Friday, July 26, 2013

A Big Moth with a Mono-ocular gaze: Polyphemus

A big moth with that 'I'm looking at you' attitude
In Alberta, that too far north for comfort latitudinal range, one gets used to being biodiversity-challenged. If you went back in time a decade of thousand years - nada in geological time - you would have nothing living here except very cold-tolerant algae and bacteria. Still, that pallid and unreliable sun has been shinning with what passes for warmth here for more moth generations than one could easily count.
Antheraea polyphemus (Cramer, 1776) - as big as a mouse, but without the Hanta Virus
Gradually, solar cycles allowing, even Alberta will gradually integrate itself into the Greater North American Biome. Who knows, but maybe one day Grizzlies and Armadillos will frolic together beneath the shadows of the Rockies. Well, best not to expect too much from Mother Nature. To her a barren wasteland of ice or volcanic magma is just as natural as a rainforest. So, while we may, let us imagine a diversity of elegant and attractive moths fluttering around our wasteful nocturnal emissions.
A big, bad Polyphemus caterpillar eating my Mayday
Polyphemus is a big moth - wingspan of about 6 inches (15 cm) - not the biggest, Alberta can boast other giant silk moths such as Luna Moth (apparently a recent arrival) and Glover's Silk Moth - but the biggest that has come fluttering to my night lights. Personally, I welcome all and any additions to Alberta's fauna - as long as they come with their baggage of parasites and predators that not only add to our biodiversity, but keep any one species from being too, too common.
A dozen Polyphemus caterpillars in a Mayday is interesting, a thousand would be a disaster
In Greek legend and mythology Polyphemus was a big, bad cyclops. Although much spoken of in ancient times, today he and she are just big moths. Is there a greater thrill than having a mouse-sized moth walk on your hand? Well, yes, many, but it is still a very nice thing.

1 comment:

  1. i will ALWAYS be fascinated by polyphemus moths. Caught one when I was a kid and it basically blew my mind. I've seen VERY few, so even when I just saw the wings in the gutter (the body had been eaten, it was underneath a street light in Washington DC burbs, so I assumed a bat got it, but I have no idea) I was super happy. And of COURSE brought them into the room where the conference was & asked everyone in the seats "What is this? Is it a polyphemus?" 'Cause that's a biodork's job!

    Those caterpillars are AMAZING! I've never seen that in person. I think having a life polyphemus walk on your hand is a rare privilege indeed. =)