MOTHS OF THE LIMBERLOST
A book about Limberlost Cabin
To Neltje Degraff Doubleday
"All diamonded with panes of quaint device, Innumerable of stains, and splendid dyes, As are the Tiger Moth's deep damask wings."
CHAPTER I Moths of the Limberlost
CHAPTER II Moths, eggs, caterpillars, winter quarters
CHAPTER III The Robin Moth
CHAPTER IV The Yellow Emperor
CHAPTER V The Lady Bird
CHAPTER VI Moths of the moon
CHAPTER VII King of the hollyhocks
CHAPTER VIII Hera of the corn
CHAPTER IX The Sweetheart and the Bride
CHAPTER X The Giant Gamin
CHAPTER XI The Garden Fly
CHAPTER XII Bloody-Nose of Sunshine Hill
CHAPTER XIII The Modest Moth
CHAPTER XIV The Pride of the Lilacs
CHAPTER XV The King of the Poets
CHAPTER I Moths of the Limberlost
To me the Limberlost is a word with which to conjure; a spot wherein to revel. The swamp lies in north-eastern Indiana, nearly one hundred miles south of the Michigan line and ten west of the Ohio. In its day it covered a large area. When I arrived; there were miles of unbroken forest, lakes provided with boats for navigation, streams of running water, the roads around the edges corduroy, made by felling and sinking large trees in the muck. Then the Winter Swamp had all the lacy exquisite beauty of such locations when snow and frost draped, while from May until October it was practically tropical jungle. From it I have sent to scientists flowers and vines not then classified and illustrated in our botanies.
It was a piece of forethought to work unceasingly at that time, for soon commerce attacked the swamp and began its usual process of devastation. Canadian lumbermen came seeking tall straight timber for ship masts and tough heavy trees for beams. Grand Rapids followed and stripped the forest of hard wood for fine furniture, and through my experience with the lumber men "Freckles"' story was written. Afterward hoop and stave men and local mills took the best of the soft wood. Then a ditch, in reality a canal, was dredged across the north end through, my best territory, and that carried the water to the Wabash River until oil men could enter the swamp. From that time the wealth they drew to the surface constantly materialized in macadamized roads, cosy homes, and big farms of unsurpassed richness, suitable for growing onions, celery, sugar beets, corn and potatoes, as repeatedly has been explained in everything I have written of the place. Now, the Limberlost exists only in ragged spots and patches, but so rich was it in the beginning that there is yet a wealth of work for a lifetime remaining to me in these, and river thickets. I ask no better hunting grounds for birds, moths, and flowers. The fine roads are a convenience, and settled farms a protection, to be taken into consideration, when bewailing its dismantling.
It is quite true that "One man's meat is another's poison." When poor Limber, lost and starving in the fastnesses of the swamp, gave to it a name, afterward to be on the lips of millions; to him it was deadly poison. To me it has been of unspeakable interest, unceasing work of joyous nature, and meat in full measure, with occasional sweetbreads by way of a treat.
Primarily, I went to the swamp to study and reproduce the birds. I never thought they could have a rival in my heart. But these fragile night wanderers, these moonflowers of June's darkness, literally "thrust themselves upon me." When my cameras were placed before the home of a pair of birds, the bushes parted to admit light, and clinging to them I found a creature, often having the bird's sweep of wing, of colour pale green with decorations of lavender and yellow or running the gamut from palest tans darkest browns, with markings, of pink or dozens of other irresistible combinations of colour, the feathered folk found a competitor that often outdistanced them in my affections, for I am captivated easily by colour, and beauty of form.
At first, these moths made studies of exquisite beauty, I merely stopped a few seconds to reproduce them, before proceeding with my work. Soon I found myself filling the waiting time, when birds were slow in coming before the cameras, when clouds obscured the light too much for fast exposures, or on grey days, by searching for moths. Then in collecting abandoned nests, cocoons were found on limbs, inside stumps, among leaves when gathering nuts, or queer shining pupae-cases came to light as I lifted wild flowers in the fall. All these were carried to my little conservatory, placed in as natural conditions as possible, and studies were made from the moths that emerged the following spring. I am not sure but that "Moths of Limberlost Cabin" would be the most appropriate title for this book.
Sometimes, before I had finished with them, they paired, mated, and dotted everything with fertile eggs, from which tiny caterpillars soon would emerge. It became a matter of intense interest to provide their natural foods and raise them. That started me to watching for caterpillars and eggs out of doors, and friends of my work began carrying them to me. Repeatedly, I have gone through the entire life process, from mating newly emerged moths, the egg period, caterpillar life, with its complicated moults and changes, the spinning of the cocoons, the miraculous winter sleep, to the spring appearance; and with my cameras recorded each stage of development. Then on platinum paper, printed so lightly from these negatives as to give only an exact reproduction of forms, and with water colour medium copied each mark, line and colour gradation in most cases from the living moth at its prime. Never was the study of birds so interesting.
The illustration of every moth book I ever have seen, that attempted coloured reproduction, proved by the shrivelled bodies and unnatural position of the wings, that it had been painted from objects mounted from weeks to years in private collections or museums. A lifeless moth fades rapidly under the most favourable conditions. A moth at eight days of age, in the last stages of decline, is from four to six distinct shades lighter in colour than at six hours from the cocoon, when it is dry, and ready for flight. As soon as circulation stops, and the life juices evaporate from the wings and body, the colour grows many shades paler. If exposed to light, moths soon fade almost beyond recognition.
I make no claim to being an entomologist; I quite agree with the "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table*", that "the subject is too vast for any single human intelligence to grasp." If my life depended upon it I could not give the scientific name of every least organ and nerve of a moth, and as for wrestling with the thousands of tiny species of day and night or even attempting all the ramifications of—say the alluringly beautiful Catocalae family— life is too short, unless devoted to this purpose alone. But if I frankly confess my limitations, and offer the book to my nature-loving friends merely as an introduction to the most exquisite creation of the swamp; and the outside history, as it were, of the evolution of these creatures from moth to moth again, surely no one can feel defrauded. Since the publication of "A Girl of the Limberlost"**, I have received hundreds of letters asking me to write of my experiences with the lepidoptera of the swamp. This book professes to be nothing more.
<<*Dec 1996 [aofbtxxx.xxx]751 Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Oliver Wendell Holmes>>
<<**April 1994 [limbr10x.xxx] 125 A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter>>
Because so many enemies prey upon the large night moths in all stages, they are nowhere sufficiently numerous to be pests, or common enough to be given local names, as have the birds. I have been compelled to use their scientific names to assist in identification, and at times I have had to resort to technical terms, because there were no other. Frequently I have written of them under the names by which I knew them in childhood, or that we of Limberlost Cabin have bestowed upon them.
There is a wide gulf between a Naturalist and a Nature Lover. A Naturalist devotes his life to delving into stiff scientific problems concerning everything in nature from her greatest to her most minute forms. A Nature Lover works at any occupation and finds recreation in being out of doors and appreciating the common things of life as they appeal to his senses.
The Naturalist always begins at the beginning and traces family, sub-family, genus and species. He deals in Latin and Greek terms of resounding and disheartening combinations. At his hands anatomy and markings become lost in a scientific jargon of patagia, jugum, discocellulars, phagocytes, and so on to the end of the volume. For one who would be a Naturalist, a rare specimen indeed, there are many volumes on the market. The list of pioneer lepidopterists begins authoritatively with Linnaeus and since his time you can make your selection from the works of Druce, Grote, Strecker, Boisduval, Robinson, Smith, Butler, Fernald, Beutenmuller, Hicks, Rothschild, Hampson, Stretch, Lyman, or any of a dozen others. Possessing such an imposing array of names there should be no necessity to add to them. These men have impaled moths and dissected, magnified and located brain, heart and nerves. After finishing the interior they have given to the most minute exterior organ from two to three inches of Latin name. From them we learn that it requires a coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, tarsus, ungues, pulvillus, and anterior, medial and posterior spurs to provide a leg for a moth. I dislike to weaken my argument that more work along these lines is not required, by recording that after all this, no one seems to have located the ears definitely. Some believe hearing lies in the antennae. Hicks has made an especial study of a fluid filled cavity closed by a membrane that he thinks he has demonstrated to be the seat of hearing. Leydig, Gerstaecker, and others believe this same organ to be olfactory. Perhaps, after all, there is room for only one more doctor of science who will permanently settle this and a few other vexing questions for us.
But what of the millons of Nature Lovers, who each year snatch only a brief time afield, for rest and recreation? What of the masses of men and women whose daily application to the work of life makes vacation study a burden, or whose business has so broken the habit of study that concentration is distasteful if not impossible? These people number in the ratio of a million to one Naturalist. They would be delighted to learn the simplest name possible for the creatures they or their friends find afield, and the markings, habits, and characteristics by which they can be identified. They do not care in the least for species and minute detail concerning anatomy, couched in resounding Latin and Greek terms they cannot possibly remember.
I never have seen or heard of any person who on being shown any one of ten of our most beautiful moths, did not consider and promptly pronounce it the most exquisite creation he ever had seen, and evince a lively interest in its history. But when he found it necessary to purchase a text-book, devoid of all human interest or literary possibility, and wade through pages of scientific dissertation, all the time having the feeling that perhaps through his lack of experience his identification was not aright, he usually preferred to remain in ignorance. It is in the belief that all Nature Lovers, afield for entertainment or instruction, will be thankful for a simplification of any method now existing for becoming acquainted with moths, that this book is written and illustrated.
