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- Moths of the Limberlost - 10/25 -
My heart goes out to Cecropia because it is such a noble, birdlike, big fellow, and since it has decided to be rare with me no longer, all that is necessary is to pick it up, either in caterpillar, cocoon, or moth, at any season of the year, in almost any location. The Cecropia moth resembles the robin among birds; not alone because he is grey with red markings, but also he haunts the same localities. The robin is the bird of the eaves, the back door, the yard and orchard. Cecropia is the moth. My doorstep is not the only one they grace; my friends have found them in like places. Cecropia cocoons are attached to fences, chicken-coops, barns, houses, and all through the orchards of old country places, so that their emergence at bloom time adds to May and June one more beauty, and frequently I speak of them as the Robin Moth.
In connexion with Cecropia there came to me the most delightful experience of my life. One perfect night during the middle of May, all the world white with tree bloom, touched to radiance with brilliant moonlight; intoxicating with countless blending perfumes, I placed a female Cecropia on the screen of my sleeping-room door and retired. The lot on which the Cabin stands is sloping, so that, although the front foundations are low, my door is at least five feet above the ground, and opens on a circular porch, from which steps lead down between two apple trees, at that time sheeted in bloom. Past midnight I was awakened by soft touches on the screen, faint pullings at the wire. I went to the door and found the porch, orchard, and night-sky alive with Cecropias holding high carnival. I had not supposed there were so many in all this world. From every direction they came floating like birds down the moonbeams. I carefully removed the female from the door to a window close beside, and stepped on the porch. No doubt I was permeated with the odour of the moth. As I advanced to the top step, that lay even with the middle branches of the apple trees, the exquisite big creatures came swarming around me. I could feel them on my hair, my shoulders, and see them settling on my gown and outstretched hands.
Far as I could penetrate the night-sky more were coming. They settled on the bloom-laden branches, on the porch pillars, on me indiscriminately. I stepped inside the door with one on each hand and five clinging to my gown. This experience, I am sure, suggested Mrs. Comstock's moth hunting in the Limberlost. Then I went back to the veranda and revelled with the moths until dawn drove them to shelter. One magnificent specimen, birdlike above all the others, I followed across the orchard and yard to a grape arbour, where I picked him from the under side of a leaf after he had settled for the coming day. Repeatedly I counted close to a hundred, and then they would so confuse me by flight I could not be sure I was not numbering the same one twice. With eight males, some of them fine large moths, one superb, from which to choose, my female mated with an insistent, frowsy little scrub lacking two feet and having torn and ragged wings. I needed no surer proof that she had very dim vision.
CHAPTER IV The Yellow Emperor: Eacles Imperialis
Several years ago, Mr. A. Eisen, a German, of Coldwater, Michigan, who devotes his leisure to collecting moths, gave me as pinned specimens a pair of Eacles Imperialis, and their full life history. Any intimate friend of mine can testify that yellow is my favourite colour, with shades of lavender running into purple, second choice. When I found a yellow moth, liberally decorated with lavender, the combination was irresistible. Mr. Eisen said the mounted specimens were faded; but the living moths were beautiful beyond description. Naturally I coveted life.
I was very particular to secure the history of the caterpillars and their favourite foods. I learned from Mr. Eisen that they were all of the same shape and habit, but some of them might be green, with cream-coloured heads and feet, and black face lines, the body covered sparsely with long hairs; or they might be brown, with markings of darker brown and black with white hairs; but they would be at least three inches long when full grown, and would have a queer habit of rearing and drawing leaves to their mouths when feeding. I was told I would find them in August, on leaves of spruce, pine, cherry, birch, alder, sycamore, elm, or maple; that they pupated in the ground; and the moths were common, especially around lights in city parks, and at street crossings.
Coming from a drive one rare June evening, I found Mr. William Pettis, a shooter of oil wells, whom I frequently met while at my work, sitting on the veranda in an animated business discussion with the Deacon.
"I brought you a pair of big moths that I found this morning on some bushes beside the road," said Mr. Pettis. "I went to give Mr. Porter a peep to see if he thought you'd want them, and they both got away. He was quicker than I, and caught the larger one, but mine sailed over the top of that tree." He indicated an elm not far away.
"Did you know them?" I asked the Deacon.
"No," he answered. "You have none of the kind. They are big as birds and a beautiful yellow.'
"Yellow!" No doubt I was unduly emphatic. "Yellow! Didn't you know better than to open a box with moths in it outdoors at night?"
"It was my fault," interposed Mr. Pettis. "He told me not to open the box, but I had shown them a dozen times to-day and they never moved. I didn't think about night being their time to fly. I am very sorry."
