CHAPTER 3: THE ROBIN MOTH: CECROPIA
The Robin Moth
"Like a rose embowered
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflowered,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these
When only a little child, wandering alone among the fruits and flowers of our country garden, on a dead peach limb beside the fence I found it -- my first Cecropia. I was the friend of every bird, flower, and butterfly. I carried crumbs to the warblers in the sweetbrier; was lifted for surreptitious peeps at the hummingbird nesting in the honeysuckle; sat within a few feet of the robin in the catalpa; bugged the currant bushes for the phoebe that had built for years under the roof of the corn bin; and fed young blackbirds in the hemlock with worms gathered from the cabbages. I knew how to insinuate myself into the private life of each bird that homed on our farm, and they were many, for we valiantly battled for their protection with every kind of intruder. There were wrens in the knot holes, chippies in the fences, thrushes in the brush heaps, bluebirds in the hollow apple trees, cardinals in the bushes, tanagers in the saplings, flycatchers in the trees, larks in the wheat, bobolinks in the clover, killdeers beside the creeks, swallows in the chimneys, and martins under the barn eaves. My love encompassed all feathered and furred creatures.My First Cecropia
Every day visits were paid flowers I cared for most. I had been taught not to break the garden blooms, and if a very few of the wild ones were taken, I gathered them carefully, and explained to the plants that I wanted them for my mother because she was so ill she could not come to them any more, and only a few touching her lips or lying on her pillow helped her to rest, and made vivid the fields and woods when the pain was severe.
My love for the butterflies took on the form of adoration. There was not a delicate, gaudy, winged creature of day that did not make so strong an appeal to my heart as to be almost painful. It seemed to me that the most exquisite thoughts of God for our pleasure were materialized in their beauty. My soul always craved colour, and more brilliancy could be found on one butterfly wing than on many flower faces. I liked to slip along the bloom-bordered walks of that garden and stand spell-bound, watching a black velvet butterfly, which trailed wings painted in white, red, and green, as it clambered over a clump of sweet-williams, and indeed, the flowers appeared plain compared with it! Butterflies have changed their habits since then. They fly so high! They are all among the treetops now. They used to flit around the cinnamon pinks, larkspur, ragged-robins and tiger lilies, within easy reach of little fingers, every day. I called them "flying flowers," and it was a pretty conceit, for they really were more delicate in texture and brighter in colouring than the garden blooms.
Having been taught that God created the heavens, earth and all things therein, I understood it to mean a literal creation of each separate thing and creature, as when my father cut down a tree and hewed it into a beam. I would spend hours sitting so immovably among the flowers of our garden that the butterflies would mistake me for a plant and alight on my head and hands, while I strove to conceive the greatness of a Being who could devise and colour all those different butterfly wings. I would try to decide whether He created the birds, flowers, or butterflies first; ultimately coming to the conclusion that He put His most exquisite material into the butterflies, and then did the best He could with what remained, on the birds and flowers.
In my home there was a cellar window on the south, covered with wire screening, that was my individual property. Father placed a box beneath it so that I could reach the sill easily, and there were very few butterflies or insects common to eastern North America a specimen of which had not spent some days on that screen, feasted on leaves and flowers, drunk from saucers of sweetened water, been admired and studied in minutest detail, and then set free to enjoy life as before. With Whitman, "I never was possessed with a mania for killing things." I had no idea of what families they were, and I supplied my own names. The Monarch was the Brown Velvet; the Viceroy was his Cousin; the Argynnis was the Silver Spotted; and the Papillo Ajax was the Ribbon butterfly, in my category. There was some thought of naming Ajax, Dolly Varden, but on close inspection it seemed most to resemble the gayly striped ribbons my sisters wore.
I was far afield as to names, but in later years with only a glance at any specimen I could say, "Oh, yes! I always have known that. It has buff-coloured legs, clubbed antennae with buff tips, wings of purplish brown velvet with escalloped margins, a deep band of buff lightly traced with black bordering them, and a pronounced point close [to] the apex of the front pair. When it came to books, all they had to teach me were the names. I had captured and studied butterflies, big, little, and with every conceivable variety of marking, until it was seldom one was found whose least peculiarity was not familiar to me as my own face; but what could this be?The Slender Cocoons Spun Lengthwise on Twigs
It clung to the rough bark, slowly opening and closing large wings of grey velvet down, margined with bands made of shades of grey, tan, and black; banded with a broad stripe of red terra cotta colour with an inside margin of white, widest on the back pair. Both pairs of wings were decorated with half-moons of white, outlined in black and strongly flushed with terra cotta; the front pair near the outer margin had oval markings of blue-black, shaded with grey, outlined with half circles of white, and secondary circles of black. When the wings were raised I could see a face of terra cotta, with small eyes, a broad band of white across the forehead, and an abdomen of terra cotta banded with snowy white above, and spotted with white beneath. Its legs were hairy, and the antennae antlered like small branching ferns. Of course I thought it was a butterfly, and for a time was too filled with wonder to move. Then creeping close, the next time the wings were raised above its body, with the nerveless touch of a robust child I captured it.
