Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 16, 2008

What a Relief

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 7:00 pm

  When I last introduced this Cecropia Moth to you it was mid winter and summer was but a distant hope.  She was just a pupae encased within a silken bag of her own larval construction. I, of course, didn’t know she was a “she” at the time, so introduced her as an “it” – which is better than saying “he-her” or “Pat” all the time. You might want to go back and read the entry (Sat., Jan. 5, 2008), but to save you the trouble I’ll tell you that I cut open the cocoon and removed the pupae in order to take some pictures. I put the thing back carefully and sewed the silk cover together (whip stitch, I believe). I then suspended the cocoon laden stick from a nail out in the un-heated back porch and awaited the June emergence.

  Almost from the get-go, however, I started to get some doubts about the entire affair. I’ve never done this procedure before and began to entertain feelings of guilt. Perhaps my actions destroyed some sort of a vapor barrier, or my handling introduced some hideous fungus that would slowly eat away at the precious life within. It was like taking a fetus out of the womb, I reasoned unreasonably, for the sole purpose of filling the space on my crummy little blog.

  After a short while, I began to get over these thoughts. The pupae, after all, was a tough skinned entity that was built to tolerate extreme cold and violent shaking due to hard whipping winds.  Nothing I did could be compared to the torture Ma Nature woulda-coulda done.  About the time I was re-considering the crumminess of my blog, another horrible thought struck me: What if I put the pupae in backwards?

  For the life of me I couldn’t remember what the original pupal orientation was, but I thought the head end faced upward. The emerging moth will need to spit out a silk-dissolving fluid in order to create an exit portal though the tough fibrous cocoon (they have no chewing mouthparts). The more I thought about it, I became convinced that I had returned the pupa to the cocoon with the head end facing downward!  It would have to go out the wrong end.

  What would happen, I wondered, if the thing emerged from the pupal skin and found itself facing the thick end of the cocoon?  Would it have enough spit to burn through or would it be trapped like a sausage in a wrapper – dry mouthed and unable to turn?  In the latter case, the poor thing would die in place without ever being able to spread its glorious wings. All of this because of my miserable attempt at a crummy science blog.

  As May turned into June my angst increased. By the time the middle of the month loomed, I was convinced that I had indeed killed it. I had performed a fatal pupa installation akin to a doctor putting in an upside-down heart. Most giant silk moths were out already.  My Polyphemus emerged last month and I noticed a pair of Luna Moth wings next to a porch lamp the other day (it had been eaten by a bird). Then came Father’s Day.

  On Father’s Day morning I awoke to a glorious sight. The Cecropia Moth had emerged earlier in the morning and was hanging from the now-empty cocoon. It had emerged out the normal end of the cocoon. The creature was normal in all respects – with all fingers and toes, well, all six legs anyway. It was a beautiful girl to boot. What a relief.

  This gal is worth a closer look, so take a gander here. This is our largest native moth and to see one in pristine condition is a real treat. Apart from her size (females are larger than males), there are two other features that mark this one as a female. Her featherlike antennae are narrow and her egg-filled abdomen is huge. Yes, she has a big butt that is covered with a fine wooly scales and decorated with a wonderful maroon and white pattern.

  I’ll keep her for a few days then release her to her own charge. I still had one burning question, however. Did I put her in backwards?  Did she need to turn around? I cut the cocoon suture to check out the pupa skin. The pupa was heads-up just like it was supposed to be. Still, I wonder what if?….

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