Polyphemus Moth

I spent much of Tuesday dodging rain, popping in and out of the house with my camera, hoping to catch a photo of our returning hummingbirds. The hummingbirds didn’t cooperate, but the yard’s other birds were quite willing to pose.

Warbler May 3

Brown Thrasher May 3

During one session of waiting and watching, a brief disturbance in the pear tree was followed by a grackle landing in the grass.

Grackle May 3

Just before I snapped the above photo, I caught a glimpse of what looked to be a rather large moth disappearing down the grackle’s throat. See all the fuzz on its beak? That’s moth fur. A few moments later an intact wing (and parts of other wings) drifted out of the tree’s upper branches.

Moth Wing May 3

After I finished photographing the wing, I noticed something else in the grass. Another moth!

Moth May 3

I haven’t seen a Polyphemus moth up close since I was a child. This one seemed stunned, letting me take photos with my macro lens from every angle. I have a suspicion that the grackle had just eaten her mate.

Moth May 3

She didn’t have any visible wounds, but she was clearly unable to fly. I let her climb onto my hand, then snipped a twig from the pear tree–something familiar for her to rest on as she recovered from whatever shock had knocked her to the ground. While she rested, I took a few more photos…

Moth May 3

The Polyphemus Moth page at the University of Florida’s Featured Creatures site explains the origin of the moth’s name: “It is named after Polyphemus, the giant cyclops from Greek mythology who had a single large, round, eye in the middle of his forehead (Himmelman 2002). The name is because of the large eyespots in the middle of the hind wings.”

Moth May 3

When it became apparent that my moth wasn’t interested in leaving her new perch, I propped the twig in my butterfly box and moved her into the garage.

Moth May 3

I meant only to keep her safe until an approaching storm had passed, and planned to release her after dark. (Polyphemus moths are nocturnal. Also, they don’t feed as adults. Their sole occupation after emerging is to mate and, in the case of females, lay eggs.) But my moth had plans of her own. By the time the weather cleared, she had begun laying eggs.

Eggs May 4

I didn’t want to disturb her during such important work, so I left her to it. By morning, I was the stunned one. So many eggs!

Eggs May 4

Eggs May 4

Eggs May 4

I’m planning to put most of the eggs back in the pear tree, when she’s finished laying.

Eggs May 4

Most, but not all. I can’t resist keeping a few. For documentary blog purposes…

Eggs May 4

Stay tuned!

Macro Views

Yellow Weed March 9

Spring makes me wish for a more powerful macro lens.

Hyacinth March 10

I want to capture all of the delicate splendor of the yard as it wakes from winter.

Pear March 11

Weed March 9

I use words like “corolla” and “calyx” in poems,

Pear March 11

Honeysuckle March 11

and name characters after weeds and wildflowers.

Purple Weed March 11

Henbit and Purple Deadnettle.

Purple Weed March 11

Speedwell March 8

Speedwell and Dandelion.

Dandelion March 8

Ant March 10

Spring is the only time of year when I truly love ants.

Ant March 11

As I follow ants with my camera, I find other treasures.

Insect March 9

Moth March 10

When carpenter bees emerge, my imagination becomes airborne.

Bee March 8

Bee March 8

I stalk our carpenter bees with both macro and long-focus lenses.

Bee March 8

Long-focus lenses let me stalk the yard’s other visitors, too.

Squirrel March 9

Squirrel March 9

Ruby crowned Kinglet March 13

But I always return to the macro lens, yearning to be closer.

Fennel March 10

Parsley March 11

Leaf March 8

Publication note: On March 2nd, my poem “On Losing the Old Dog” posted at Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, which is one of my favorite poetry sites. Many thanks to editor Christine Klocek-Lim!

Days Like Yesterday

Yesterday was sunny and mild, a perfect mid-October day. A perfect day to work in the yard. To weed the chronically late paperwhites, encourage tiring daisies, and add a few fall flowers.

