Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 13, 2008

Single Female Seeks Male Companion

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:53 pm

   You might recall my discussion of a cocoon from an earlier Naturespeak (see Polyphemus Awaits).  When I brought it in from the snowy woods a few months ago I had no way of knowing it was the residence of a sleeping cyclopean queen.

  The distinctive oval shape defined it as belonging to a member of the giant silk moth clan known as Polyphemus – named after that sharp-stick-in-the-eye giant Cyclops of Homerian myth – but it’s gender was to remain a mystery until it emerged. I took the promising package home and kept it in my unheated back porch to await the advent of spring.

  The moth emerged a week ago and I’m proud to announce that it’s a girl! I discovered the moth late in the afternoon when I returned home from work.  It had been my habit to check up on the cocoon everyday since the beginning of May like an expectant father (awkward, especially given the fact that my wife wasn’t the mother). My new “child” had scrambled up the side of a plastic milk crate and was hanging languidly off the side (see above). She appeared quite fresh and her wings were still slightly wrinkled with excess moisture.  I don’t think I missed the event by more than an hour.

  I really wanted to see the so-called “eclosure” to verify that these moths use wing spurs to tear through the tough silken webbing of the cocoon, but C’est la Vie. All giant silk moths use caustic spit (not an official term) to soften the fibers so they can push through, but there is evidence that some actually rasp their way through with spurs. The empty cocoon sat on the table with a neat circular opening in one end. The borders of the hole were pushed out from the action of the fat little body passing through on its way to a new life (see above).

  A newly emerged Polyphemus Moth is a thing of beauty.  Take a nice close look at her picture and you’ll delight in her fine fuzzy coat of tawny scales. Note how her wing windows are subtly frosted and her antennae combs are modestly spaced.  She can’t smile, because she has no mouth, but that demure look from those beautiful compound eyes says it all. Her only job now is to find a male. She will accomplish this task without going anywhere. The guys are supposed to come to her.

  To accomplish this, she releases a continual plume of scented molecules as a signal for all willing males to home in on the love target. These sex pheromones will ride the wind for miles until they are snagged by a male’s antennae. The suitors are guided in like fat boys to a barbecue. I, therefore, wasted no time in putting her outside so that she could put her alluring charms to work (here she is in the open mesh bag I suspended from the picnic table).

  Unfortunately her chosen emergence week has consisted of nothing but a string of cold and rainy nights. All those fat boys – if there are any out there – are hang’n tight.  Every morning before breakfast and work, I run (actually walk slowly and somewhat unsurely) to the back window to peer outside at her mesh enclosure to see if Mr. Right has arrived. Normally, the males will hang about the place until given access. 

  No one has shown up yet and I’m getting worried. It’s going on a week now and still she waits in vain. My little charge will be dead within a week (remember, she can’t eat) and she, well, deserves the best of everything during her short life. I’m thinking of putting out a personal ad to help her out, but need to word it tastefully: “Single Female Seeks Male Companion for One Night Stand.” Does that sound too blunt?


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