A strange moth indeed

A few days ago I posted an image of an insect I found on my patio, a large creature the likes of which I had never before seen.  You might remember I found it in this position just outside the bedroom doors.

A very pregnant woolly gray moth (a.k.a. pine barrens lycia; Lycia ypsilon) lying on her back (20080311_02478)

It didn’t move as I snapped a few photos of it.  I therefore suspected it had died, perhaps after flipping over and lying in direct sunlight for too long, perhaps after being abused by any of the local neighborhood cats who would undoubtedly find such a thing to be a perfect toy.

But whatever reason or reasons had caused it to wind up in such condition, I decided to turn it over so I could get some different views of it, something that would help me identify it later.

Its legs began flailing the moment I picked it up.  Not so dead after all…

I placed it back on the patio floor where it froze.  Posed, even, for the furry behemoth rested in sunset’s direct light where I could snap some respectable images.

The first to show its strangely colored and swollen abdomen.

A very pregnant woolly gray moth (a.k.a. pine barrens lycia; Lycia ypsilon) seen from behind showing the bright green and orange on her abdomen (20080311_02504)

At 2.5 cm long by 1 cm wide, with most of that girth and length in this rear section banded with green and orange separated by tortoiseshell hairs that appeared dark gray from a distance, I felt the poor thing wouldn’t be able to move for having to lug around so much extra baggage.

The fact that it never flinched as I got in close for more pictures seemed to confirm it was too heavy, too bloated to get out of the way.

A very pregnant woolly gray moth (a.k.a. pine barrens lycia; Lycia ypsilon) seen from above showing the vestigial wings (20080311_02502)

The more I looked at it, the more I assumed it to be a moth.  Probably a female given the antennae.  But where were its wings?

That’s when I noticed two stubby projections on each side of the thorax where a flying insect would have wings.

A very pregnant woolly gray moth (a.k.a. pine barrens lycia; Lycia ypsilon) seen from in front (20080311_02503)

Was I looking at a moth whose wings had not yet unfolded?  That seemed unlikely at best.  These little nubs were too small to unfurl into wings large enough to carry this massive insect.

Regrettably, the more I looked at it, the more I became confused about what it might be.

As I sat near it staring in confusion, I suddenly found my original concern about it being too heavy to move had been premature and incorrect.

Tiny when compared to its enormous abdomen, amazement washed over me as those six legs kicked into high gear and began carrying this mystery across the patio toward the fence.  Quickly, I might add.

It skirted the bottom of the fence for some time.  Eventually it turned, climbed over the wooden base, tumbled down the other side, and reversed course back along the fence.

Its abdomen dragged the ground the entire time, a mass of insect flesh too large and heavy to lift.  It didn’t seem to notice, though, and it certainly didn’t cause the critter to be slow.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Once it reached the center column of the fence, the ligneous support that stretches up to the roof, it began climbing.

A very pregnant woolly gray moth (a.k.a. pine barrens lycia; Lycia ypsilon) seen from the side as she climbs a patio column (20080311_02512)

That shocked me.  Tiny feet on painted wood found both the strength and grip to lift that bulging bottom straight up the pillar.

I watched it for some time as it continued upward.  When finally it paused for a few minutes, I decided to leave it in peace.  It was gone when I returned an hour or so later to check on it.

My investigation into its identity helped me learn something I never knew before.

You see, originally I felt it probably was an immature moth whose wings had not developed (or unfolded, assuming that the tiny nubs could somehow unfurl into large wings).

I was wrong.

This is in fact a fully mature, fully developed female moth, one whose abdomen is so full of eggs that it appears distended.  She is also a flightless moth with vestigial wings.  Only the males of her kind have wings and can fly.

Assuming my identification is correct, something I’m confident in but not definitively sure of, she is a very pregnant Lycia ypsilon.  The most widely used common name I could find for the species is woolly gray moth, but they are sometimes referred to as pine barrens lycia.

And finally to prove I didn’t pose a dead insect just so I could post cool photos of it, here’s something I’ve not done in a while: include a video.  As I pointed out earlier, she ran along the bottom of the fence once she finally got going.  And go she did.

Please note I wish the video had translated better to YouTube.  The original, in all its 640×480 stereo glory, is rather nice for a macro vid (the first I’ve ever tried to capture).  I may tinker with it and try uploading it again to see if maybe a different format works better.

Anyway, for now, here’s my huge, bursting with eggs, flightless female moth scampering across the concrete for all the world to see.

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