In gathering the material used I think it is quite true that I have lost as many good subjects as I have secured, in my efforts to follow the teachings of scientific writers. My complaint against them is that they neglect essential detail and are not always rightly informed. They confuse one with a flood of scientific terms describing minute anatomical parts and fail to explain the simple yet absolutely essential points over which an amateur has trouble, wheat often only a few words would suffice.
For example, any one of half a dozen writers tells us that when a caterpillar finishes eating and is ready to go into winter quarters it crawls rapidly around for a time, empties the intestines, and transformation takes place. Why do not some of them explain further that a caterpillar of, say, six inches in length will shrink to THREE, its skin become loosened, the horns drop limp, and the,creature appear dead and disintegrating? Because no one mentioned these things, I concluded that the first caterpillar I found in this state was lost to me and threw it away. A few words would have saved the complete history of a beautiful moth, to secure which no second opportunity was presented for five years.
Several works I consulted united in the simple statement that certain caterpillars pupate in the ground.
In Packard's "Guide", you will find this—"Lepidopterous pupae should be...kept moist in mould until the image appears." I followed this direction, even taking the precaution to bake the earth used, because I was very anxious about some rare moths. When they failed to emerge in season I dug them out, only to find that those not moulded had been held fast by the damp, packed earth, and all were ruined. I learned by investigation that pupation takes place in a hole worked out by the caterpillar, so earth must touch these cases only as they lie upon it. The one word 'hole' would have saved all those moths for me.
One writer stated that the tongue cases of some pupae turn over and fasten on the back between the wing shields, and others were strangely silent on the subject. So for ten months I kept some cases lying on their backs with the feet up and photographed them in that position. I had to discover for myself that caterpillars that pupate in the ground change to the moth form with the feet and legs folded around the under side of the thorax, the wings wrap over them, and the tongue case bends UNDER and is fastened between the wings.
For years I could find nothing on the subject of how a moth from a burrowing caterpillar made its appearance. In two recent works I find the statement that the pupa cases come to the surface before the moths leave them, but how the operation is performed is not described or explained. Pupa cases from earth consist of two principal parts: the blunt head and thorax covering, and the ringed abdominal sections. With many feeders there is a long, fragile tongue shield. The head is rounded and immovable of its own volition. The abdominal part is in rings that can be turned and twisted; on the tip are two tiny, needlesharp points, and on each of three rings of the abdominal shield there are in many cases a pair of tiny hooks, very slight projections, yet enough to be of use. Some lepidopterists think the pupa works head first to the surface, pushing with the abdomen. To me this seems impossible. The more one forced the blunt head against the earth the closer it would pack, and the delicate tongue shield surely would break. There is no projection on the head that would loosen or lift the earth.
One prominent lepidopterist I know, believes the moth emerges underground, and works its way to the surface as it fights to escape a cocoon. I consider this an utter impossibility. Remember the earth-encrusted cicada cases you have seen clinging to the trunks of trees, after the insect has reached the surface and abandoned them. Think what would happen to the delicate moth head, wings, and downy covering! I am willing to wager all I possess, that no lepidopterist, or any amateur, ever found a freshly emerged moth from an underground case with the faintest trace of soil on its head or feet, or a particle of down missing; as there unquestionably must be, if it forced its way to freedom through the damp spring earth with its mouth and feet.
The point was settled for me when, while working in my garden, one came through the surface within a few inches of my fingers, working with the tip of the abdomen. It turned, twisted, dug away the dirt, fastened the abdominal tip, pulled up the head, and then bored with the tip again. Later I saw several others emerge in the same way, and then made some experiments that forever convinced me that this is the only manner in which ground pupae possibly could emerge.
One writer I had reason to suppose standard authority stated that caterpillars from Citheronia Regalis eggs emerged in sixteen days. So I boxed some eggs deposited on the eleventh, labelled them due to produce caterpillars on the twenty-seventh and put away the box to be attended on that date. Having occasion to move it on the twentyfourth, I peeped in and found half my caterpillars out and starved, proving that they had been hatched at least thirty-six hours or longer; half the others so feeble they soon became inactive, and the remainder survived and pupated. But if the time specified had been allowed to elapse, every caterpillar would have starved.
One of the books I read preparatory to doing this work asserts concerning spinners: "Most caterpillars make some sort of cocoon or shelter, which may be of pure silk neatly wound, or of silk mixed with hair and all manner of external things—such as pieces of leaf, bark, moss, and lichen, and even grains of earth."
I have had caterpillars spin by the hundred, in boxes containing most of these things, have gathered outdoor cocoons by the peck, and microscopically examined dozens of them, and with the exception of leaf, twig, bark, or some other foundation against which it was spun, I never have seen a cocoon with shred, filament, or particle of anything used in its composition that was not drawn from the spinning tube or internal organism of the caterpillar, with the possible exception of a few hairs from the tubercles. I have been told by other workers that they have had captive caterpillars use earth and excrement in their cocoons.
This same work, in an article on protective colouration, lays emphasis on the statement that among pupa cases artificially fastened to different objects out of doors, "the elimination was ninety-two per cent on fences where pupae were conspicuous, as against fifty-two per cent among nettles, where they were inconspicuous." This statement is elaborated and commented upon as making a strong point for colourative protection through inconspicuousness.
Personally, I think the nettles did the work, regardless of colour. I have learned to much experience afield that a patch of nettles or thistles afford splendid protection to any form of life that can survive them. I have seen insects and nesting birds find a safety in their shelter, unknown to their kind that home elsewhere. The test is not fair enough to be worth consideration. If these same pupae had been as conspicuously placed as on the fence, on any EDIBLE GROWTH, in the same location as the fence, and then left to the mercy of playing children, grazing stock, field mice, snakes, bats, birds, insects and parasites, the story of what happened to them would have been different. I doubt very seriously if it would have proved the point those lepidopterists started out to make in these conditions, which are the only fair ones under which such an experiment could be made.
Many people mentioned in connexion with the specimens they brought me have been more than kind in helping to collect the material this volume contains; but its publication scarcely would have been possible to me had it not been for the enthusiasm of one girl who prefers not to be mentioned and the work of a seventeen-year-old boy, Raymond Miller. He has been my sole helper in many difficult days of field work among the birds, and for the moths his interest reached such a pitch that he spent many hours afield in search of eggs, caterpillars, cocoons, and moths, when my work confined me to the cabin. He has carried to me many of my rarest cocoons, and found in their native haunts several moths needed to complete the book. It is to be hoped that these wonderful days afield have brought their own compensation, for kindness such as his I never can reward adequately. The book proves my indebtedness to the Deacon and to Molly-Cotton. I also owe thanks to Bob Burdette Black, the oldest and warmest friend of my bird work, for many fine moths and cocoons, and to Professor R. R. Rowley for the laborious task of scientifically criticizing this book and with unparalleled kindness lending a helping hand where an amateur stumbled.
CHAPTER II MOTHS, EGGS, CATERPILLARS, WINTER QUARTERS
If you are too fastidious to read this chapter, it will be your permanent loss, for it contains the life history, the evolution of one of the most amazingly complicated and delicately beautiful creatures in existence. There are moths that come into the world, accomplish the functions that perpetuate their kind, and go out, without having taken any nourishment. There are others that feed and live for a season. Some fly in the morning, others in the glare of noon, more in the evening, and the most important class of big, exquisitely lovely ones only at night. This explains why so many people never have seen them, and it is a great pity, for the nocturnal, non-feeding moths are birdlike in size, flower-like in rare and complicated colouring, and of downy, silent wing.
The moths that fly by day and feed are of the Sphinginae group, Celeus and Carolina, or Choerocampinae, which includes the exquisite Deilephila Lineata, and its cousins; also Sphingidae, which cover the clear-winged Hemaris diffinis and Thysbe. Among those that fly at night only and take no food are the members of what is called the Attacine group, comprising our largest and commonest moth, Cecropia; also its near relative Gloveri, smaller than Cecropia and oflovely rosy wine-colour; Angulifera, the male greyish brown, the female yellowish red; Promethea, the male resembling a monster Mourning Cloak butterfly and the female bearing exquisite red-wine flushings; Cynthia, beautiful in shades of olive green, sprinkled with black, crossed by bands of pinkish lilac and bearing crescents partly yellow, the remainder transparent. There are also the deep yellow Io, pale blue-green Luna, and Polyphemus, brown with pink bands of the Saturniidae; and light yellow, red-brown and grey Regalis, and lavender and yellow Imperialis of the Ceratocampidae, and their relatives. Modest and lovely Modesta belongs with the Smerinthinae group; and there are others, feeders and non-feeders, forming a list too long to irncorporate, for I have not mentioned the Catocalae family, the fore-wings of which resemble those of several members of the Sphinginae, in colour, and when they take flight, the back ones flash out colours that run the gamut from palest to deepest reds, yellows, and browns, crossed by wide circling bands of black; with these, occasionally the black so predominates that it appears as if the wing were black and the bands of other colour. All of them are so exquisitely beautiful that neither the most exacting descriptions, nor photographs from life, nor water colours faithfully copied from living subjects can do them justice. They must be seen alive, newly emerged, down intact, colours at their most brilliant shadings, to be appreciated fully. With the exception of feeding or refraining from eating, the life processes of all these are very similar.
