I could not give the scientific name of every least organ and nerve of a moth, and as for wrestling with the thousands of tiny species of day and night or even attempting all the ramifications of--say the alluringly beautiful Catocalae family-- life is too short, unless devoted to this purpose alone. But if I frankly confess my limitations, and offer the book to my nature-loving friends merely as an introduction to the most exquisite creation of the swamp; and the outside history, as it were, of the evolution of these creatures from moth to moth again, surely no one can feel defrauded. Since the publication of "A Girl of the Limberlost"**, I have received hundreds of letters asking me to write of my experiences with the lepidoptera of the swamp. This book professes to be nothing more.

<<*Dec 1996 []751 Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Oliver Wendell Holmes>>

<<**April 1994 [] 125 A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter>>

Because so many enemies prey upon the large night moths in all stages, they are nowhere sufficiently numerous to be pests, or common enough to be given local names, as have the birds. I have been compelled to use their scientific names to assist in identification, and at times I have had to resort to technical terms, because there were no other. Frequently I have written of them under the names by which I knew them in childhood, or that we of Limberlost Cabin have bestowed upon them.

There is a wide gulf between a Naturalist and a Nature Lover. A Naturalist devotes his life to delving into stiff scientific problems concerning everything in nature from her greatest to her most minute forms. A Nature Lover works at any occupation and finds recreation in being out of doors and appreciating the common things of life as they appeal to his senses.

The Naturalist always begins at the beginning and traces family, sub-family, genus and species. He deals in Latin and Greek terms of resounding and disheartening combinations. At his hands anatomy and markings become lost in a scientific jargon of patagia, jugum,

Moths of the Limberlost - 1/25

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