Friday, August 26, 2011

Mystery Moth

A couple weeks back I found a black wiry-haired caterpillar munching away on my morning glory vines. I haven't kept a caterpillar since early elementary school, but I thought that Lee's boys would enjoy watching it. I scooped him into a jar and gave him some more morning glory leaves. For about a week and a half he ate, and ate, and ate. He required about three large morning glory leaves a day. Finally, one day he had wound himself all up in a little cocoon.

Unfortunately, I almost forgot about the little thing, sitting on the counter amongst jars of seeds that had gotten stacked in front of it's own jar. Last night I found his jar and thought that he may have just died. The leaves that had been left in the jar had wilted and withered over the top of the cocoon, sort of sealing it in. I felt bad. This was why I didn't keep little bugs in jars.

So I took the jar outside and found a stick, I nudged the leaf off of the cocoon. Then I thought I saw a little wiggle! I tapped at the cocoon ever so lightly with the stick. It wiggled again! Suddenly there was a little crack! I could see something white and orange moving around inside. I ran to get Lee. By the time we had gotten back to the jar, like less than a minute later, the little thing had already emerged! Just like that! I thought it was so strange that I had seemingly woken him up and he had hatched instantly!

Lee took a look at the weird looking moth, who was pretty white with Dalmatian-like spots, spindly black legs with white spots, and teeny tiny underdeveloped wings and a huge orange abdomen. "It doesn't look ready. You woke it up too soon. He's not finished. Can you get it back into it's capsule?"

I gave him a sideways glance. I did feel horrible though. The moth was crawling all around and couldn't fly. I was certain that I had ruined his chances of being a normal moth. As I sat there and watched him crawl on the ground, I saw the chickens run up. I didn't shoo them away, as I thought, "Well, it's probably more merciful to offer him a quick death than to let him wander around on the ground and slowly starve. Something would end up eating him eventually, anyway."

So I cringed as I waited for Red to pluck him up and swallow him, but the chickens would have nothing to do with him after they got a closer look. Wow! That was a first. So I let the little guy crawl onto a stick and took him over to our garden fence. He crawled up the wire, all the way to the top, and then just dangled there. I thought for sure he didn't have any strength to hang there, being just hatched and all, but little did I know that this is just what the little guy needed. I went in to make dinner. Every now and then I glanced out the window to check on the little white "spot" on the fence. He stayed put.

While dinner was cooking, I quickly did a web search on what happens when you wake up a moth or butterfly too soon or why the wings were undeveloped, and found nothing. I was shocked. Surely other people had run into this problem before? Then I read the development of a certain kind of butterfly, which stated that after it emerges from the cocoon, it climbs a tree and lets it's wings fill with blood, then flies away. Ah hah, that had to be it! I told Lee, and we both went outside to check on the mystery moth.

Sure enough, he had wings! In about an hour, his short stubby wings had filled out all the way down past his abdomen, and he looked beautiful! I tried to get a picture despite it being dark, as you can see above.

Later on I found out from a web search that he was a Salt Marsh Moth. Not only did his coloring obviously give this away, but it stated that one of his habitat preferences were marshy areas, which are close by here. And, that one of his favorite foods is the cotton plant, also nearby, since this is the cotton capitol of California.

He flew away sometime while we were eating dinner. We felt relieved.

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