Moths are divided into three parts, the head, thorax, and abdomen, with the different organs of each. The head carries the source of sight, scent, and the mouth parts, if the moth feeds, while the location of the ears is not yet settled definitely. Some scientists place hearing in the antennae, others in a little organ on each side the base of the abdomen. Packard writes: "The eyes are large and globose and vary in the distance apart in different families": but fails to tell what I want to know most: the range and sharpness of their vision. Another writer states that the eyes are so incomplete in development that a moth only can distinguish light from darkness and cannot discern your approach at over five feet.
This accords with my experience with Cecropia, Polyphemus, Regalis, and Imperialis. Luna either can see better, hear acutely, or is naturally of more active habit. It is difficult to capture by hand in daytime; and Promethea acts as if its vision were even clearer. This may be the case, as it flies earlier in the day than any of the others named, being almost impossible to take by hand unless it is bound to a given spot by sex attraction. Unquestionably the day fliers that feed—the Sphinginae and Choerocampinae groups—have fairly good vision, as also the little "Clear-wings" tribe, for they fly straight to the nectar-giving flowers and fruits they like best to feed upon, and it is extra good luck if you capture one by hand or even with a net. It must be remembered that all of them see and go to a bright light at night from long distances.
Holland writes: "The eyes of moths are often greatly developed," but makes no definite statements as to their range of vision, until he reaches the Catocalae family, of which he records: "The hind wings are, however, most brilliantly coloured. In some species they are banded with pink, in others with crimson; still others have markings of yellow, orange, or snowy white on a background of jet black. These colours are distinctive of the species to a greater or less extent. They are only displayed at night. The conclusion is irresistibly forced upon us that the eyes of these creatures are capable of discriminating these colours in the darkness. We cannot do it. No human eye in the blackness of the night can distinguish red from orange or crimson from yellow. The human eye is the greatest of all anatomical marvels, and the most wonderful piece of animal mechanism in the world, but not all of power is lodged within it. There are other allied mechanisms which have the power of responding to certain forms of radiant energy to a degiee which it does not possess."
This conclusion is not "irresistibly forced" upon me. I do believe, know in fact, that all day-flying, feeding moths have keener sight and longer range of vision than non-feeders; but I do not believe the differing branches of the Catocalae group, or moths of any family, locate each other "in the blackness of night," by seeing markings distinctly. I can think of no proof that moths, butterflies or any insects recognize or appreciate colour. Male moths mate with females of their kind distinctly different from them in colour, and male butterflies pair with albinos of their species, when these differ widely from the usual colouring.
A few moths are also provided with small simple eyes called ocelli; these are placed on top of the head and are so covered with down they cannot be distinguished save by experts. Mueller believes that these are for the perception of objects close to a moth while the compound eyes see farther, but he does not prove it.
If the moth does not feed, the mouth parts are scarcely developed. If a feeder, it has a long tongue that can be coiled in a cleft in the face between the palpi, which Packard thinks were originally the feelers. This tongue is formed of two grooved parts so fastened together as to make a tube through which it takes flower and fruit nectar and the juices of decaying animal matter.
What are thought by some to be small organs of touch lie on either side the face, but the exact use of these is yet under discussion, It is wofully difficult to learn some of these things.
In my experience the antennae, are the most sensitive, and therefore the most important organs of the head—to me. In the Attacine group these stand out like delicately cut tiny fern fronds or feathers, always being broader and more prominent on the male. Other families are very similar and again they differ widely. You will find moths having pointed hair-like antennae; others heaviest at the tip in club shape, or they may be of even proportion but flat, or round, or a feathered shaft so fine as to be unnoticed as it lies pressed against the face. Some writers say the antennae are the seat of scent, touch, and hearing. I had not thought nature so impoverished in evolving her forms as to overwork one delicate little organ for three distinct purposes. The antennae are situated close where the nose is, in almost every form of life, and I would prefer to believe that they are the organs of scent and feeling. I know a moth suffers most over any injury to them; but one takes flight no quicker or more precipitately at a touch on the antennae than on the head, wing, leg, or abdomen.
We are safe in laying down a law that antennae are homologous organs and used for identical purposes on all forms of life carrying them. The short antennae of grasshoppers appear to be organs of scent. The long hair-fine ones of katydids and crickets may be also, but repeatedly I have seen these used to explore the way ahead over leaves and limbs, the insect feeling its path and stepping where a touch assures it there is safe footing. Katydids, crickets, and grasshoppers all have antennae, and all of these have ears definitely located; hence their feelers are not for auricular purposes. According to my logic those of the moth cannot be either. I am quite sure that primarily they serve the purpose of a nose, as they are too short in most cases to be of much use as 'feelers,' although that is undoubtedly their secondary office. If this be true, it explains the larger organs ofthe male. The female emerges from winter quarters so weighted with carrying from two to six hundred eggs, that she usually remains and develops where she is. This throws the business of finding her location on the male. He is compelled to take wing and hunt until he discovers her; hence his need of more acute sense of scent and touch. The organ that is used most is the one that develops in the evolution of any form of life.
I can well believe that the antennae are most important to a moth, for a broken one means a spoiled study for me. It starts the moth tremulously shivering, aimlessly beating, crazy, in fact, and there is no hope of it posing for a picture. Doctor Clemens records that Cecropia could neither, walk nor fly, but wheeled in a senseless, manner when deprived of its antennae. This makes me sure that they are the seat of highest sensibility, for I have known in one or two cases of chloroformed moths reviving and without struggle or apparent discomfort, depositing eggs in a circle around them, while impaled to a setting board with a pin thrust through the thorax where it of necessity must have passed through or very close the nervous cord and heart.
The moth is covered completely with silken down like tiny scales, coloured and marked according to species, and so lightly attached that it adheres to the cocoon on emergence and clings to the fingers at the lightest touch. From the examination of specimens I have taken that had disfigured themselves, it appears that a moth rubbed bare of down would seem as if covered with thinly cut, highly polished horn, fastened together in divisions. This is called 'chitine' by scientists.
The thorax bears four wings, and six legs, each having five joints and ending in tiny claws. The wings are many-veined membranous sacs, covered with scales that are coloured according to species and arranged to form characteristic family markings. They are a framework usually of twelve hollow tubes or veins that are so connected with the respiratory organs as to be pneumatic. These tubes support double membranes covered above and below with down. At the bases of the wings lie their nerves. The fore-wings each have a heavy rib running from the base and gradually decreasing to the tip. This is called the costa. Its purpose is to bear the brunt of air-pressure in flight. On account of being compelled to fly so much more than the females, the back wings of the males of many species have developed a secondary rib that fits under and supports the front, also causing both to work together with the same impulse to flight. A stiff bunch of bristles serves the same purpose in most females, while some have a lobe extending from the fore-wing. As long as the costa remains unbroken to preserve balance, a moth that has become entangled in bushes or suffered rough treatment from birds can fly with badly damaged wing surfaces.
In some species, notably the Attacine group and all non-feeding, night-flying moths, the legs are short, closely covered with long down of the most delicate colours of the moth, and sometimes decorated with different shades. Luna has beautiful lavender legs, Imperialis yellow, and Regalis red-brown. The day-flying, feeding group have longer, slenderer legs, covered with shorter down, and carry more elaborate markings. This provision is to enable them to cling firmly to flower or twig while feeding, to help them to lift the body higher, and walk dextrously in searching for food. It is also noticeable that these moths have, for their size, comparatively much longer, slenderer wings than the non-feeders, and they can turn them back and fold them together in the fly position, thus enabling them to force their way into nectar-bearing flowers of trumpet shape.
The abdomen is velvet soft to the touch, and divided into rings called segments, these being so joined that this member can be turned and twisted at will. In all cases the last ring contains the sex organs. The large abdomen of the female carries several hundred embryo eggs, and that of the male the seminal fluid.
Much has been written of moths being able to produce odours that attract the sexes, and that are so objectionable as to protect them from birds, mice, and bats. Some believe there are scent glands in a few species under the wing scales. I have critically examined scores of wings as to colour markings, but never noticed or smelled these. On some, tufts of bristlelike hairs can be thrust out, that give a discernible odour; but that this carries any distance or is a large factor in attracting the sexes I do not believe so firmly, after years of practical experience, as I did in the days when I had most of my moth history from books. I have seen this theory confounded so often in practice.
In June of 1911, close six o'clock in the evening, I sat on the front veranda of the Cabin, in company with my family, and watched three moths sail past us and around the corner, before I remembered that on the screen of the music-room window to the east there was a solitary female Promethea moth, that day emerged from a cocoon sent me by Professor Rowley. I hurried to the room and found five male moths fluttering before the screen or clinging to the wild grape and sweet brier vines covering it. I opened the adjoining window and picked up three of the handsomest with my fingers, placing them inside the screen. Then I returned to the veranda.
Moths kept coming. We began studying the conditions. The female had emerged in the diningroom on the west side of the cabin. On account of the intense heat of the afternoon sun, that side of the building had been tightly closed all day. At four o'clock the moth was placed on the east window, because it was sheltered with vines. How soon the first male found her, I do not know. There was quite a stiff evening breeze blowing from the west, so that any odour from her would have been carried on east. We sat there and watched and counted six more moths, every one of which came down wind from the west, flying high, above the treetops in fact, and from the direction of a little tree-filled plot called Studabaker's woods. Some of them we could distinguish almost a block away coming straight toward the Cabin, and sailing around the eastern corner with the precision of hounds on a hot trail. How they knew, the Almighty knows; I do not pretend to; but that there was odour distilled by that one female, practically imperceptible to us (she merely smelled like a moth), yet of such strength as to penetrate screen, vines, and roses and reach her kind a block away, against considerable breeze, I never shall believe.
