The Wisdom of the Moth in a Changing World

by Mark Miles

With daytime temperatures in North Carolina ranging from 60° to 90° F, things have been pretty wacky lately. In early July, the black walnut tree in my backyard started to drop nuts, which usually doesn’t happen until September. Dogwoods in the neighborhood have started to change color, and a few of them have simply died. Very few fireflies have been active this year, and they’re usually prolific from June to August. Thunderous rainstorms with torrential downpour and destructive winds have been punctuated by periods of dry and sunny weather that parches the ground until it cracks after little more than a week or two. All in all, the reality of climatic collapse–which is what climate change should really be called–is indisputable by anyone with observant eyes and a reasonably functional brain.

Nonetheless there have been a few recent occurrences which are normal for this time of year. Tomatoes have been ripening, corn has been rising, crepe myrtles have been blooming, and sunsets have been breathtaking. There’ve also been an abundance of moths at my doorstep and on the trails where I hike. A few of them caught my attention and prompted me to take a few photos. Those photos in turn prompted me to do a little research, the result of which is the article you’re now reading.

This Carolina satyr moth (Hermeuptychia sosybius) was sunning herself serenely on the prolific vegetation bordering the Eno Riverwalk in Hillsborough when I went for a hike recently. I approached her slowly and did my best not to startle her. She seemed oblivious to the intrusion and carried on her business with the seriousness of a professional athlete, moving her wings to demonstrate the distinct pattern of circles and dots which characterize the Carolina satyr moth. It was a beautiful day, so I could understand her agreeable disposition. The area was probably also her home, since the grasses which predominate around the Eno are the preferred food for Carolina satyr caterpillars and make for a perfect nursery.

A few weeks ago I was coming in my front door after watering my plants in the evening when I noticed the brilliant coloration of this harnessed tiger moth (Apantesis phalerata). The bands of black and yellow are immediately recognizable; they make me think of a bumblebee who was perhaps slightly confused when choosing his final form. In any case, I was glad to know that someone in my yard has been taking advantage of the dandelions, clover, and plantains–all of which are the preferred food of harnessed tiger moths in their early stages of development.

Original prints by the author are now available on a limited basis.

When I saw this walnut sphinx moth (Amorpha juglandis) on my mailbox on a separate occasion, I very nearly swooned. This little guy was almost three inches across and looked much, much heavier than most moths of his size. Clearly he’d been munching on a tree in the area and had the gains to prove it. Additionally his abdomen, at the rear of his body, curved upward in the most striking resemblance to a scorpion tail that I’ve ever seen in a moth. Despite this resemblance, he was perfectly at peace and paid no attention to my presence, which gave me this lovely photographic opportunity.

So, despite the weird and wacky climate, which is slowly but steadily collapsing in front of our very eyes, these moths have found a way to cope. They might not be leading any protest marches or boycotting extractive industries, but they’re doing what they do best: munching away, growing fat, changing form, and emerging from their cocoons to spread the pollen of plants in a cycle of life that makes all of our lives possible.

And we should be doing the same. By taking care of ourselves, developing our skills and abilities, resting when necessary, and emerging from our cocoons to take action in whatever way we’re able, we can take the wisdom of the moth to heart. And in the process we’ll be making a difference in this world that will not only help others but bring our lives purpose, making possible a united effort to preserve the one and only home we have in this universe, our planet earth.

References:

Amorpha juglandis,” Wikipedia, accessed July 31st, 2017.

Apantesis phalerata,” Wikipedia, accessed July 31st, 2017.

Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius),” University of Florida, accessed July 31st, 2017.

Pippen, Jeff, “Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius),” Jeff’s Nature Page, accessed July 31st, 2017.

Subfamily Arctiinae — Tiger and Lichen Moths,” North American Insects and Spiders, accessed July 31st, 2017.

Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis),” Butterflies and Moths of North America, accessed July 31st, 2017.

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12 thoughts on “The Wisdom of the Moth in a Changing World

  1. delphini510 August 5, 2017 / 9:27 am

    I have with great delight read and watched your fascinating article. The pictures are just wonderful and your tale around each so warm and caring.
    The wisdom you feel we can derive from these moths is very profound. We should indeed.
    miriam

    • Mark Miles August 7, 2017 / 5:41 am

      Thank you. There’s wisdom in all the world if only we’ll take the time to stop and listen with all our senses.

    • Mark Miles August 7, 2017 / 5:42 am

      Thank you. They’re much wiser than most humans give them credit for.

  2. pennygadd51 August 5, 2017 / 5:55 pm

    Great article, and beautiful photographs!

    • Mark Miles August 7, 2017 / 5:42 am

      Thank you, Penny. Hope you’re enjoying Greece. 🙋

  3. sledpress August 5, 2017 / 6:56 pm

    Thank you for showcasing the moths, who aren’t as showy as butterflies but have a subtle beauty, to me like semiprecious stones. One of the sweetest moments of my life was in a peach orchard on a hot day in August, thirty years ago now, when a flock of little moths with agate-like markings began to light on me and drink sweat from my arms with tiny sips that I could just feel. I wanted to stand there and let them all day.
    I hope we can all learn to cope. It scares me to see what happens in my garden and when, these last several years.

    • Mark Miles August 7, 2017 / 5:44 am

      Thank you, my friend. I really enjoyed reading your recollection of the flock of moths. That sounds downright magical. Hope you’re enjoying the summer.

  4. Graham August 5, 2017 / 7:37 pm

    Great post, Mark! Fascinating to see three moths which all look so completely different…and 3 inches across for one of them sounds massive!

    • Mark Miles August 7, 2017 / 5:47 am

      Thanks, Graham. They were too beautiful to for me ignore.

  5. usathroughoureyes August 6, 2017 / 4:56 pm

    Great post Mark. Its incredible to see the beauty of these creatures you captured on media.

    • Mark Miles August 7, 2017 / 5:48 am

      Thank you, my friend. Really glad you enjoyed this. Have a lovely week.

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