Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

July 18, 2008

Promethea’s Patterns & Perfumes

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 7:47 pm

If youíve been following this blog, you have been subjected to multiple exposures to that wonderful group of insects known as the Giant Silk Moths.Because these big beauties are all named after Greek gods, youíve also gotten a hefty dose of mythology along with it. Let me warn you, then, that you are about to get one more turn at the mega-moth table. Iíve had good luck this year in finding the cocoons of both Polyphemus and Cecropia Moths and both have emerged out into glorious adults. Well, good things come in threes.I found the dangling cocoon of a Promethea Moth at the Petersburg Game Area last week and now it too has emerged.

The Promethea Moth (see here) is a relative midget in the Giant Silk Moth clan yet ironically it is named after a Greek Titan Ė a giant. As part of one of the dumber myths in the Grecian myth treasury, Promethea gained fame by cracking Zeus up side the head with a rock. This action, believe it or not, was performed in order to rid Zeus of his headaches!Somehow Athena popped out of the big godís head upon delivery of the blow and his headaches were cured. Although I am not making this up, Iím sure some Greek suffering from a case of blunt force trauma did.

The real moth named after the mythical giant, is worthy of a mythical title Ė no matter how stupid the namesake might be. Artistically, it is a gem of creation as the detail view above (and this view here) illustrates. A detailed look at the wings of one of these newly emerged beauties reveals a subtle patterning of scales and the obligatory ďeyeĒ spots found on most silk moths. ††††

This specimen is a female. Her reddish coloration, V-markings, and plump abdomen are sure indicators of this. Males of the species are smaller, dark purple brown, and have light tan wing borders. Unlike most moths, these scaled down titans are active during the day which allows us to get a peek at some of the unique behavior that brings the boys and girls together. Actually the behavior is not unique; itís just that we can see whatís going on during the daylight hours.

The first job of a freshly emerged Promethea female is to attract a mate by releasing sex pheromones into the air. To do so, she dangles down from the end of the cocoon and extends a brush-like organ out of her posterior. Take a look here and you can see this scent wand. She will occasionally waft the thing back and forth to distribute the perfume into the air stream. The males can detect these pheromones from as much as 7 miles away and will hone in on the target and come a-courtín.

All of this takes place in the late afternoon from around 4 pm until sunset. By the time the Prometheas pack it in for the night, all of the other moths are just getting started. As of this writing, my female hasnít attracted any suitors yet and the sun is going down.Iím pretty sure sheíll get her man after I release her tomorrow. Her perfume will end up hitting some guy moth up side the head like a rock.

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