My husband had purchased chrysanthemums and pansies on Saturday, so everything was ready and waiting. I started my list with the mower, trimming ragged tufts of grass, sowthistle, and knotweed.

All went well until I decided to clean out the cactus bed, where I wanted to plant the pansies. I soon had a glove full of ants. On my way into the house, to rinse my itchy hand, I spotted an amazingly furry moth on the deck. It was a turning point for my day.

(I would love some help identifying this moth. Is it one of the tiger moths?)

While photographing the moth, I noticed a foul odor coming from underneath the deck. A decomposition kind of reek. After tracing the scent to its strongest point, I traded my camera for a flashlight and began surveying the narrow seams between boards.

By aiming a flashlight just so and keeping one eye aligned just so, the space under the deck can be inspected in six-inch increments. It’s a tedious, back-cramping process, one that I perfected during Indigo’s younger years, when her toys often rolled out of sight. Or got buried.

I located the odor’s source, something furry and lifeless, but it was wedged too far under the deck to reach without removing boards. Two hours later, two boards later, I called animal control for a dead rabbit pickup.

To pass the time while I waited, I went back to the cactus bed and pansies. Three black widow spiders later, I threw down my gloves and retreated into the house, thoroughly disgusted with our stinking, venom-infested yard. (I can’t bear to post another black widow portrait. For those who are curious, previous photos appear here and here.)

By sunset, the dead rabbit was gone and my arachnophobia tremors had eased. I returned to the cactus bed, finished my clean-up work, and planted the pansies. Camera time! Except, as I went inside, something under the still-gaping hole in our deck caught my eye. Yesterday’s rabbit was not the first to die there.

I want to believe these bones pre-date us, that the rabbit died long before we moved in. Because I don’t want our yard to be a death and spider yard.

At least, I don’t want our yard to be only a death and spider yard.

Despite days like yesterday, I can’t love a yard that is all flowers and moths. Such a place would never be truly alive.

Thread-Waisted Wasp

Some years ago, the tree beside our mailbox became infested with yellownecked caterpillars. (I believe the following moth is the adult form of these caterpillars. Please comment if you can confirm or correct my identifications!)

That first summer, the tree’s lower branches were stripped of leaves by fall. The next summer, thread-waisted wasps arrived in the yard.

Dozens of these wasps dug burrows in the loose soil under the tree. The following year, we saw very few caterpillars and even fewer wasps. The tree kept most of its leaves. Another year later, the caterpillars surged again. More wasps, as well.

They continue on in this pattern. Every other summer, we have caterpillars and wasps, with the between years bringing decreased populations of both.

The wasps are very efficient. A burrow takes only fifteen or twenty minutes to complete. They dig with their front legs and jaws, vibrating their wings as if to loosen the soil faster, and carry the excavated dirt several feet away. Each trip clears a pea-sized lump.

When the burrow is deep enough, they fly into the tree, sting a caterpillar, and let the stunned victim fall. They find the caterpillar on the ground, grasp it in their impressive jaws, and drag it into the burrow. A few minutes for egg laying, and the job is done. (I missed this part of today’s activity because my camera batteries died. 😦  Maybe I’ll get another chance tomorrow.) When finished, the female stuffs clumps of dirt and small stones into the burrow’s entrance. Then she moves to a different part of the yard and starts all over again.

The sandy parts of our yard, where grass grows poorly, are peppered with burrows right now. Next year, I expect the tree will keep its leaves all summer.

As a final note today, this might be the same mockingbird that I photographed yesterday. It certainly had the same sneeze…

More Hovering Moths

At sunset, sphinx moths arrive for another feeding in the ginger lilies. They drain the flowers’ day-long accumulation of nectar, then move on. Around midnight, they return for the nectar that has been produced since nightfall.

I’ve seen a few different species of these hovering moths in the yard. The moth in the following photos is either a Carolina sphinx or a Five-spotted hawkmoth, but I can’t decide which. Any ideas? (Maybe it’s neither?)

The moth in this video is a Pink-spotted hawkmoth.