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- Moths of the Limberlost - 25/25 -


Immediately the moth began racing around energetically, and flapping those tiny wings until the sound awakened the Deacon in the adjoining room. After a few minutes of exercise, it seemed in danger of injuring the other cases, so it was transferred to the dresser, where it climbed to the lid of a trinket case, and clinging with the feet, the wings hanging, development began. There was no noticeable change in the head and shoulders, save that the down grew fluffier as it dried. The abdomen seemed to draw up, and became more compact. No one can comprehend the story of the wings unless they have seen them develop.

At twelve o'clock and five minutes, they measured two-thirds of an inch from the base of the costa to the tip. At twelve fifteen they were an inch and a quarter. At half-past twelve they were two inches. At twelve forty-five they were two and a half; and at one o'clock they were three inches. At complete expansion this moth measured six and a half inches strong (sic!), and this full sweep was developed in one hour and ten minutes. To see those large brilliantly-coloured wings droop, widen, and develop their markings, seemed little short of a miracle.

The history of the following days is painful. I not only wanted a series of this moth as I wanted nothing else concerning the book, but with the riches of three fine pupa cases of it on hand, I had promised Professor Rowley eggs from which to obtain its history for himself. I had taxed Mr. Rowley's time and patience as an expert lepidopterist, to read my text, and examine my illustration; and I hoped in a small way to repay his kindness by sending him a box of fertile Regalis eggs.

The other pupa cases were healthful and lively, but the moths would not emerge. I coaxed them in the warmth of closed palms--I even laid them on dampened moss in the sun in the hope of softening the cases, and driving the moths out with the heat, but to no avail. They would not come forth.

I had made my studies of the big moth, when she was fully developed; but to my despair, she was depositing worthless eggs over the inside of my screen door.

Four days later, the egg-laying period over, the female, stupid and almost gone, a fine male emerged, and the following day another. I placed some of the sand from the bottom of the box on a brush tray, and put these two cases on it, and set a focused camera in readiness, so that I got a side view of a moth just as it emerged, and one facing front when about ready to cling for wing expansion. The history of their appearance, was similar to that of the female, only they were smaller, and of much brighter. colour. The next morning I wrote Professor Rowley of my regrets at being unable to send the eggs as I had hoped.

At noon I came home from half a day in the fields, to find Raymond sitting on the Cabin steps with a big box. That box contained a perfect pair of mated Regalis moths. This was positively the last appearance of the fairies.

Raymond had seen these moths clinging to the under side of a rail while riding. He at once dismounted, coaxed them on a twig, and covering them with his hat, he weighted the brim with stones. Then he rode to the nearest farm-house for a box, and brought the pair safely to me. Several beautiful studies of them were made, into one of which I also introduced my last moth to emerge, in order to show the males in two different positions.

The date was June tenth. The next day the female began egg placing. A large box was lined with corrugated paper, so that she could find easy footing, and after she had deposited many eggs on this, fearing some element in it might not be healthful for them, I substituted hickory leaves.

Then the happy time began. Soon there were heaps of pearly pale yellow eggs piled in pyramids on the leaves, and I made a study of them. Then I gently lifted a leaf, carried it outdoors and, in full light, reproduced the female in the position in which she deposited her eggs, even in the act of placing them. Of course, Molly-Cotton stood beside with a net in one hand to guard, and an umbrella in the other to shade the moth, except at the instant of exposure; but she made no movement indicative of flight.

I made every study of interest of which I could think. Then I packed and mailed Professor Rowley about two hundred fine fertile eggs, with all scientific data. I only kept about one dozen, as I could think of nothing more to record of this moth except the fact that I had raised its caterpillar. As I explained in the first chapter, from information found in a work on moths supposed to be scientific and accurate, I depended on these caterpillars to emerge in sixteen days. The season was unusually rainy and unfavourable for field work, and I had a large contract on hand for outdoor stuff. I was so extremely busy, I was glad to box the eggs, and put them out of mind until the twenty-seventh. By the merest chance I handled the box on the twentyfourth, and found six caterpillars starved to death, two more feeble, and four that seemed lively. One of these was bitten by some insect that clung to a leaf placed in their box for food, in spite of the fact that all leaves were carefully washed. One died from causes unknown. One stuck in pupation, and moulded in its skin. Three went through the succession of moults and feeding periods in fine shape, and the first week in September transformed into shiny pupa cases, not one of which was nearly as large as that of the caterpillar brought to me by Mr. Idlewine. I fed these caterpillars on black walnut leaves, as they ate them in preference to hickory.

