Close encounter

I said before that “I focus on in situ nature photos—things in their original locations and states rather than posed or captive.”  While the latter variety of images can be stunning and entrancing, they simply don’t represent my personal view of nature photography, at least with regards to my own photos since I’m not a tyrannical purist when it comes to the photography of others.

Despite and because of this proclivity of mine, I won’t—wouldn’t dream of—controlling what wildlife does on its own.  Just a few days ago a large dragonfly landed on my chest and stared at me eye to eye.  It would have made a great photo had the encounter lasted more than a few seconds, long enough for me to frighten it away by moving.

But that recent event reminded me of another close encounter, this one from March.  It involved an early morning, a male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus), and a collision.

Because the family farm is located deep in the Piney Woods of East Texas, insect life is more prominent than was the case in Dallas.  It’s not unusual to run across a large variety of insects throughout the day.  Mornings often provide a veritable laundry list of beetles, moths, katydids, and other nocturnal creatures looking for a place to sleep away the day.

After finishing chores—feeding animals and the like—I grabbed my camera and spent some time roaming about searching for goodies.  And while I focused on several moths loitering on my car, something hit my arm.  Something big.  Something that clung to me after the impact.

A male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) clinging to my arm (IMG_0205)

With a wingspan of at least six inches/15 centimeters, the large male Polyphemus moth was a welcome visitor, even if he chose to hold fast to my arm in a position that made photographing him rather difficult.  Holding the camera with one hand and without seeing the viewfinder, I happily clicked away hoping at least one or two photos would turn out presentable.

A male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) clinging to my arm (IMG_0201)

All the while the beautiful insect shifted its legs only insofar as was necessary to maintain its perch.  My odd positions trying to photograph it caused more than a few jostles, thus he had to respond by solidifying his hold each time I almost knocked him loose.

A male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) clinging to my arm (IMG_0202)

When the sun made a brief appearance on an otherwise cloudy morning, I snapped a few pictures of what gave the moth its name: the eyespots on its hindwings, most visible on the dorsal side.  Polyphemus was a Cyclops in Greek mythology, Poseidon’s one-eyed giant son.

A male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) clinging to my arm (IMG_0199)

Increasing numbers of parisitoids have decreased the number of Polyphemus moths, as have omnivorous and insectivorous mammals.  Of course, ecological changes by humans have likewise impacted their numbers.  It seems a crime for such a beautiful moth to be endangered, yet the fact makes our encounter all the more captivating, for the drop in their population has been quite evident here at the family farm these past many years.  Where once they were numerous, now they are surprise visitors, usually only a dozen or so seen throughout the year instead of the hundred or more seen just a decade ago.

Close-up of a Male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) clinging to my arm (IMG_0199_c)

Though I prefer photographing nature in a… well, in a natural setting, I felt no shame taking pictures of this moth as it clung to my arm.  The close encounter brightened an otherwise dreary morning, and technically the moth was in situ when I took the pictures.

4 thoughts on “Close encounter”

  1. Oh these are wonderful photographs. In fact, sublime. There’s the sense of this magnificent creature being equivalent to a falconer’s bird on the wrist, ready for the off! The fantastic textures of wings, antennae and that bear-like pelt. Magnificent, Jason. Bravo!

    1. Thank you, Clive! I love encounters like this. These moths are so large and so beautiful that they mesmerize. Having him perch on me–especially with all my gyrations trying to photograph him–was a true gift.

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