Wednesday, May 21, 2014

our guest, polyphemus

At the risk of turning this blog post into a nature lecture, let me tell you all about this little caterpillar we found last Fall.  Brian and the kiddos found him crawling around the wood pile.  He was a bright spring green with little red knobs.  Brian thought he was a Cecropia caterpillar, perhaps, but we didn't look into it much.  We brought him inside, stuck some leaves and stick, and poked holes in the lid.  I then gave Mr. Caterpillar the side eye all day, thinking I should just let him back out.  But overnight he decided to spin a silky threaded cocoon, and so I let him be.  We stuck his homey jar atop our fridge and I forgot all about him.  And then in March, I took him down, and doubtful that he was still going to make it, I took the lid off the jar and put him out on the deck.  We would drain the rainwater occasionally, and his cocoon home got some snow once in a while as our winter dragged on into April. And I just doubted his survival for some reason.  But nature knows what she was doing, even with all our clumsy interventions.  

Last week my father-in-law noticed the moth squeezing out of the cocoon, and he helped him out of his home for us all to see.  We marveled and watched as his wings s l o w l y unfurled and dried in the breeze.  We confirmed that he was a male Polyphemus moth, and I was pleasantly surprised at how long the kiddos watched him.  And he hung out on our deck all day long, hanging out his wings to dry.  And the next morning, he was gone, off to find a pretty young female Polyphemus moth.  
 Here's the nature lecture, if you're interested: The Polyphemus Moth is named after the Greek cyclops because of the eye-like markings on his wings.  This guy stubbornly kept his wings shut, though.  After they emerge from the cocoons, they have vestigial mouths, which means they do not eat.  So their life as a moth lasts roughly a week.  The males (like our guy) have the beautiful fern-like antenna that detect pheromones sent out by the females.  HOW COOL IS THAT?   They fly miles to find a mates, and while the females spend their short life span laying eggs on leaves, they males get around, mating with as many females as he can find.  I guess that's one answer to the question, "What would you do if you only had a week to live?"
It's been a week, so this guy is probably gone.  But for a whole day he really captivated our little family.  And we learned so much about a species that I had no knowledge about before, and I learned about him right along with Fletcher and Rowan.  That's one of my favorite parts of parenting.


  1. That is so cool and interesting! I am so impressed that you caught these moments on film. A beautiful experience for sure!

  2. He is lovely...and a bit creepy. ;) Very fascinating up-close pictures. I enjoyed them. :)

  3. I love this little story. You have the most amazing creatures in MO.

  4. This was so cool. I really enjoyed the little science lesson. Thanks Dr. Ruth! So happy you could be sharing all this unplanned and interesting exploration with your family!

  5. And P.S. He really is a meaty moth. Never seen one like this before!

  6. Super cool! He's a beautiful little guy, and totally amazing that you had him on your fridge through the winter. Nice work :)


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