I was ten miles from home, but I had spent all my life until the last year on that farm, and I knew and loved every foot of it. To leave it for a city home and the confinement of school almost had broken my heart, but it really was time for me to be having some formal education. It had been the greatest possible treat to be allowed to return to the country for a week, but now my one idea was to go home with my treasure. None of my people had seen a sight like that. If they had, they would have told me.
Borrowing a two-gallon stone jar from the tenant's wife, I searched the garden for flowers sufficiently rare for lining. Nothing so pleased me as some gorgeous deep red peony blooms. Never having been allowed to break the flowers when that was my mother's home, I did not think of doing it because she was not there to know. I knelt and gathered all the fallen petals that were fresh, and then spreading my apron on the ground, jarred the plant, not harder than a light wind might, and all that fell in this manner it seemed right to take. The selection was very pleasing, for the yellow glaze of the jar, the rich red of the petals, and the grey velvet of my prize made a picture over which I stood trembling in delight. The moth was promptly christened the Half-luna, because my father had taught me that luna was the moon, and the half moons on the wings were its most prominent markings.Baggy Twin Cocoons Spun Two Inches Apart
The tenant's wife wanted me to put it in a pasteboard box, but I stubbornly insisted on having the jar, why, I do not know, but I suppose it was because my father's word was gospel to me, and he had said that the best place to keep my specimens was the cellar window, and I must have thought the jar the nearest equivalent to the cellar. The Half-luna did not mind in the least, but went on lazily opening and closing its wings, yet making no attempt to fly. If I had known what it was, or anything of its condition, I would have understood that it had emerged from the cocoon that morning, and never had flown, but was establishing circulation preparatory to taking wing. Being only a small, very ignorant girl, the greatest thing I knew for sure was what I loved.
Tying my sunbonnet over the top of the jar, I stationed myself on the horse block at the front gate. Every passing team was hailed with lifted hand, just as I had seen my father do, and in as perfect an imitation of his voice as a scared little girl making her first venture alone in the big world could muster, I asked, "Which way, Friend?"
For several long, hot hours people went to every point of the compass, but at last a bony young farmer, with a fat wife, and a fatter baby, in a big wagon, were going to my city, and they said I might ride. With quaking heart I handed up my jar, and climbed in, covering all those ten miles in the June sunshine, on a board laid across the wagon bed, tightly clasping the two-gallon jar in my aching arms. The farmer's wife was quite concerned about me. She asked if I had butter, and I said, "Yes, the kind that flies."
I slipped the bonnet enough to let them peep. She did not seem to think much of it, but the farmer laughed until his tanned face was red as an Indian's. His wife insisted on me putting down the jar, and offered to set her foot on it so that it would not 'jounce' much, but I did not propose to risk it 'jouncing' at all, and clung to it persistently. Then she offered to tie her apron over the top of the jar if I would put my bonnet on my head, but I was afraid to attempt the exchange for fear my butterfly would try to escape, and I might crush it, a thing I almost never had allowed to happen.
The farmer's wife stuck her elbow into his ribs, and said, "How's that for the queerest specimen ye ever see?" The farmer answered, "I never saw nothin' like it before." Then she said, ''Aw pshaw! I didn't mean in the jar!" Then they both laughed. I thought they were amused at me, but I had no intention of risking an injury to my Half-luna, for there had been one black day on which I had such a terrible experience that it entailed a lifetime of caution.Where Philip Found a Girl of the Limberlost
I had captured what I afterward learned was an Asterias, that seemed slightly different from any previous specimen, and a yellow swallow-tail, my first Papillo Turnus. The yellow one was the largest, most beautiful butterfly I ever had seen. I was carrying them, one between each thumb and forefinger, and running with all possible speed to reach the screen before my touch could soil the down on their exquisite wings. I stumbled, and fell, so suddenly, there was no time to release them. The black one sailed away with a ragged wing, and the yellow was crushed into a shapeless mass in my hand. I was accustomed to falling off fences, from trees, and into the creek, and because my mother was an invalid I had learned to doctor my own bruises and uncomplainingly go my way. My reputation was that of a very brave little girl; but when I opened my hand and saw that broken butterfly, and my down-painted fingers, I was never more afraid in my life. I screamed aloud in panic, and ran for my mother with all my might. Heartbroken, I could not control my voice to explain as I threw myself on her couch, and before I knew what they were doing, I was surrounded by sisters and the cook with hot water, bandages and camphor.
