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- Moths of the Limberlost - 6/25 -


the alders or the elaborate quarters of the bridge. On a board the process is to cover the space required with a fine spinning that glues firmly to the wood. Then the worker takes a firm grip with the anal props and lateral feet and begins drawing out long threads that start at the top, reach down one side, across the bottom and back to the top again, where each thread is cut and another begun. As long as the caterpillar can be seen through its work, it remains in the same position and throws the head back and around to carry the threads. I never thought of counting these movements while watching a working spinner, but some one who has, estimates that Polyphemus, that spins a cocoon not one fourth the size of Cecropia, moves the head a quarter of a million times in guiding the silk thread. When a thin webbing is spun and securely attached all around the edges it is pushed out in the middle and gummed all over the inside with a liquid glue that oozes through, coalesces and hardens in a waterproof covering. Then a big nest of crinkly silk threads averaging from three to four inches in length are spun, running from the top down one side, up the other, and the cut ends drawn closely together. One writer states that this silk has no commercial value; while Packard thinks it has. I attach greater weight to his opinion. Next comes the inner case. For this the caterpillar loosens its hold and completely surrounds itself with a small case of compact work. This in turn is saturated with the glue and forms in a thick, tough case, rough on the outside, the top not so solidly spun as the other walls; inside dark brown and worn so smooth it seems as if oiled, from the turning of the caterpillar. In this little chamber close the length and circumference of an average sized woman's two top joints of the first finger, the caterpillar transforms to the pupa stage, crowding its cast skin in a wad at the bottom.

At time for emergence the moth bursts the pupa case, which is extremely thin and papery compared with the cases of burrowing species. We know by the wet moth that liquid is ejected, although we cannot see the wet spot on the top of the inner case of Cecropia as we can with Polyphemus, that does not spin the loose outer case and silk nest. From here on the moths emerge according to species. Some work with their mouths and fore feet. Some have rough projections on the top of the head, and others little sawlike arrangements at the bases of the wings. In whatever manner they free themselves, all of them are wet when they leave their quarters. Sometimes the gathered silk ends comb sufficient down from an emerging Cecropia to leave a terra cotta rim around the opening from which it came; but I never saw one lose enough at this time to disfigure it. On very rare occasions a deformed moth appears. I had a Cecropia with one wing no larger than my thumb nail, and it never developed. This is caused by the moth sustaining an injury to the wing in emergence. If the membrane is slightly punctured the liquid forced into the wing for its development escapes and there is no enlargement.

Also, in rare instances, a moth is unable to escape at all and is lost if it is not assisted; but this is precarious business and should not be attempted unless you are positive the moth will die if you do not interfere. The struggle it takes to emerge is a part of the life process of the moth and quickens its circulation and develops its strength for the affairs of life afterward. If the feet have a steady pull to drag forth the body, they will be strong enough to bear its weight while the wings dry and develop.

All lepidopterists mention the wet condition of the moths when they emerge. Some explain that an acid is ejected to soften the pupa case so that the moth can cut its way out; others go a step farther and state that the acid is from the mouth. I am extremely curious about this. I want to know just what this acid is and where it comes from. I know of no part of the thorax provided with a receptacle for the amount of liquid used to flood a case, dampen a moth, and leave several drops in the shell.

As soon as a moth can find a suitable place to cling after it is out, it hangs by the feet and dries the wings and down. Long before it is dry if you try to move a moth or cause disturbance, it will eject several copious jets of a spray from the abdomen that appears, smells and tastes precisely like the liquid found in the abandoned case. If protected from the lightest touch it will do the same. It appeals to me that this liquid is abdominal, partly thrown off to assist the moth in emergence; something very like that bath of birth which accompanies and facilitates human entrance into the world. It helps the struggling moth in separating from the case, wets the down so that it will pass the small opening, reduces the large abdomen so that it will escape the exit, and softens the case and silk where the moth is working. With either male or female the increase in size is so rapid that neither could be returned to their cases five minutes after they have left them.

It is generally supposed that the spray thrown by a developing moth is for the purpose of attracting others of its kind. I have my doubts. With moths that have been sheltered and not even touched by a breath of wind, this spray is thrown very frequently before the moth is entirely dry, long before it is able to fly and before the ovipositor is thrust out. According to my sense of smell there is very little odour to the spray and what there is would be dissipated hours before night and time for the moths to fly and seek mates. I do not think that the spray thrown so soon after escape from cocoon or case is to attract the sexes, any farther than that much of it in one place on something that it would saturate might leave a general `mothy' odour. Some lepidopterists think this spray a means of defence; if this is true I fail to see why it should be thrown when there is nothing disturbing the moth.

