Sunday, July 8, 2018

Humbug: That's One Big Moth

Posted By on Sun, Jul 8, 2018 at 3:21 PM

click to enlarge A Polyphemus moth on my hand, showing scale. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A Polyphemus moth on my hand, showing scale.
Coming home late from the Fortuna fireworks display on July 3, on a whim, I stopped at the Carlotta Fire hall. To my surprise I got to see a species of moth I photographed for the first time last year. Near the light was a Polyphemus Moth. At 6 inches it has the largest wingspan of any moth in the area. This only the second one of this species I've ever encountered.

It was late in the day when I got down to the Van Duzen River. The sun was low casting the trees on the far bank in shadows. Here and there, tiny filaments glowed against the dark background as they floated on the air. They were single filaments of spider silk carrying tiny spiderlings. Like the babies near the end of the book Charlotte's Web by by E.B.White, as soon as they are able and conditions are right they sail off to find their fate. It is called a dispersal mechanism. It keeps the concentration of competitive predators in an area down.
click to enlarge Ballooning spider webbing festoons bushes were they landed. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Ballooning spider webbing festoons bushes were they landed.
All this brought to mind a remarkable bit of research I recently read about. It seems those strands are launched not so much by breezes, but by electrostatic repulsion. Read more here.

I recently reported on Mourning Cloak caterpillars stripping a branch of leaves on my neighbor's elm tree. Today, when I walked by, instead of seeing cocoons, I found the larvae all shriveled and dead. I can only speculate that they might have been infected with some disease or parasite.

click to enlarge Mourning Cloak caterpillars as they were seen last week. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Mourning Cloak caterpillars as they were seen last week.
click to enlarge Mourning Cloak caterpillars dead today, one week later. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Mourning Cloak caterpillars dead today, one week later.
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