Monday, July 23, 2012

International Moth Week: Blinded Sphinx

A ghostly glare from a Blinded Sphinx
Our neighbours to the south are having a National Moth Week, although strangely beginning it today (Monday) and ending next Sunday. Well, as long as they don't make too much noise, I'm all for it and many other Altalepers feel the same. So, I will kick off the Home Bug Garden part of the celebration with a spooky denizen of the night: The Blinded Sphinx Moth Paonias excaecatus (J.E. Smith, 1797).
Blinded Sphinx with eyes blinded
The origin of the common name is obscure, but the 'eyes' that flash on and off, presumably to startle potential predators, may be the source (the species name is from the Latin 'to blind'). Sphinx, though, is applied to most of the family (Sphingidae) and according to the OED refers to the 'attitude' of the larva. Also known as hornworms, the caterpillars do look a bit like the hybrid monsters of myth and masonry.
Cute, colourful, cuddly, and smells good too
Why are moths so popular that they have a National Week? Their seemingly endless variety, often large size, and dazzling patterns and colours would seem to be explanation enough. Add to that their furry coating of soft scales and their relationship to their hard and bristly brethren is easily forgotten. They are practically birds! Also, serious moth-afficionados have a lot of fun collecting - a night-time activity that includes sugaring trees, black lights, tall stories, and abundant liquid refreshments.
Go see some moths during moth week
For those Edmontonians who'd rather not brave the dark and stormy nights (not the best for collecting) or the tornado warnings, you are in luck. The Royal Alberta Museum has a display of stunning images: Moths at Large. If the weather is simply too intimidating, then as long as the electricity lasts, why not drop in to Moths of Calgary and be amazed at the diversity of forms and colours that could be found in your own backyard. Go on, forget the gloomy weather and enjoy some of the brighter parts of Nature.

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