The fact is, that moths smell like other moths of the same species, and within a reasonable radius they undoubtedly attract each other. In the same manner birds carry a birdlike odour, and snakes, frogs, fish, bees, and all animals have a scent peculiar to themselves. No dog mistakes the odour of a cat for that of another dog. A cow does not follow the scent of horses to find other cattle. No moth hunts a dragon-fly, a butterfly, or in my experience, even a moth of another species in its search for a mate. How male moths work the miracles I have seen them accomplish in locating females, I cannot explain. As the result of acts we see them perform, we credit some forms of life with much keener scent than others, and many with having the power more highly developed than people. The only standard by which we can determine the effect that the odour of one insect, bird, or animal has upon another is by the effect it has upon us. That a male moth can smell a female a block away, against the wind, when I can detect only a faint musky odour within a foot of her, I do not credit.
Primarily the business of moths is to meet, mate, and deposit eggs that will produce more moths. This is all of life with those that do not take food. That they add the completing touch and most beautiful form of life to a few exquisite May and June nights is their extra good fortune, not any part of the affair of living. With moths that feed and live after reproduction, mating and egg placing comes first. In all cases the rule is much, the same. The moths emerge, dry their wings, and reach full development the first day. In freedom, the females being weighted with eggs seldom attempt to fly. They remain where they are, thrust out the egg placer from the last ring of the abdomen and wait. By ten o'clock the males, in such numbers as to amaze a watcher, find them and remain until almost morning. Broad antennae, slenderer abdomen, and the claspers used in holding the female in mating, smaller wings and more brilliant markings are the signs by which the male can be told in most cases. In several of the Attacine group, notably Promethea, the male and female differ widely in markings and colour. Among the other non-feeders the difference is slight. The male Regalis has the longest, most gracefully curved abdomen and the most prominent claspers of any moth I ever examined; but the antennae are so delicate and closely pressed against the face most of the time as to be concealed until especially examined. I have noticed that among the moths bearing large, outstanding antennae, the claspers are less prominent than with those having small, inconspicuous head parts. A fine pair of antennae, carried forward as by a big, fully developed Cecropia, are as ornamental to the moth as splendidly branching antlers are to the head of a deer.
The female now begins egg placing. This requires time, as one of these big night moths deposits from three hundred and fifty to over six hundred eggs. These lie in embryonic state in the abdomen of the female. At her maturity they ripen rapidly. When they are ready to deposit, she is forced to place them whether she has mated or not. In case a mate has found her, a small pouch near the end of her abdomen is filled with a fluid that touches each egg in passing and renders it fertile. The eggs differ with species and are placed according to family characteristics. They may be pure white, pearl-coloured, grey, greenish, or yellow. There are round, flat, and oblong eggs. These are placed differently in freedom and captivity. A moth in a natural location glues her eggs, often one at a time, on the under or upper side of leaves. Sometimes she dots several in a row, or again makes a number of rows, like a little beaded mat. One authority I have consulted states that "The eggs are always laid by the female in a state of freedom upon the food-plant which is most congenial to the larvae." This has not 'always' been the case in my experience. I have found eggs on stone walls, boards, fences, outbuildings, and on the bark of dead trees and stumps as well as living, even on the ground. This also, has been the case with the women who wrote "Caterpillars and their Moths", the most invaluable work on the subject ever compiled.
A captive moth feels and resents her limitations. I cannot force one to mate even in a large box. I must free her in the conservatory, in a room, or put her on an outside window br door screen. Under these conditions one will place her eggs more nearly as in freedom; but this makes them difficult to find and preserve. Placed in a box and forced by nature to deposit her eggs, as a rule, she will remain in one spot and heap them up until she is forced to move to make room for more. One big female Regalis of the last chapter of this book placed them a thimbleful at a time; but the little caterpillars came rolling out in all directions when due. In my experience, they finish in four or five nights, although I have read of moths having lived and placed eggs for ten, some species being said to have deposited over a thousand. Seven days is usually the limit of life for these big night moths with me; they merely grow inactive and sluggish until the very last, when almost invariably they are seized with a muscular attack, in which they beat themselves to rags and fringes, as if resisting the overcoming lethargy. It is because of this that I have been forced to resort to the gasoline bottle a few times when I found it impossible to paint from the living moth; but I do not put one to sleep unless I am compelled.
I never have been able to induce a female to mate after confinement had driven her to begin depositing her eggs, not even under the most favourable conditions I could offer, although others record that they have been so fortunate. Repeatedly I have experimented with males and females of different species, but with no success. I have not seem a polygamous moth; but have read of experiences with them.
Sometimes the eggs have a smooth surface, again they may be ridged or like hammered brass or silver. The shells are very thin and break easily. At one side a place can be detected where the fertilizing fluid enters. The coming caterpillar begins to develop at once and emerges in from six to thirty days, with the exception of a few eggs placed in the fall that produce during the following spring. The length of the egg period differs with species and somewhat with the same moths, according to suitable or unfavourable placing, and climatic conditions. Do not accept the experience of any one if you have eggs you very much desire to be productive of the caterpillars of rare moths; after six days take a peep every day if you would be on the safe side. With many species the shells are transparent, and for the last few days before emergence the growth of the little caterpillars can be watched through them.
When matured they break or eat a hole in their shells and emerge, seeming much too large for the space they occupied. Family characteristics show at once. Many of them immediately turn and eat their shells as if starving; others are more deliberate. Some grace around for a time as if exercising and then return and eat their shells; others walk briskly away and do not dine on shell for the first meal. Usually all of them rest close twenty-four hours before beginning on leaves. Once they commence feeding in favourable conditions they eat enormously and grow so rapidly they soon become too large for their skins to hold them another instant; so they pause and stop eating for a day or two while new skin forms. Then the old is discarded and eaten for a first meal, with the exception of the face covering. At the same time the outer skin is cast the intestinal lining is thrown off, and practically a new caterpillar, often bearing different markings, begins to feed again.
These moults occur from four to six times in the development of the caterpillar; at each it emerges larger, brighter, often with other changes of colour, and eats more voraciously as it grows. With me, in handling caterpillars about which I am anxious, their moulting time is critical. I lost many until I learned to clean their boxes thoroughly the instant they stopped eating and leave them alone until they exhibited hunger signs again. They eat greedily of the leaves preferred by each species, doing best when the foliage is washed and drops of water left for them to drink as they would find dew and rain out of doors. Professor Thomson, of the chair of Natural History of the University of Aberdeen, makes this statement in his "Biology of the Seasons", "Another feature in the life of caterpillars is their enormous appetite. Some of them seem never to stop eating, and a species of Polyphemus is said to eat eighty-six thousand times its own weight in a day." I notice Doctor Thomson does not say that he knows this, but uses the convenient phrase, "it is said." This is an utter impossibility. The skin of no living creature will contain eighty-six thousand times its own weight in a day. I have raised enough caterpillars to know that if one ate three times its own weight in a day it would have performed a skin- stretching feat. Long after writing this, but before the manuscript left my hands, I found that the origin of this statement lies in a table compiled by Trouvelot, in which he estimates that a Polyphemus caterpillar ten days old weighs one half grain, or ten times its original weight; at twenty days three grains, or sixty times its first weight; and so on until at fifty-six days it weighs two hundred and seven grains, or four thousand one hundred and forty times its first weight. To this he adds one half ounce of water and concludes: "So the food taken by a single silkworm in fifty-six days equals in weight eighty-six thousand times the primitive weight of the worm." This is a far cry from eating eighty-six thousand times its own weight in a day and upholds in part my contention in the first chapter, that people attempting to write upon these subjects "are not always rightly informed."
When the feeding period is finished in freedom, the caterpillar, if hairless, must be ready to evolve from its interior, the principal part of the winter quarters characteristic of its species while changing to the moth form, and in the case of non-feeders, sustenance for the lifetime of the moth also. Similar to the moth, the caterpillar is made up of three parts, head, thorax, and abdomen, with the organs and appendages of each. Immediately after moulting the head appears very large, and seems much too heavy for the size of the body. At the end of a feeding period and just previous to another moult the body has grown until the head is almost lost from sight, and it now seems small and insignificant; so that the appearance of a caterpillar depends on whether you examine it before or after moulting.
The head is made up of rings or segments, the same as the body, but they are so closely set that it seems to be a flat, round, or pointed formation with discernible rings on the face before casting time. The eyes are of so simple form that they are supposed only to distinguish light from darkness. The complicated mouth is at the lower part of the head. It carries a heavy pair of cutters with which the caterpillar bites off large pieces of leaf, a first pair of grinders with which it macerates the food, and a second pair that join in forming the under lip. There is also the tube that connects with the silk glands and ends in the spinneret. Through this tube a fluid is forced that by movements of the head the caterpillar attaches where it will and draws into fine threads that at once harden in silk. This organism is sufficiently developed for use in a newly emerged caterpillar, for it can spin threads by which to drop from leaf to leaf or to guide it back to a starting point.