I am slightly troubled about this moth. In Packard's "Guide to the Study of Moths", he writes: "Citheronia Regalis expands five to six inches, and its fore-wings are olive coloured, spotted with yellow and veined with broad red lines, while the hind wings are orange-red, spotted with olive, green, and yellow."

He describes two other species. Citheronia Mexicana, a tropical moth that has drifted as far north as Mexico. It is quite similar to Regalis, "having more orange and less red," but it is not recorded as having been found within a thousand miles of my locality. A third small species, Citheronia sepulcralis, expands only a little over three inches, is purple-brown with yellow spots; and is a rare Atlantic Coast species having been found once in Massachusetts, oftener in Georgia, never west of Pennsylvania.

This eliminates them as possible Limberlost species. Professor Rowley raised this moth from the eggs I sent him.

The trouble is this: Packard describes the fore-wings as `olive,' the hind as `olive, and green.' Holland makes no reference to colour, but on plate X, figure three, page eighty-seven, he reproduces Regalis with fore-wings of olive-green, the remainder of the colour as I describe and paint, only lighter. In all the Regalis moths I have handled, raised, studied minutely, painted, and photographed, there never has been tinge or shade of GREEN. Not the slightest trace of it! Each moth, male and female, has had a basic colour of pure lead or steel grey. White tinged with the proper proportions of black and blue gives the only colour that will exactly match it. I have visited my specimen case since writing the preceding. I find there the bodies of four Regalis moths, saved after their decline. One is four years old, one three, the others two, all have been exposed to daylight for that length of time. The yellows are slightly faded, the reds very much degraded, the greys a half lighter than when fresh; but showing to-day a pure, clear grey.

What troubles me is whether Regalis of the Limberlost is grey, where others are green; or whether I am colour blind or these men. Referring to other writers, I am growing `leery' of the word `Authority'; half of what was written fifty years ago along almost any line you can mention, to-day stands disproved; all of us are merely seekers after the truth: so referring to other writers, I find the women of Massachusetts; who wrote "Caterpillars and Their Moths", and who in all probability have raised more different caterpillars for the, purpose of securing life history than any other workers of our country, possibly of any, state that the front wings of Regalis have "stripes of lead colour between the veins of the wings," and "three or four lead-coloured stripes" on the back wings. The remainder of my description and colouring also agrees with theirs. If these men worked from museum or private collections, there is a possibility that chemicals used to kill, preserve, and protect the specimens from pests may have degraded the colours, and changed the grey to green. But to accept this as the explanation of the variance upsets all their colour values, so it must not be considered. This proves that there must be a Regalis that at times has olive-green stripes where mine are grey; but I never have seen one.

I think people need not fear planting trees on their premises that will be favourites with caterpillars, in the hope of luring exquisite te moths to become common with them. I have put out eggs, and released caterpillars near the Cabin, literally by the thousand, and never have been able to see the results by a single defoliated branch. Wrens, warblers, flycatchers, every small bird of the trees are exploring bark and scanning upper and under leaf surfaces for eggs and tiny caterpillars, and if they escape these, dozens of larger birds are waiting for the half-grown caterpillars, for in almost all instances these lack enough of the hairy coat of moss butterfly larvae to form any protection. Every season I watch my walnut trees to free them from the abominable 'tent' caterpillars; with the single exception of Halesidota Caryae, I never have had enough caterpillars of any species attack my foliage to be noticeable; and these in only one instance. If you care for moths you need not fear to encourage them; the birds will keep them within proper limits. If only one person enjoys this book one-tenth as much as I have loved the work of making it, then I am fully repaid.


Moths of the Limberlost - 25/25

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