The sphinx and the serpent

One thing most evident while at the family farm last weekend was the variety of wildlife beginning to stir in response to the rapid arrival of spring temperatures.  This seemed no more apparent than in the presence of a plethora of insects less common here in Dallas yet abundant in East Texas—like the Polyphemus moth I recently discussed.  Because Mom taught me to enjoy bugs rather than being skittish around them, I often find myself fixated on creepy-crawlies of all sizes, and most certainly I am intrigued with those little beasties most would find horrifying and worthy of a quick retreat.

So it was as I walked around the chicken coop that my attention became drawn to a rather large moth hanging still on the inside of the wire.  Its size made it apparent even from a distance, sporting perhaps four inches (10 centimeters) from wingtip to wingtip.

Yet I immediately realized it was not the typical looking moth with smooth wings swept back in lazy arcs.  Nay, poppets, it was nothing of the sort.

A male blinded sphinx moth (Paonias excaecatus) hanging on the inside of the chicken coop (178_7838)

Unlike any other moth in the area, I knew immediately it was a blinded sphinx moth (Paonias excaecatus).  The unmistakable waves traveling across the wing edges confirmed what its colors and markings had already stated.  Having never seen one as large or in such close proximity, I paused to snap some photos as it remained still even in my near presence.

What stood out to me first were the tiny claws visible on its feet, something you can easily see in the larger version of the photo above.  They’re most evident on the front feet that are in clearest focus.

My position outside the wire barrier made snapping images a bit difficult since I could only see its underside, not to mention the issue of having the wire capture the camera’s attention before the moth did.  Nevertheless, I moved to the side in hopes of getting a better image before stepping into the coop for a different view.

A male blinded sphinx moth (Paonias excaecatus) hanging on the inside of the chicken coop (178_7839)

Amazing!  It was a male.  That became obvious when I noticed the sharply upturned abdomen.  And what a beautiful specimen, too!  I felt awe at being so near it and having the opportunity to snap a few photographs of this splendid creature.

With the wire still vexing me, I knew it was time to go inside the enclosure.  I desperately wanted some pictures of its back, especially of its wings, but also some images sans the metal obstacle that invaded my view from outside.  So I turned to my left to head around the corner to the entry.

And that’s when I saw it.  There was a large snake inside the coop nestled in the shadow at the bottom of the entrance.

I at first thought it to be dead for it didn’t move in response to me or my speech (declaring that there was a problem sneaking around inside with the chickens).  Only when I assumed it was deceased did it finally lift its head and turn just enough to gaze directly at me.  Keep in mind only porous wire separated me from the invader, and I stood less than a yard (a meter) away from it—as did most of the chickens as they carefully watched it.

Regrettably, I have no photos of the snake.  Our first priority involved its immediate removal from the coop—to save the chickens, of course—and to do so without endangering any of the animals or humans involved.

Oh how it reacted the moment someone entered its area.  Being perhaps four to four-and-a-half feet long (1.2 – 1.4 meters), it posed a challenge as at least half its body reared up in response to the presence of a person.  There was no time to determine if it was venomous or not considering it easily could strike any of us and any of the chickens with no notice and no time for escape (it’s length, remember, was much longer than the distance between it and any of us).

It upset me that the poor creature had to be dispatched.  On the other hand, a working farm can take no chances with livestock or people.  Had it been outside the coop, smaller, or under different circumstances, it might have been possible to more closely inspect it before dealing it a deadly blow, but the luxuries of time and safety were not on our side.

A closer look after it was dead made me think it was a non-venomous species.  Keep in mind, though, its head had been severely damaged in the attack and looking closely at its eyes, the shape of its snout, and for the presence of fangs proved quite difficult, so it wasn’t possible to determine its disposition at that point.  Thus is life in the wild woods of East Texas when one must protect the living things that call a farm their home.

After the reptile mayhem, I turned my attention back to the moth I had been so enamored with before the rude interruption.  I still wanted photographs of it.

But it was gone.  Either chased away by all the commotion inside the coop or having rested adequately and wanting to move on to the next available female, it had escaped unnoticed while our collective attention was diverted.

4 thoughts on “The sphinx and the serpent”

  1. That is so true. I spent a week in the Cotswolds in England some years ago and it was the most peaceful time I ever had. I was thinking how I’d love to have Jack and the cats run around the fields and lie on the grass.

  2. That’s why I’m planning to move out of the city around the end of this year. I want to be closer to the family farm, but I also want to get away from concrete jungles and huddled masses of humanity so I can enjoy more of what I love: nature. I think urban life has finally become a misery for me.

    While I’d love to let The Kids play outside, I’m too protective a parent for that. Still, I want a screened-in porch where they can lounge in the world halfway between inside and outside. I think it would be a great way for them to do more wildlife watching, which they love, and we could share the experience since I enjoy doing it as well.

Leave a Reply