Yesterday’s visit to East Texas provided yet more proof of the diversity of insect life thriving in the area. No greater examples can be found when arriving in the morning than moths spent from their night frolicking and forced to rest through the morning hours.
Its black spots iridescent in the bright morning sun, this female giant leopard moth (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia) held tightly to the central light pole even while slipping from the world after having given her all to produce another generation of her kind. In her stillness and beauty I lost myself for a few moments. I knew I was witnessing her final hours, yet her exquisite display held me tightly and kept me near.
Wingtips tattered and worn to transparency, their black and white scales lost to time, I visited her several hours after the first photo only to find her still clinging to life just as she was clinging to the light post. Shadow embraced her and shielded her from the afternoon’s heat. I knew it wouldn’t be long before it embraced her forever.
Somewhere I did not find lay her hopes for her species. Eggs never to be found would produce another brood that would start as red-ringed black caterpillars who would grow to enormous proportions, and those spectacular monsters would eventually cocoon so as to give rise to more winged leopards.
I eventually left her to her fate.
Much higher on the same pole rested another female moth, one undoubtedly expiring just like the first. Although difficult to photograph due to her position near the top of her perch, I did grab a quick photo of this waved sphinx moth (Ceratomia undulosa). I suspected she too had spent the night engaging in a desperate attempt to procreate.
Not once did she move from her spot. Not once. . .
Too high up to photograph easily, we moved one of the farm trucks against the light pole so I could get higher for a photograph or two. The perch still left me far below her. Nevertheless, I was able to at least get that one respectable image.
[Note: Despite the similarities, this waved sphinx moth is not to be confused with the plebeian sphinx moth (Paratrea plebeja) I photographed earlier this year. And kudos to anyone who can identify what makes one different from the other. Both are enormous so size doesn’t count.]
And that leaves us finally with the most exceptional discovery of the day.
Some distance above the waved sphinx moth rested a creature I heretofore had never seen in person. Its presence was a phenomenal gift. While not rare, I had never expected to see it in such relatively close quarters.
So near the top of the light post as to be in the clouds, I stared up from the bed of the truck at this female tersa sphinx moth (Xylophanes tersa). It regrettably was in the sky and impossible for me to photograph from any other angle. We would have been forced to stack ladders atop the truck upon which I stood if there was to be any hope of capturing better images.
Nevertheless, everyone fell victim to the intrigue created by the soft warmth and undeniable uniqueness of this large insect. With wings held back in singular form, its tapered body captivated all of us. I only wish I had been able to get closer.