Many of the spinning moths use leaves for their outer foundation. Some appear as if snugly rolled in a leaf and hanging from a twig, but examination will prove that the stem is silk covered to hold the case when the leaf loosens. This is the rule with all Promethea cocoons I ever have seen. Polyphemus selects a cluster of leaves very frequently thorn, and weaves its cocoon against three, drawing them together and spinning a support the length of the stems, so that when the leaf is ready to fall the cocoon is safely anchored. When the winter winds have beaten the edges from the leaves, the cocoon appears as if it were brown, having three ribs with veins running from them, and of triangular shape. Angulifera spins against the leaves but provides no support and so drops to the ground. Luna spins a comparatively thin white case, among the leaves under the shelter of logs and stumps. Io spins so slightly in confinement that the pupa case and cast skin show through. I never have found a pupa out of doors, but this is a ground caterpillar.

Sometimes the caterpillar has been stung and bad an egg placed in its skin by a parasite, before pupation. In such case the pupa is destroyed by the developing fly. Throughout one winter I was puzzled by the light weight of what appeared to be a good Polyphemus cocoon, and at time for emergence amazed by the tearing and scratching inside the cocoon, until what I think was an Ophion fly appeared. It was honey yellow, had antennae long as its extremely long body, the abdomen of which was curved and the segments set together so as to appear notched. The wings were transparent and the insect it seems is especially designed to attack Polyphemus caterpillars and help check a progress that otherwise might become devastating.

Among the moths that do not feed, the year of their evolution is divided into about seven days for the life of the moth, from fifteen to thirty for the eggs, from five to six weeks for the caterpillar and the remainder of the time in the pupa stage. The rule differs with feeding moths only in that after mating and egg placing they take food and live several months, often until quite heavy frosts have fallen.

One can admire to fullest extent the complicated organism, wondrous colouring, and miraculous life processes in the evolution of a moth, but that is all. Their faces express nothing; their attitudes tell no story. There is the marvellous instinct through which the males locate the opposite sex of their species; but one cannot see instinct in the face of any creature; it must develop in acts. There is no part of their lives that makes such pictures of mother-love as birds and animals afford. The male finds a mate and disappears. The female places her eggs and goes out before her caterpillars break their shells. The caterpillar transforms to the moth without its consent, the matter in one upbuilding the other. The entire process is utterly devoid of sentiment, attachment or volition on the part of the creatures involved. They work out a law as inevitable as that which swings suns, moons, and planets in their courses. They are the most fragile and beautiful result of natural law with which I am acquainted.

CHAPTER III The Robin Moth: Cecropia

When only a little child, wandering alone among the fruits and flowers of our country garden, on a dead peach limb beside the fence I found it--my first Cecropia. I was the friend of every bird, flower, and butterfly. I carried crumbs to the warblers in the sweetbrier; was lifted for surreptitious peeps at the hummingbird nesting in the honeysuckle; sat within a few feet of the robin in the catalpa; bugged the currant bushes for the phoebe that had built for years under the roof of the corn bin; and fed young blackbirds in the hemlock with worms gathered from the cabbages. I knew how to insinuate myself into the private life of each bird that homed on our farm, and they were many, for we valiantly battled for their protection with every kind of intruder. There were wrens in the knot holes, chippies in the fences, thrushes in the brush heaps, bluebirds in the hollow apple trees, cardinals in the bushes, tanagers in the saplings, fly-catchers in the trees, larks in the wheat, bobolinks in the clover, killdeers beside the creeks, swallows in the chimneys, and martins under the barn eaves. My love encompassed all feathered and furred creatures.

Every day visits were paid flowers I cared for most. I had been taught not to break the garden blooms, and if a very few of the wild ones were taken, I gathered them carefully, and explained to the plants that I wanted them for my mother because she was so ill she could not come to them any more, and only a few touching her lips or lying on her pillow helped her to rest, and made vivid the fields and woods when the pain was severe.

My love for the butterflies took on the form of adoration. There was not a delicate, gaudy, winged creature of day that did not make so strong an appeal to my heart as to be almost painful. It seemed to me that the most exquisite thoughts of God for our pleasure were materialized in their beauty. My soul always craved colour, and more brilliancy could be found on one butterfly wing than on many flower faces. I liked to slip along the bloom-bordered walks of that garden and stand spell-bound, watching a black velvet butterfly, which trailed wings painted in white, red, and green, as it clambered over a clump of sweet-williams, and indeed, the flowers appeared plain compared with it! Butterflies have changed their


Moths of the Limberlost - 6/25

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