So was I. Sorry enough to have cried, but I tried my best to conceal it. Anyway, it might be Io, and I had that. On going inside to examine the moth, I found a large female Eacles Imperialis, with not a scale of down misplaced. Even by gas light I could see that the yellow of the living moth was a warm canary colour, and the lavender of the mounted specimen closer heliotrope on the living, for there were pinkish tints that had faded from the pinned moth.
She was heavy with eggs, and made no attempt to fly, so I closed the box and left her until the lights were out, and then removed the lid. Every opening was tightly screened, and as she had mated, I did not think she would fly. I hoped in the freedom of the Cabin she would not break her wings, and ruin herself for a study.
There was much comfort in the thought that I could secure her likeness; her eggs would be fertile, and I could raise a brood the coming season, in which would be both male and female. When life was over I could add her to my specimen case, for these are of the moths that do not eat, and live only a few days after depositing their eggs. So I went out and explained to Mr. Pettis what efforts I had made to secure this yellow moth, comforted him for allowing the male to escape by telling him I could raise all I wanted from the eggs of the female, showed him my entire collection, and sent him from the Cabin such a friend to my work, that it was he who brought me an oil-coated lark a few days later.
On rising early the next morning, I found my moth had deposited some eggs on the dining-room floor, before the conservatory doors, more on the heavy tapestry that covered them, and she was clinging to a velvet curtain at a library window, liberally dotting it with eggs, almost as yellow as her body. I turned a tumbler over those on the floor, pinned folds in the curtains, and as soon as the light was good, set up a camera and focused on a suitable location.
She climbed on my finger when it was held before her, and was carried, with no effort to fly, to the place I had selected, though Molly-Cotton walked close with a spread net, ready for the slightest impulse toward movement. But female moths seldom fly until they have finished egg depositing, and this one was transferred with no trouble to the spot on which I had focused. On the back wall of the Cabin, among some wild roses, she was placed on a log, and immediately raised her wings, and started for the shade of the vines. The picture made of her as she walked is beautiful. After I had secured several studies she was returned to the library curtain, where she resumed egg placing. These were not counted, but there, were at least three hundred at a rough guess.
I had thought her lovely in gas light, but day brought forth marvels and wonders. When a child, I used to gather cowslips in a bed of lush swale, beside a little creek at the foot of a big hill on our farm. At the summit was an old orchard, and in a brush-heap a brown thrush nested. From a red winter pearmain the singer poured out his own heart in song, and then reproduced the love ecstasy of every other bird of the orchard. That moth's wings were so exactly the warm though delicate yellow of the flowers I loved, that as I looked at it I could feel my bare feet sinking in the damp ooze, smell the fragrance of the buttercups, and hear again the ripple of the water and the mating exultation of the brown thrush.
In the name--Eacles Imperialis--there is no meaning or appropriateness to "Eacles"; "Imperialis"--of course, translates imperial--which seems most fitting, for the moth is close the size of Cecropia, and of truly royal beauty. We called it the Yellow Emperor. Her Imperial Golden Majesty had a wing sweep of six and a quarter inches. From the shoulders spreading in an irregular patch over front and back wings, most on the front, were markings of heliotrope, quite dark in colour: Near the costa of the front wings were two almost circular dots of slightly paler heliotrope, the one nearest the edge about half the size of the other. On the back wings, halfway from each edge, and half an inch from the marking at the base, was one round spot of the same colour. Beginning at the apex of the front pair, and running to half an inch from the lower edge, was a band of escalloped heliotrope. On the back pair this band began half an inch from the edge and ran straight across, so that at the outer curve of the wing it was an inch higher. The front wing surface and the space above this marking on the back were liberally sprinkled with little oblong touches of heliotrope; but from the curved line to the bases of the back pair, the colouring was pure canary yellow.
The top of the head was covered with long, silken hairs of heliotrope, then a band of yellow; the upper abdomen was strongly shaded with heliotrope almost to the extreme tip. The lower sides of the wings were yellow at the base, the spots showing through, but not the bands, and only the faintest touches of the mottling. The thorax and abdomen were yellow, and the legs heliotrope. The antennae were heliotrope, fine, threadlike, and closely pressed to the head. The eyes were smaller than those of Cecropia, and very close together.
Compared with Cecropia these moths were very easy to paint. Their markings were elaborate, but they could be followed accurately, and the ground work of colour was warm cowslip yellow. The only difficulty was to make the almost threadlike antennae show, and to blend the faint touches of heliotrope on the upper wings
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