Monday, December 12, 2011

Growing up Creepie pt. 6.~ All things long and curvy

Hawk moths, in general, are fairly large insects with stout, sleek looking bodies and tapered wings that are angled backwards in rest (giving them the appearance of a jetplane) but this one must have been gargantuan, even for hawk-moth standards! Measuring approximately the size of my palm without its fingers (that is to say, about four inches or so), the hawk moth sat motionless near the entrance of the university library and was already drawing some nervous and apprehensive stares from passing students who were no doubt both amazed, and terrified, by its sheer size. So named for their swift and strong flight, hawk moths most usually the "culprits" for the "moth-terrors" many people experience in their homes as the comfort of a family dinner or moment of reprieve is so unceremoniously and startlingly interrupted by this large and angry looking creature, fluttering so hard against the fluorescent bulbs that the sounds of its wing beats can be heard even from above the screams!

Because of my indulgence for all creatures big and small, I have garnered a certain reputation among my peers over time as sort of the "go to" person whenever someone encounters something with more than two pairs of legs. Usually the cause for the consternation are beetles, mostly of the common variety and almost never quite so big. So imagine, if you may, my extreme pleasure as a lepidopterist at having being called in because of a "giant bug" problem only to find such a beautiful creature as this hawk-moth. It seemed such a waste to just toss the insect out so I decided I would like to take it home with me, if only to get it identified later. It is not everyday one meets such a handsome specimen of a moth and it would be a sure pity if it had gotten away. Keeping that in mind, I fetched my butterfly net from the back of my car (never leave home without it) and positioned myself in such a way that would prevent the insect from escaping. I crept closer, closer... closer. Raised the net with one hand, pressed the metal frame against the surface of the wall... inched my fingers closer to the moth... 

and then all hell broke loose. 

The moth began fluttering, almost instantly, sensing perhaps the imminent arrival of my fingers and was knocking about this way and that even within the confines of the net. It pushed and pulled with all its might, even once attempting to squeeze out of the frame. All the while people were exclaiming... either in excitement, or fear, I don't know. Nor did I care. All I could focus on was the moth in my net and my hands going about in there, slow, clumsy and fumbling in comparison to the graceful insect, as I tried my best to catch it in such a way that would not damage or permanently mar its already weathered wings (for this moth already looked like it was on the last legs of its life) I managed to get it eventually, by clipping its thorax clipped firmly (but not enough to kill it!) between my fore finger and my thumb and I marveled at the strength its flight muscles possessed. Even from between my fingers, and even though it could not move its wings, I could feel them vibrating, pulsing, thrumming with energy. In fact, they vibrated so hard, I wondered if the friction wouldn't cause my fingers to catch fire ultimately. I stowed it away in an empty sandwich container I happened to be carrying on me at the time to prevent it from damaging itself further before realizing absently that my fingers were covered with a wet and sticky substance. It seemed, unfortunately, that during our little scuffle the poor creature suffered a bit of a fright and defecated upon my fingers!

The moth seemed to calm down significantly, afterwards, and I brought it home with me where it subsequently expired. I decided, even though it was an already old and weathered specimen, to spread and display it along with my humble butterfly collection. As I placed the final pin which held down the tracing paper that kept its wings in place for drying, I thought back of Darwin's theory of evolution and how he made the connection that some moths were evolved for specific flowers. In fact, it was a hawk moth, that led Darwin to that conclusion as he noted the incredibly long proboscis of most hawk-moths which were specifically adapted to draw sweet nectar from deed and narrow flowers. The flowers, in turn, adapted to the hawk-moth's methods of feeding and eventually came to rely on these specific insects for pollination. Curious to put this theory to the test, I took an extra pin I had lying about and slowly began to unroll the proboscis. My word! It was long!!! And curvy!!! A glistening appendage so beautifully designed for feeding in a specific way...I wonder then, how long did it take for evolution to produce such diversity in butterflies and moths around the world and are they, in any ways changing even as we speak? 

Female of the privet hawk moth (Psilogramma menephron)
Often dubbed as the "ugly stepsisters" of butterflies, moths are often overlooked and shunned by many because of their dull coloration and cryptic designs. Indeed as opposed to the sight of a butterfly, which heralds joy or the coming of spring in many cultures, the presence of a moth is often viewed as an omen, either that something bad is going to happen or that there is an unseen (and perhaps unwelcome) presence within the house. For the amateur lepidopterist like myself, however, moths are most certainly a welcome addition to my ever-growing collection of lepidoptera. Boasting over 250,000 known species (with many more yet to be discovered or identified), moths make up the bulk of the insect order lepidoptera and as such, it would be a gross understatement to say that there are in fact more diversity when it comes to moths than there are with butterflies. 

We human beings are only a part of something very much larger. When we walk along, we may crush a beetle or simply cause a change in the air so that a fly ends up where it might have never gone otherwise. And if we think of the same example but with ourselves in the role of the insect, and the larger universe in the role we've just played, it's perfectly clear that we're affected everyday by forces over which we have no more control than the poor beetle has over our gigantic foot as it descends upon it.
-Arthur Golden-

1 comment:

Brittanie said...

That is one beautiful specimen. We get Hemaris thysbe here and they're impressive creatures to watch. I have yet to catch one to observe better but I'll try!

And to answer your question: Yes butterflies and moths are changing as we speak. Perfect examples include:

Notocrypta curvifasciata (I hope I spelled it right ^^;;) which is a carnivorous butterfly.....yes you read this right. It's one of the Hesperiidae

And the Epipyropidae a family of moths who's caterpillars are parasitic of Cicadas and Leafhoppers!

And I know there's more waiting to be discovered. God I love these insects so much.

Here's hoping for a very insecty/lepidoptery new year for us bug enthusiast. *^^*