The thorax is covered by the first three rings behind the head, and on it are six legs, two on each segment. The remainder of the caterpillar is abdominal and carries small pro-legs with which to help it cling to twigs and leaves, and the heavy anal props that support the vent. By using these and several of the pro-legs immediately before them, the caterpillar can cling and erect the front part of the body so that it can strike from side to side when disturbed. In the case of caterpillars that have a horn, as Celeus, or sets of them as Regalis, in this attitude they really appear quite formidable, and often I have seen them drive away small birds, while many people flee shrieking.
There are little tubes that carry air to the trachea, as caterpillars have no lungs and can live with a very small amount of air.
The skin may be rough, granulated, or soft and fine as silk, and in almost every instance of exquisite colour: bluish green, greenish blue, wonderful yellows and from pale to deep wine red, many species having oblique touches of contrasting colours on the abdominal rings. Others are marked with small projections of bright colours from which tufts of hair or bristles may grow. In some, as Io, these bristles are charged with an irritating acid that will sting for an hour after coming in contact with the skin, but does no permanent injury. On a few there are what seem to be small pockets of acid that can be ejected with a jerk, and on some a sort of filament that is supposed to distil a disagreeable odour. As the caterpillar only uses these when disturbed, it is safe to presume that they are placed for defence, but as in the case of moths I doubt their efficacy.
Some lepidopterists have thought the sex of a moth could be regulated by the amount of food given the caterpillar; but with my numerous other doubts I include this. It is all of a piece with any attempt at sex regulation. I regard it as morally certain that sex goes back to the ovary and that the egg produced yields a male or female caterpillar in the beginning. I am becoming convinced that caterpillars recognize sex in each other, basing the theory on the facts that in half a dozen instances I have found cocoons, spun only a few inches apart. One pair brought to me as interwoven. Two of these are shown in the following chapter. In all cases a male and female emerged within a few minutes of each other and mated as soon as possible. If a single pair of these cocoons ever had produced two of a kind, it would give rise to doubts. When all of them proved to be male and female that paired, it seems to me to furnish conclusive evidence that the caterpillars knew what they were doing, and spun in the same place for the purpose of appearing together.
At maturity, usually near five weeks, the full-fed caterpillar rests a day, empties the intestines, and races around searching for a suitable place to locate winter quarters. With burrowing caterpillars that winter in pupa cases, soft earth or rotting wood is found and entered by working their way with the heads and closing it with the hind parts. At the desired depth they push in all directions with such force that a hollow larger, but shaped as a hen's egg, is worked out; usually this is six or more inches below the surface. So compactly is the earth forced back, that fall rains, winter's alternate freezing and thawing, always a mellowing process, and spring downpours do not break up the big ball, often larger than a quart bowl, that surrounds the case of the pupa. It has been thought by some and recorded, that this ball is held in place by spinning or an acid ejected by the caterpillar. I never have heard of any one else who has had my luck in lifting these earth balls intact, opening, and photographing them and their contents. I have examined them repeatedly and carefully. I can find not the slightest trace of spinning or adhesion other than by force.
With one of these balls lifted and divided, we decided what happened underground by detaining a caterpillar on the surface and forcing it to transform before us, for this change is not optional. When the time comes the pupa must evolve. So the caterpillar lies on the earth, gradually growing shorter, the skin appearing dry and the horns drooping. There never is a trace of spinning or acid ejected in the sand buckets. When the change is completed there begins a violent twisting and squirming. The caterpillar skin opens in a straight line just behind the head on the back, and by working with the pointed abdomen the pupa case emerges. The cast skin rapidly darkens, and as I never have found a trace of it in an opened earth ball in the spring, I suppose it disintegrates rapidly, or what is more possible, is eaten by small borers that swarm through the top six inches of the earth's crust.
The pupa is thickly coated with a sticky substance that seems to serve the double purpose of facilitating its exit from the caterpillar skin and to dry over it in a glossy waterproof coating. At first the pupa is brownish green and flattened, but as it dries it rapidly darkens in colour and assumes the shape of a perfect specimen. Concerning this stage of the evolution of a moth the doctors disagree.
The emergence I have watched repeatedly, studied photographically, and recorded in the tabulated records from which I wrote the following life histories. At time to appear I believe the pupa bores its way with the sharp point of the abdomen; at least I have seen Celeus, and Carolina, Regalis and Imperialis coming through the surface, abdomen tip first. Once free, they press with the feet against the wing shields, burst them away and leave the case at the thorax. Each moth I ever have seen emerge has been wet and the empty case damp inside. I have poured three large drops of pinkish liquid the consistency of thin cream from the abdominal rings of a Regalis case. Undoubtedly this liquid is ejected by the moth to enable it to break loose from and leave the case with its delicate down intact. The furry scales of its covering are so loosely set that any violent struggle with dry down would disfigure the moth.
Among Cecropia and its Attacine cousins, also Luna, Polyphemus, and all other spinners the process is practically the same, save that it is much more elaborate; most of all with Cecropia, that spins the largest cocoon I ever have seen, and it varies its work more than any of the others. Lengthwise of a slender twig it spins a long, slim cocoon; on a board or wall, roomier and wider at the bottom, and inside hollow trees, and under bridges, big baggy quarters of exquisite reddish tan colours that do not fade as do those exposed to the weather. The typical cocoon of the species is that spun on a fence or outbuilding, not the slender work on the alders or the elaborate quarters of the bridge. On a board the process is to cover the space required with a fine spinning that glues firmly to the wood. Then the worker takes a firm grip with the anal props and lateral feet and begins drawing out long threads that start at the top, reach down one side, across the bottom and back to the top again, where each thread is cut and another begun. As long as the caterpillar can be seen through its work, it remains in the same position and throws the head back and around to carry the threads. I never thought of counting these movements while watching a working spinner, but some one who has, estimates that Polyphemus, that spins a cocoon not one fourth the size of Cecropia, moves the head a quarter of a million times in guiding the silk thread. When a thin webbing is spun and securely attached all around the edges it is pushed out in the middle and gummed all over the inside with a liquid glue that oozes through, coalesces and hardens in a waterproof covering. Then a big nest of crinkly silk threads averaging from three to four inches in length are spun, running from the top down one side, up the other, and the cut ends drawn closely together. One writer states that this silk has no commercial value; while Packard thinks it has. I attach greater weight to his opinion. Next comes the inner case. For this the caterpillar loosens its hold and completely surrounds itself with a small case of compact work. This in turn is saturated with the glue and forms in a thick, tough case, rough on the outside, the top not so solidly spun as the other walls; inside dark brown and worn so smooth it seems as if oiled, from the turning of the caterpillar. In this little chamber close the length and circumference of an average sized woman's two top joints of the first finger, the caterpillar transforms to the pupa stage, crowding its cast skin in a wad at the bottom.
At time for emergence the moth bursts the pupa case, which is extremely thin and papery compared with the cases of burrowing species. We know by the wet moth that liquid is ejected, although we cannot see the wet spot on the top of the inner case of Cecropia as we can with Polyphemus, that does not spin the loose outer case and silk nest. From here on the moths emerge according to species. Some work with their mouths and fore feet. Some have rough projections on the top of the head, and others little sawlike arrangements at the bases of the wings. In whatever manner they free themselves, all of them are wet when they leave their quarters. Sometimes the gathered silk ends comb sufficient down from an emerging Cecropia to leave a terra cotta rim around the opening from which it came; but I never saw one lose enough at this time to disfigure it. On very rare occasions a deformed moth appears. I had a Cecropia with one wing no larger than my thumb nail, and it never developed. This is caused by the moth sustaining an injury to the wing in emergence. If the membrane is slightly punctured the liquid forced into the wing for its development escapes and there is no enlargement.
Also, in rare instances, a moth is unable to escape at all and is lost if it is not assisted; but this is precarious business and should not be attempted unless you are positive the moth will die if you do not interfere. The struggle it takes to emerge is a part of the life process of the moth and quickens its circulation and develops its strength for the affairs of life afterward. If the feet have a steady pull to drag forth the body, they will be strong enough to bear its weight while the wings dry and develop.
All lepidopterists mention the wet condition of the moths when they emerge. Some explain that an acid is ejected to soften the pupa case so that the moth can cut its way out; others go a step farther and state that the acid is from the mouth. I am extremely curious about this. I want to know just what this acid is and where it comes from. I know of no part of the thorax provided with a receptacle for the amount of liquid used to flood a case, dampen a moth, and leave several drops in the shell.
As soon as a moth can find a suitable place to cling after it is out, it hangs by the feet and dries the wings and down. Long before it is dry if you try to move a moth or cause disturbance, it will eject several copious jets of a spray from the abdomen that appears, smells and tastes precisely like the liquid found in the abandoned case. If protected from the lightest touch it will do the same. It appeals to me that this liquid is abdominal, partly thrown off to assist the moth in emergence; something very like that bath of birth which accompanies and facilitates human entrance into the world. It helps the struggling moth in separating from the case, wets the down so that it will pass the small opening, reduces the large abdomen so that it will escape the exit, and softens the case and silk where the moth is working. With either male or female the increase in size is so rapid that neither could be returned to their cases five minutes after they have left them.
It is generally supposed that the spray thrown by a developing moth is for the purpose of attracting others of its kind. I have my doubts. With moths that have been sheltered and not even touched by a breath of wind, this spray is thrown very frequently before the moth is entirely dry, long before it is able to fly and before the ovipositor is thrust out. According to my sense of smell there is very little odour to the spray and what there is would be dissipated hours before night and time for the moths to fly and seek mates. I do not think that the spray thrown so soon after escape from cocoon or case is to attract the sexes, any farther than that much of it in one place on something that it would saturate might leave a general 'mothy' odour. Some lepidopterists think this spray a means of defence; if this is true I fail to see why it should be thrown when there is nothing disturbing the moth.
