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  • Writer's pictureljmarkson

My Moth Week Miracle

There seems to be a special place in all secular and religious belief systems for the idea that things happen for a reason. A few days ago I was reminded of this when during a moment of existential doubt about my nature advocacy path my energy was both restored and redirected by a miraculous moment in my rewilded yard.

I was recently reminded of the life, beauty and purpose of my naturescaped yard.

I had spent the morning working on a post about how deeply sad Moth Week is for me because of my environmentally toxic next-door neighbors. I was trying to work it into a more positive informational post, but kept spiraling downward thinking that my sanctuary bubble was just too small to have an impact when I’m surrounded by people who are so inexplicably hostile to nature. How could I encourage others when so many bad things happen to the wildlife in my neighborhood that I have no control over. What was I really contributing to nature in the grand scheme of things?

I sometimes get overwhelmed with the thought of wildlife leaving the the safety of my sanctuary yard and facing the dangers of this kind of sanitized landscape.

The post was going nowhere so I took a break and went outside to soak in the joy of my tiny wildlife preserve. I was cleaning bird baths when I noticed something odd sticking out on the trunk of my native maple tree. It looked like dead leaves, but it was in the wrong place. After a copperhead sighting a few weeks ago I was a bit wary so I carefully went in for a closer look and realized it was a giant moth of some sort! I sprinted back inside and grabbed my camera and put on my telephoto lens so I wouldn’t disturb the moth.

Nature is a master at camoflouge! From a distance this moth looks like some sort of natural debris.

The moth was a perfect model because it didn’t move at all and I was even able to switch to a macro lens. The sun also went behind a cloud so it was easier for me to use my rudimentary photography skills to get some nice photos. When I went inside for lunch the moth disappeared. I missed it opening its wings but I'm hopeful I’ll see this next time. The females release pheromones that can attract a male up to almost two dozen miles away, so I choose to believe that this extraordinary creature will find a mate and create even more moths during her short life of only a week or so.

I was thrilled to be able to get a close-up of this cartoonishly cute, fuzzy and pudgy moth!

I posted a picture of this moth in the Georgia Wildlife and Landscape Photography Facebook group and an expert kindly identified it as tulip-tree silkmoth (callosamia angulifera). The native maple where I found the moth is an understory tree for a huge tulip poplar in my front yard so this makes sense. He confirmed this is a female because her feathery antennae are smaller and not the same as a male moth. Her abdomen is so big because it is loaded with eggs ready to be fertilized! There is another moth that looks almost exactly like this called the promethea silkmoth (callosamia promethea), but he explained it doesn't have the white markings on the front and hind wings.

Gorgeous giant silkmoths like this one will overwinter in cocoons that look like dead leaves. This is yet another great reason to leave the leaves in your yard and not shred or destroy them in any way!

This experience affirms my urgency not only to nurture the wildlife sanctuary in my small yard, but to continue my advocacy efforts by educating and hopefully inspiring others to make their yards healthier for nature, no matter how small. Every natural space is an opportunity to add native plants and sustain a wildlife habitat. The ecosystem works!

As remarkable as the timing of my discovery of the tulip-tree silkmoth was, it was unbelievably almost exactly a year ago that I had a similar sense of excitement, wonder and validation when I found a tersa sphinx moth for the first time in my yard!

My rewilded yard filled with hundreds of native plants provided an attractive habitat for this sleek sphinx moth, also known as a hawk moth.

I am now editing the post I was initially working on about why there are so few moths in my yard in the context of mosquito control methods that only target mosquitoes without harming other valuable insects like moths. It is no longer riddled with the hopeless frustration and sadness I was grappling with before my fortuitous encounter with a moth. I hope you were also able to find a little magic during Moth Week. I can’t wait to see what fanciful moth appears in my yard during moth week next year!

I'm always excited when I find one of the 1,000 native Georgia moths in my yard.


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