This past Wednesday was a lot of things, and most of them were bad. But one very aspect of today was exciting, fun, and borderline enlightening. After dealing with nasty and baffling site related issues (I’m sure you were aware) I went to the cigar bar to enjoy a special event they were having. On its own, it was a pleasant experience. But, my delightful friend Andrea brought a special guest to the proceedings that literally changed the whole tapestry of the day.
An Imperial Moth.
With a wingspan of around five inches, these beautiful animals are as eye-catching as any I’ve seen. Elegant. Unique. An entity whose arrival was met with complete awe and interest.
How rare is that? What most people classify “a bug” is brought in and no one suggests smashing it or seeing if we can put it where a bird will eat it. We decide to take it outside to the safety of a copse of trees and release it on with the caveat that if it’s still there in three hours when we leave that we’ll take it to my newly created screened in deck gazebo. A sort of enclosed insect habitat if you defy the point of the thing (keeping pests OUT). Three hours later, the beautiful little creature was waiting for us and since we’d planned on plugging in our
laptops (slang) and working on the deck we took the moth off the tree and it hitched a ride with Andrea.
Let’s step back an hour or so. Though the cigar event was nice, and the Johnny Walker Green we were drinking was nicer, the moth continued to invade my mind. So I began searching for more information. Maybe it was the scotch, maybe it was residual stress seeping out from the virus that scuttled this site’s productivity for three days, or maybe I’m just getting wimpy on the eve of my new kid’s arrival… but the more I read the more poetic and sad and mysterious these animals were.
We’ve all learned about the life cycles of moths and butterflies in class and for many the sticking points were still there. As a huge fan of the natural world and its creatures I had what I thought was a good grasp.
First of all, dig this. These moths have no mouth. They don’t eat. Neither the males nor the females have a mouth. This blew my mind. No, there’s not a proboscis or anything that serves as the mouth. Mouths on these creatures have been ‘reduced’ over evolution. Deemed redundant. All of the eating these guys are going to do is done in previous stages in its life and they live on that stored energy. Sadly only for a short time.
No mouths. No hope for a decent length of life in one of the most interesting and beautiful forms nature has provided.
When you hold one of these, its heft and the strength of its legs is surprising. It’ll cling to your finger and just lounge there, not burning precious fuel. Its “face” is an adorable fluffy mass with eyes that are tucked in during the daylight hours, though they’ll pop out and check things out if it’s disturbed. So much character and personality in this thing that at times has been a rather hideous and spiny caterpillar.
Egg to Larvae to Pupa to Adult in a bizarre and amazing year completely driven by instinct with no deviation. You don’t hear of a cocoon hatching and the moth saying ‘fuck it, I’m going south to find me a nice katydid and settling down”. They exist in this perpetual cycle seemingly pulled from science fiction in the way it balances things we can understand and the almost unfairness of it all.
This moth was in the last days of its life. This form the one it inhabits the shortest time. All that work and survival from the weather, predators, lack of food, and whatever else has led this survivor to us. This docile, phenomenal animal had no future except to breed. Couldn’t feed it. Couldn’t give it water. Couldn’t put it in a safe place to be free of danger. Time is the enemy for these guys and there’s nothing we could do.
The goal was simple. Bring the moth to the gazebo, allow it to spend a night undisturbed so my daughter could meet it before we let it go. I knew for a fact that when Sofia saw this thing it would set off a light bulb of curiosity and fascination and love for it that would help further establish a respect and love for animals she’s already shown a grace with at her age. Which is five and a half going on Pi.
Night crept in and so did the deeply implanted instincts for our friend the Imperial Moth.
As Andrea drove to the house she heard a rustling in the container housing the gentle giant. Was it scared? Dying? Shitting its proverbial pants?
No. The little boy was a little girl as it turns out.
You hear of so many roadside births where a couple is unable to get to the hospital in time and a child is delivered in the back seat of a car [fitting]. By the time the moth arrived at my house she had delivered quite a few clutches of eggs. Little tiny yellow beads all holding the promise of the unforgettable specimen we’d come to know.
Stressed out from the reality of her odd life, the moth was set gently on a paper orb lantern where she could do whatever it is that recently birthed moths do. She took a load off and rested her weary, furry little head.
What had begun with curiosity now carried purpose.
Nothing was going to fuck with these eggs.
As the night wore on I kept checking on the moth, now one able to add an ‘er’ to its classification. I was waiting for her to die. She had done everything life had asked of her. She had traveled more miles than most moths do, endured it all with class, and delivered her precious payload. I wanted to think how best to let her time in hospice go well. I feared letting her go because in reality all she’d have done was find a place to rest, only right in the crosshairs of the numerous predators patrolling the area.
Then there was my daughter. She had to see this creature. So I left the lights on for the moth and went to bed, leaving a note with Catherine to wake me up when Sofia wakes up (usually at an ungodly hour) so I could check and make sure this animal was still in a condition that wouldn’t ruin the experience.
She was. Right where I left her. Alive and well.
The look on my daughter’s face when she met the moth is the kind of thing that you remember when things are bad, reassurance that the world for all its puzzling travesties, is capable of pure and innocent perfection.
Everything from there revolved around the moth and her young. How we could create a perfect place for them to grow up safe and what kind of trees we needed to buy to feed them and where to make soft soil for them to burrow and on and on. It was phenomenal. I told Sofia she could name the moth and she took it very seriously. She tried to think of the most beautiful things in the world and on the ride to camp told my wife that the moth would be named Rainbow Sparkle, combining the best things she could think of to honor the majestic creature residing in our new guest house.
Later she gave it the first name Mothra, one of her very favorite characters from (I wish) non-fiction.
Mothra Rainbow Sparkle. I’ll take it.
Now it’s Friday and she’s been with us through rain, sun, and a bout of horrible humidity. She’s had two smaller moths hang out near her and been privy to hours of discussion, jazz, and hookah smoke. She’s laid another three eggs and enjoyed a nice breeze blowing her face as she prepares for the inevitable. Her children will be born and protected and taken to the best possible location to ensure they carry out their mother’s tradition. When she dies she will be immortalized in one way or another.
Though I secretly hope for nature to hiccup and forget this particular moth when it does its cleansing rounds and allows her to be a daily source of warmth and curiosity for this meager household and our extended family. That she’ll grow a mouth and it’ll be conducive to Italian food and multigrain waffles.
Yeah, in the grand scheme it’s just a “bug”. So was Charlotte the spider. Didn’t stop you from bawling as a kid. Or as a grown-up.
In this case it was a reminder. A perspective changer. Therapy in the form of a simple elegant chassis.
The moth with the silly name is special and she’s going to die soon. There’s no perfect way for her to go, just so long as it doesn’t end a millisecond earlier than it has to. Her journey to this place probably caused her to burn more energy than she should have. It’s too valuable to waste. She will die but she will die not by a predator’s beak or claw, not by the heat of a candle, or the treads of a boot. She will die when those strong little legs let go of whatever she’s holding onto when she’s damn good and ready and her body will be given a resting place worthy of a queen.
And she can die knowing she not only delivered on her life promise to absolute perfection, but take a little comfort that she also improved the lives of a handful of people she got to meet.