Many of the spinning moths use leaves for their outer foundation. Some appear as if snugly rolled in a leaf and hanging from a twig, but examination will prove that the stem is silk covered to hold the case when the leaf loosens. This is the rule with all Promethea cocoons I ever have seen. Polyphemus selects a cluster of leaves very frequently thorn, and weaves its cocoon against three, drawing them together and spinning a support the length of the stems, so that when the leaf is ready to fall the cocoon is safely anchored. When the winter winds have beaten the edges from the leaves, the cocoon appears as if it were brown, having three ribs with veins running from them, and of triangular shape. Angulifera spins against the leaves but provides no support and so drops to the ground. Luna spins a comparatively thin white case, among the leaves under the shelter of logs and stumps. Io spins so slightly in confinement that the pupa case and cast skin show through. I never have found a pupa out of doors, but this is a ground caterpillar.
Sometimes the caterpillar has been stung and bad an egg placed in its skin by a parasite, before pupation. In such case the pupa is destroyed by the developing fly. Throughout one winter I was puzzled by the light weight of what appeared to be a good Polyphemus cocoon, and at time for emergence amazed by the tearing and scratching inside the cocoon, until what I think was an Ophion fly appeared. It was honey yellow, had antennae long as its extremely long body, the abdomen of which was curved and the segments set together so as to appear notched. The wings were transparent and the insect it seems is especially designed to attack Polyphemus caterpillars and help check a progress that otherwise might become devastating.
Among the moths that do not feed, the year of their evolution is divided into about seven days for the life of the moth, from fifteen to thirty for the eggs, from five to six weeks for the caterpillar and the remainder of the time in the pupa stage. The rule differs with feeding moths only in that after mating and egg placing they take food and live several months, often until quite heavy frosts have fallen.
One can admire to fullest extent the complicated organism, wondrous colouring, and miraculous life processes in the evolution of a moth, but that is all. Their faces express nothing; their attitudes tell no story. There is the marvellous instinct through which the males locate the opposite sex of their species; but one cannot see instinct in the face of any creature; it must develop in acts. There is no part of their lives that makes such pictures of mother-love as birds and animals afford. The male finds a mate and disappears. The female places her eggs and goes out before her caterpillars break their shells. The caterpillar transforms to the moth without its consent, the matter in one upbuilding the other. The entire process is utterly devoid of sentiment, attachment or volition on the part of the creatures involved. They work out a law as inevitable as that which swings suns, moons, and planets in their courses. They are the most fragile and beautiful result of natural law with which I am acquainted.
CHAPTER III The Robin Moth: Cecropia
When only a little child, wandering alone among the fruits and flowers of our country garden, on a dead peach limb beside the fence I found it—my first Cecropia. I was the friend of every bird, flower, and butterfly. I carried crumbs to the warblers in the sweetbrier; was lifted for surreptitious peeps at the hummingbird nesting in the honeysuckle; sat within a few feet of the robin in the catalpa; bugged the currant bushes for the phoebe that had built for years under the roof of the corn bin; and fed young blackbirds in the hemlock with worms gathered from the cabbages. I knew how to insinuate myself into the private life of each bird that homed on our farm, and they were many, for we valiantly battled for their protection with every kind of intruder. There were wrens in the knot holes, chippies in the fences, thrushes in the brush heaps, bluebirds in the hollow apple trees, cardinals in the bushes, tanagers in the saplings, fly-catchers in the trees, larks in the wheat, bobolinks in the clover, killdeers beside the creeks, swallows in the chimneys, and martins under the barn eaves. My love encompassed all feathered and furred creatures.
Every day visits were paid flowers I cared for most. I had been taught not to break the garden blooms, and if a very few of the wild ones were taken, I gathered them carefully, and explained to the plants that I wanted them for my mother because she was so ill she could not come to them any more, and only a few touching her lips or lying on her pillow helped her to rest, and made vivid the fields and woods when the pain was severe.
My love for the butterflies took on the form of adoration. There was not a delicate, gaudy, winged creature of day that did not make so strong an appeal to my heart as to be almost painful. It seemed to me that the most exquisite thoughts of God for our pleasure were materialized in their beauty. My soul always craved colour, and more brilliancy could be found on one butterfly wing than on many flower faces. I liked to slip along the bloom-bordered walks of that garden and stand spell-bound, watching a black velvet butterfly, which trailed wings painted in white, red, and green, as it clambered over a clump of sweet-williams, and indeed, the flowers appeared plain compared with it! Butterflies have changed their habits since then. They fly so high! They are all among the treetops now. They used to flit around the cinnamon pinks, larkspur, ragged-robins and tiger lilies, within easy reach of little fingers, every day. I called them 'flying flowers,' and it was a pretty conceit, for they really were more delicate in texture and brighter in colouring than the garden blooms.
Having been taught that God created the heavens, earth and all things therein, I understood it to mean a literal creation of each separate thing and creature, as when my father cut down a tree and hewed it into a beam. I would spend hours sitting so immovably among the flowers of our garden that the butterflies would mistake me for a plant and alight on my head and hands, while I strove to conceive the greatness of a Being who could devise and colour all those different butterfly wings. I would try to decide whether He created the birds, flowers, or butterflies first; ultimately coming to the conclusion that He put His most exquisite material into the butterflies, and then did the best He could with what remained, on the birds and flowers.
In my home there was a cellar window on the south, covered with wire screening, that was my individual property. Father placed a box beneath it so that I could reach the sill easily, and there were very few butterflies or insects common to eastern North America a specimen of which had not spent some days on that screen, feasted on leaves and flowers, drunk from saucers of sweetened water, been admired and studied in minutest detail, and then set free to enjoy life as before. With Whitman, "I never was possessed with a mania for killing things." I had no idea of what families they were, and I supplied my own names. The Monarch was the Brown Velvet; the Viceroy was his Cousin; the Argynnis was the Silver Spotted; and the Papilio Ajax was the Ribbon butterfly, in my category. There was some thought of naming Ajax, Dolly Varden; but on close inspection it seemed most to resemble the gayly striped ribbons my sisters wore.
I was far afield as to names, but in later years with only a glance at any specimen I could say, "Oh, yes! I always have known that. It has buff-coloured legs, clubbed antennae with buff tips, wings of purplish brown velvet with escalloped margins, a deep band of buff lightly traced with black bordering them, and a pronounced point close the apex of the front pair. When it came to books, all they had to teach me were the names. I had captured and studied butterflies, big, little, and with every conceivable variety of marking, until it was seldom one was found whose least peculiarity was not familiar to me as my own face; but what could this be?
It clung to the rough bark, slowly opening and closing large wings of grey velvet down, margined with bands made of shades of grey, tan, and black; banded with a broad stripe of red terra cotta colour with an inside margin of white, widest on the back pair. Both pairs of wings were decorated with half-moons of white, outlined in black and strongly flushed with terra cotta; the front pair near the outer margin had oval markings of blue-black, shaded with grey, outlined with half circles of white, and secondary circles of black. When the wings were raised I could see a face of terra cotta, with small eyes, a broad band of white across the forehead, and an abdomen of terra cotta banded with snowy white above, and spotted with white beneath. Its legs were hairy, and the antennae antlered like small branching ferns. Of course I thought it was a butterfly, and for a time was too filled with wonder to move. Then creeping close, the next time the wings were raised above its body, with the nerveless touch of a robust child I captured it.
I was ten miles from home, but I had spent all my life until the last year on that farm, and I knew and loved every foot of it. To leave it for a city home and the confinement of school almost had broken my heart, but it really was time for me to be having some formal education. It had been the greatest possible treat to be allowed to return to the country for a week, but now my one idea was to go home with my treasure. None of my people had seen a sight like that. If they had, they would have told me.
Borrowing a two-gallon stone jar from the tenant's wife, I searched the garden for flowers sufficiently rare for lining. Nothing so pleased me as some gorgeous deep red peony blooms. Never having been allowed to break the flowers when that was my mother's home, I did not think of doing it because she was not there to know. I knelt and gathered all the fallen petals that were fresh, and then spreading my apron on the ground, jarred the plant, not harder than a light wind might, and all that fell in this manner it seemed right to take. The selection was very pleasing, for the yellow glaze of the jar, the rich red of the petals, and the grey velvet of my prize made a picture over which I stood trembling in delight. The moth was promptly christened the Half-luna, because my father had taught me that luna was the moon, and the half moons on the wings were its most prominent markings.
The tenant's wife wanted me to put it in a pasteboard box, but I stubbornly insisted on having the jar, why, I do not know, but I suppose it was because my father's word was gospel to me, and he had said that the best place to keep my specimens was the cellar window, and I must have thought the jar the nearest equivalent to the cellar. The Half-luna did not mind in the least, but went on lazily opening and closing its wings, yet making no attempt to fly. If I had known what it was, or anything of its condition, I would have understood that it had emerged from the cocoon that morning, and never had flown, but was establishing circulation preparatory to taking wing. Being only a small, very ignorant girl, the greatest thing I knew for sure was what I loved.
Tying my sunbonnet over the top of the jar, I stationed myself on the horse block at the front gate. Every passing team was hailed with lifted hand, just as I had seen my father do, and in as perfect an imitation of his voice as a scared little girl making her first venture alone in the big world could muster, I asked, "Which way, Friend?"
For several long, hot hours people went to every point of the compass, but at last a bony young farmer, with a fat wife, and a fatter baby, in a big wagon, were going to my city, and they said I might ride. With quaking heart I handed up my jar, and climbed in, covering all those ten miles in the June sunshine, on a board laid across e wagon bed, tightly clasping the two-gallon jar in my aching arms. The farmer's wife was quite concerned about me. She asked if I had butter, and I said, "Yes, the kind that flies."
I slipped the bonnet enough to let them peep. She did not seem to think much of it, but the farmer laughed until his tanned face was red as an Indian's. His wife insisted on me putting down the jar, and offered to set her foot on it so that it would not 'jounce' much, but I did not propose to risk it 'jouncing' at all, and clung to it persistently. Then she offered to tie her apron over the top of the jar if I would put my bonnet on my head, but I was afraid to attempt the exchange for fear my butterfly would try to escape, and I might crush it, a thing I almost never had allowed to happen.
The farmer's wife stuck her elbow into his ribs, and said, "How's that for the queerest spec'men ye ever see?" The farmer answered, "I never saw nothin' like it before." Then she said, "Aw pshaw! I didn't mean in the jar!" Then they both laughed. I thought they were amused at me, but I had no intention of risking an injury to my Half-luna, for there had been one black day on which I had such a terrible experience that it entailed a lifetime of caution.
I had captured what I afterward learned was an Asterias, that seemed slightly different from any previous specimen, and a yellow swallow-tail, my first Papilio Turnus. The yellow one was the largest, most beautiful butterfly I ever had seen. I was carrying them, one between each thumb and forefinger, and running with all possible speed to reach the screen before my touch could soil the down on their exquisite wings. I stumbled, and fell, so suddenly, there was no time to release them. The black one sailed away with a ragged wing, and the yellow was crushed into a shapeless mass in my hand. I was accustomed to falling off fences, from trees, and into the creek, and because my mother was an invalid I had learned to doctor my own bruises and uncomplainingly go my way. My reputation was that of a very brave little girl; but when I opened my hand and saw that broken butterfly, and my down-painted fingers, I was never more afraid in my life. I screamed aloud in panic, and ran for my mother with all my might. Heartbroken, I could not control my voice to explain as I threw myself on her couch, and before I knew what they were doing, I was surrounded by sisters and the cook with hot water, bandages and camphor.
My mother clasped me in her arms, and rocked me on her breast. "There, there, my poor child," she said, "I know it hurts dreadfully!' And to the cook she commanded, "Pour on camphor quickly! She is half killed, or she never would come to me like this." I found my voice. "Camphor won't do any good," I wailed. "It was the most beautiful butterfly, and I've broken it all to pieces. It must have taken God hours studying how to make it different from all the others, and I know He never will forgive me!' I began sobbing worse than ever. The cook on her knees before me sat on her heels suddenly. "Great Heavens! She's screechin' about breakin' a butterfly, and not her poor fut, at all!" Then I looked down and discovered that I had stubbed my toe in falling, and had left a bloody trail behind me. "Of course I am! " I sobbed indignantly. "Couldn't I wash off a little blood in the creek, and tie up my toe with a dock leaf and some grass? I've killed the most beautiful butterfly, and I know I won't be forgiven!"
I opened my tightly clenched hand and showed it to prove my words. The sight was so terrible to me that I jerked my foot from the cook, and thrust my hand into the water, screaming, "Wash it! Wash it! Wash the velvet from my hand! Oh! make it white again!" Before the cook bathed and bandaged my foot, she washed and dried my hand; and my mother whispered, "God knows you never meant to do it, and He is sorry as mother is." So my mother and the cook comforted me. The remainder scattered suddenly. It was years before I knew why, and I was a Shakespearean student before I caught the point to their frequently calling me 'Little Lady Macbeth!' After such an experience, it was not probable that I would risk crushing a butterfly to tie a bonnet on my head. It probably would be down my back half the time anyway. It usually was. As we neared the city I heard the farmer's wife tell him that he must take me to my home. He said he would not do any such a thing, but she said he must. She explained that she knew me, and it would not be decent to put me down where they were going, and leave me to walk home and carry that heavy jar. So the farmer took me to our gate. I thanked him as politely as I knew how, and kissed his wife and the fat baby in payment for their kindness, for I was very grateful. I was so tired I scarcely could set down the jar and straighten my cramped arms when I had the opportunity. I had expected my family to be delighted over my treasure, but they exhibited an astonishing indifference, and were far more concerned over the state of my blistered face. I would not hear of putting my Half-luna on the basement screen as they suggested, but enthroned it in state on the best lace curtains at a parlour window, covered the sill with leaves and flowers, and went to bed happy. The following morning my sisters said a curtain was ruined, and when they removed it to attempt restoration, the general consensus of opinion seemed to be that something was a nuisance, I could not tell whether it was I, or the Half-luna. On coming to the parlour a little later, ladened with leaves and flowers, my treasure was gone. The cook was sure it had flown from the door over some one's head, and she said very tersely that it was a burning shame, and if such carelessness as that ever occurred again she would quit her job. Such is the confidence of a child that I accepted my loss as an inevitable accident, and tried to be brave to comfort her, although my heart was almost broken. Of course they freed my moth. They never would have dared but that the little mother's couch stood all day empty now, and her chair unused beside it. My disappointment was so deep and far- reaching it made me ill then they scolded me, and said I had half killed myself carrying that heavy jar in the hot sunshine, although the pain from which I suffered was neither in my arms nor sunburned face.
So I lost my first Cecropia, and from that day until a woman grown and much of this material secured, in all my field work among the birds, flowers, and animals, I never had seen another. They had taunted me in museums, and been my envy in private collections, but find one, I could not. When in my field work among the birds, so many moths of other families almost had thrust themselves upon me that I began a collection of reproductions of them, I found little difficulty in securing almost anything else. I could picture Sphinx Moths in any position I chose, and Lunas seemed eager to pose for me. A friend carried to me a beautiful tan-coloured Polyphemus with transparent moons like isinglass set in its wings of softest velvet down, and as for butterflies, it was not necessary to go afield for them; they came to me. I could pick a Papilio Aj ax, that some of my friends were years in securing, from the pinks in my garden. A pair of Antiopas spent a night, and waited to be pictured in the morning, among the leaves of my passion vine. Painted Beauties swayed along my flowered walks, and in September a Viceroy reigned in state on every chrysanthemum, and a Monarch was enthroned on every sunbeam. No luck was too good for me, no butterfly or moth too rare, except forever and always the coveted Cecropia, and by this time I had learned to my disgust that it was one of the commonest of all.
Then one summer, late in June, a small boy, having an earnest, eager little face, came to me tugging a large box. He said he had something for me. He said "they called it a butterfly, but he was sure it never was." He was eminently correct. He had a splendid big Cecropia. I was delighted. Of course to have found one myself would have filled my cup to overflowing, but to secure a perfect, living specimen was good enough. For the first time my childish loss seemed in a measure compensated. Then, I only could study a moth to my satisfaction and set it free; now, I could make reproductions so perfect that every antler of its antennae could be counted with the naked eye, and copy its colours accurately, before giving back its liberty.
I asked him whether he wanted money or a picture of it, and as I expected, he said 'money,' so he was paid. An hour later he came back and said he wanted the picture. On being questioned as to his change of heart, he said "mamma told him to say he wanted the picture, and she would give him the money." My sympathy was with her. I wanted the studies I intended to make of that Cecropia myself, and I wanted them very badly.
I opened the box to examine the moth, and found it so numb with the cold over night, and so worn and helpless, that it could not cling to a leaf or twig. I tried repeatedly, and fearing that it had been subjected to rough treatment, and soon would be lifeless, for these moths live only a short time, I hastily set up a camera focusing on a branch. Then I tried posing my specimen. Until the third time it fell, but the fourth it clung, and crept down a twig, settling at last in a position that far, surpassed any posing that I could do. I was very pleased, and yet it made a complication. It had gone so far that it might be off the plate and from focus. It seemed so stupid and helpless that I decided to risk a peep at the glass, and hastily removing the plate and changing the shutter, a slight but most essential alteration was made, everything replaced, and the bulb caught up. There was only a breath of sound as I turned, and then I stood horrified, for my Cecropia was sailing over a large elm tree in a corner of the orchard, and for a block my gaze followed it skyward, flying like a bird before it vanished in the distance, so quickly had it recovered in fresh air and sunshine.
I have undertaken to describe some very difficult things, but I would not attempt to portray my feelings, and three days later there was no change. It was in the height of my season of field work, and I had several extremely interesting series of bird studies on hand, and many miscellaneous subjects. In those days some pictures were secured that I then thought, and yet feel, will live, but nothing mattered to me. There was a standing joke among my friends that I never would be satisfied with my field work until I had made a study of a 'Ha-ha bird,' but I doubt if even that specimen would have lifted the gloom of those days. Everything was a drag, and frequently I would think over it all in detail, and roundly bless myself for taking a prize so rare, to me at least, into the open.
The third day stands lurid in my memory. It was the hottest, most difficult day of all my years of experience afield. The temperature ranged from 104 to 108 in the village, and in quarries open to the east, flat fields, and steaming swamps it certainly could have been no cooler. With set cameras I was working for a shot at a hawk that was feeding on all the young birds and rabbits in the vicinity of its nest. I also wanted a number of studies to fill a commission that was pressing me. Subjects for several pictures had been found, and exposures made on them when the weather was so hot that the rubber slide of a plate holder would curl like a horseshoe if not laid on a case, and held flat by a camera while I worked. Perspiration dried, and the landscape took on a sombre black velvet hue, with a liberal sprinkling of gold stars. I sank into a stupor going home, and an old farmer aroused me, and disentangled my horse from a thicket of wild briers into which it had strayed. He said most emphatically that if I did not know enough to remain indoors weather like that, my friends should appoint me a 'guardeen.'
I reached the village more worn in body and spirit than I ever had been. I felt that I could not endure another degree of heat on the back of my head, and I was much discouraged concerning my work. Why not drop it all, and go where there were cool forests and breezes sighing? Perhaps my studies were not half so good as I thought! Perhaps people would not care for them! For that matter, perhaps the editors and publishers never would give the public an opportunity to see my work at all!
I dragged a heavy load up the steps and swung it to the veranda, and there stood almost paralysed. On the top step, where I could not reach the Cabin door without seeing it, newly emerged, and slowly exercising a pair of big wings, with every gaudy marking fresh with new life, was the finest Cecropia I ever had seen anywhere. Recovering myself with a start, I had it under my net that had waited twenty years to cover it! Inside the door I dropped the net, and the moth crept on my fingers. What luck! What extra golden luck! I almost felt that God had been sorry for me, and sent it there to encourage me to keep on picturing the beauties and wonders of His creations for people who could not go afield to see for themselves, and to teach those who could to protect helpless, harmless things for their use and beauty.
I walked down the hall, and vaguely scanned the solid rows of books and specimens lining the library walls. I scarcely realized the thought that was in my mind, but what I was looking for was not there. The dining-room then, with panelled walls and curtains of tapestry? It was not there! Straight to the white and gold music room I went. Then a realizing sense came to me. It was BRUSSELS LACE for which I was searching! On the most delicate, snowiest place possible, on the finest curtain there, I placed my Cecropia, and then stepped back and gazed at it with a sort of "Touch it over my dead body" sentiment in my heart. An effort was required to arouse myself, to realize that I was not dreaming. To search the fields and woods for twenty years, and then find the specimen I had sought awaiting me at my own door! Well might it have been a dream, but that the Cecropia, clinging to the meshes of the lace, slowly opening and closing its wings to strengthen them for flight, could be nothing but a delightful reality.
A few days later, in the valley of the Wood Robin, while searching for its nest I found a large cocoon. It was above my head, but afterward I secured it by means of a ladder, and carried it home. Shortly there emerged a yet larger Cecropia, and luck seemed with me. I could find them everywhere through June, the time of their emergence, later their eggs, and the tiny caterpillars that hatched from them. During the summer I found these caterpillars, in different stages of growth, until fall, when after their last moult and casting of skin, they reached the final period of feeding; some were over four inches in length, a beautiful shade of greenish blue, with red and yellow warty projections—tubercles, according to scientific works.
It is easy to find the cocoons these caterpillars spin, because they are the largest woven by any moth, and placed in such a variety of accessible spots. They can be found in orchards, high on branches, and on water sprouts at the base of trees. Frequently they are spun on swamp willows, box-elder, maple, or wild cherry. Mr. Black once found for me the largest cocoon I ever have seen; a pale tan colour with silvery lights, woven against the inside of a hollow log. Perhaps the most beautiful of all, a dull red, was found under the flooring of an old bridge crossing a stream in the heart of the swamp, by a girl not unknown to fiction, who brought it to me. In a deserted orchard close the Wabash, Raymond once found a pair of empty cocoons at the foot of a big apple tree, fastened to the same twigs, and within two inches of each other.
But the most wonderful thing of all occurred when Wallace Hardison, a faithful friend to my work, sawed a board from the roof of his chicken house and carried to me twin Cecropia cocoons, spun so closely together they were touching, and slightly interwoven. By the closest examination I could discover slight difference between them. The one on the right was a trifle fuller in the body, wider at the top, a shade lighter in colour, and the inner case seemed heavier.
All winter those cocoons occupied the place of state in my collection. Every few days I tried them to see if they gave the solid thump indicating healthy pupae, and listened to learn if they were moving. By May they were under constant surveillance. On the fourteenth I was called from home a few hours to attend the funeral of a friend. I think nothing short of a funeral would have taken me, for the moth from a single cocoon had emerged on the eleventh. I hurried home near noon, only to find that I was late, for one was out, and the top of the other cocoon heaving with the movements of the second.
The moth that had escaped was a male. It clung to the side of the board, wings limp, its abdomen damp. The opening from which it came was so covered with terra cotta coloured down that I thought at first it must have disfigured itself; but full development proved it could spare that much and yet appear all right.
In the fall I had driven a nail through one corner of the board, and tacked it against the south side of the Cabin, where I made reproductions of the cocoons. The nail had been left, and now it suggested the same place. A light stroke on the head of the nail, covered with cloth to prevent jarring, fastened the board on a log. Never in all my life did I hurry as on that day, and I called my entire family into service. The Deacon stood at one elbow, Molly-Cotton at the other, and the gardener in the rear. There was not a second to be lost, and no time for an unnecessary movement; for in the heat and bright sunshine those moths would emerge and develop with amazing rapidity.
Molly-Cotton held an umbrella over them to prevent this as much as possible; the Deacon handed plate holders, and Brenner ran errands. Working as fast as I could make my fingers fly in setting up the camera, and getting a focus, the second moth's head was out, its front feet struggling to pull up the body; and its antennae beginning to lift, when I was ready for the first snap at half-past eleven.
By the time I inserted the slide, turned the plate holder and removed another slide, the first moth to appear had climbed up the board a few steps, and the second was halfway out. Its antennae were nearly horizontal now, and from its position I decided that the wings as they lay in the pupa case were folded neither to the back nor to the front, but pressed against the body in a lengthwise crumpled mass, the heavy front rib, or costa, on top.
Again I changed plates with all speed. By the time I was ready for the third snap the male had reached the top of the board, its wings opened for the first time, and began a queer trembling motion. The second one had emerged and was running into the first, so I held my finger in the line of its advance, and when it climbed on I lowered it to the edge to the board beside the cocoons. It immediately clung to the wood. The big pursy abdomen and smaller antennae, that now turned forward in position, proved this a female. The exposure was made not ten seconds after she cleared the case, and with her back to the lens, so the position and condition of the wings and antennae on emergence can be seen clearly.
Quickly as possible I changed the plates again; the time that elapsed could not have been over half a minute. The male was trying to creep up the wall, and the increase in the length and expansion of the female's wings could be seen. The colours on both were exquisite, but they grew a trifle less brilliant as the moths became dry.
Again I turned to the business of plate changing. The heat was intense, and perspiration was streaming from my face. I called to Molly-Cotton to shield the moths while I made the change. "Drat the moths!" cried the Deacon. "Shade your mother!" Being an obedient girl, she shifted the umbrella, and by the time I was ready for business, the male was on the logs and travelling up the side of the Cabin. The female was climbing toward the logs also, so that a side view showed her wings already beginning to lift above her back.
I had only five snapshot plates in my holders, so I was compelled to stop. It was as well, for surely the record was complete, and I was almost prostrate with excitement and heat. Several days later I opened each of the cocoons and made interior studies. The one on the right was split down the left side and turned back to shpw the bed of spun silk of exquisite colour that covers the inner case. Some say this silk has no commercial value, as it is cut in lengths reaching from the top around the inner case and back to the top again; others think it can be used. The one on the left was opened down the front of the outer case, the silk parted and the heavy inner case cut from top to bottom to show the smooth interior wall, the thin pupa case burst by the exit of the moth, and the cast caterpillar skin crowded at the bottom.
The pair mated that same night, and the female began laying eggs by noon the following day. She dotted them in lines over the inside of her box, and on leaves placed in it, and at times piled them in a heap instead of placing them as do these moths in freedom. Having taken a picture of a full-grown caterpillar of this moth brought to me by Mr. Andrew Idlewine, I now had a complete Cecropia history; eggs, full-grown caterpillars, twin cocoons, and the story of the emergence of the moths that wintered in them. I do not suppose Mr. Hardison thought he was doing anything unusual when he brought me those cocoons, yet by bringing them, he made it possible for me to secure this series of twin Cecropia moths, male and female, a thing never before recorded by lepidopterist or photographer so far as I can learn.
The Cecropia is a moth whose acquaintance nature-loving city people can cultivate. In December of 19o6, on a tree, maple I think, near No. 2230 North Delaware Street, Indianapolis, I found four cocoons of this moth, and on the next tree, save one, another. Then I began watching, and in the coming days I counted them by the hundred through the city. Several bushels of these cocoons could have been clipped in Indianapolis alone, and there is no reason why any other city that has maple, elm, catalpa, and other shade trees would not have as many; so that any one who would like can find them easily.
Cecropia cocoons bewilder a beginner by their difference in shape. You cannot determine the sex of the moth by the size of the cocoon. In the case of the twins, the cocoon of the female was the larger; but I have known male and female alike to emerge from large or small. You are fairly sure of selecting a pair if you depend upon weight. The females are heavier than the males, because they emerge with quantities of eggs ready to deposit as soon as they have mated. If any one wants to winter a pair of moths, they are reasonably sure of doing so by selecting the heaviest and lightest cocoons they can find.