My mother clasped me in her arms, and rocked me on her breast. "There, there, my poor child," she said, "I know it hurts dreadfully!" And to the cook she commanded, "Pour on camphor quickly! She is half killed, or she never would come to me like this." I found my voice. "Camphor won't do any good," I wailed. "It was the most beautiful butterfly, and I've broken it all to pieces. It must have taken God hours studying how to make it different from all the others, and I know He never will forgive me!' I began sobbing worse than ever. The cook on her knees before me sat on her heels suddenly. "Great Heavens! She's screechin' about breakin' a butterfly, and not her poor fut, at all!" Then I looked down and discovered that I had stubbed my toe in falling, and had left a bloody trail behind me. "Of course I am!" I sobbed indignantly. "Couldn't I wash off a little blood in the creek, and tie up my toe with a dock leaf and some grass? I've killed the most beautiful butterfly, and I know I won't be forgiven!"Cecropia Life History Begins with the Eggs
I opened my tightly clenched hand and showed it to prove my words. The sight was so terrible to me that I jerked my foot from the cook, and thrust my hand into the water, screaming, "Wash it! Wash it! Wash the velvet from my hand! Oh! make it white again!" Before the cook bathed and bandaged my foot, she washed and dried my hand; and my mother whispered, "God knows you never meant to do it, and He is sorry as mother is." So my mother and the cook comforted me. The remainder scattered suddenly. It was years before I knew why, and I was a Shakespearean student before I caught the point to their frequently calling me "Little Lady Macbeth!" After such an experience, it was not probable that I would risk crushing a butterfly to tie a bonnet on my head. It probably would be down my back half the time anyway. It usually was.
As we neared the city I heard the farmer's wife tell him that he must take me to my home. He said he would not do any such a thing, but she said he must. She explained that she knew me, and it would not be decent to put me down where they were going, and leave me to walk home and carry that heavy jar. So the farmer took me to our gate. I thanked him as politely as I knew how, and kissed his wife and the fat baby in payment for their kindness, for I was very grateful. I was so tired I scarcely could set down the jar and straighten my cramped arms when I had the opportunity.
I had expected my family to be delighted over my treasure, but they exhibited an astonishing indifference, and were far more concerned over the state of my blistered face. I would not hear of putting my Half-luna on the basement screen as they suggested, but enthroned it in state on the best lace curtains at a parlour window, covered the sill with leaves and flowers, and went to bed happy. The following morning my sisters said a curtain was ruined, and when they removed it to attempt restoration, the general consensus of opinion seemed to be that something was a nuisance, I could not tell whether it was I, or the Half-luna. On coming to the parlour a little later, ladened with leaves and flowers, my treasure was gone. The cook was sure it had flown from the door over someone's head, and she said very tersely that it was a burning shame, and if such carelessness as that ever occurred again she would quit her job. Such is the confidence of a child that I accepted my loss as an inevitable accident, and tried to be brave to comfort her, although my heart was almost broken. Of course they freed my moth. They never would have dared but that the little mother's couch stood all day empty now, and her chair unused beside it. My disappointment was so deep and far-reaching it made me ill then they scolded me, and said I had half killed myself carrying that heavy jar in the hot sunshine, although the pain from which I suffered was neither in my arms nor sunburned face.Cecropia Caterpillar Ready to Spin
So I lost my first Cecropia, and from that day until a woman grown and much of this material secured, in all my field work among the birds, flowers, and animals, I never had seen another. They had taunted me in museums, and been my envy in private collections, but find one, I could not. When in my field work among the birds, so many moths of other families almost had thrust themselves upon me that I began a collection of reproductions of them, I found little difficulty in securing almost anything else. I could picture Sphinx Moths in any position I chose, and Lunas seemed eager to pose for me. A friend carried to me a beautiful tan-coloured Polyphemus with transparent moons like isinglass set in its wings of softest velvet down, and as for butterflies, it was not necessary to go afield for them; they came to me. I could pick a Papilio Ajax, that some of my friends were years in securing, from the pinks in my garden. A pair of Antiopas spent a night, and waited to be pictured in the morning, among the leaves of my passion vine. Painted Beauties swayed along my flowered walks, and in September a Viceroy reigned in state on every chrysanthemum, and a Monarch was enthroned on every sunbeam. No luck was too good for me, no butterfly or moth too rare, except forever and always the coveted Cecropia, and by this time I had learned to my disgust that it was one of the commonest of all.
Then one summer, late in June, a small boy, having an earnest, eager little face, came to me tugging a large box. He said he had something for me. He said "they called it a butterfly, but he was sure it never was." He was eminently correct. He had a splendid big Cecropia. I was delighted. Of course to have found one myself would have filled my cup to overflowing, but to secure a perfect, living specimen was good enough. For the first time my childish loss seemed in a measure compensated. Then, I only could study a moth to my satisfaction and set it free; now, I could make reproductions so perfect that every antler of its antennae could be counted with the naked eye, and copy its colours accurately, before giving back its liberty.
I asked him whether he wanted money or a picture of it, and as I expected, he said "money," so he was paid. An hour later he came back and said he wanted the picture. On being questioned as to his change of heart, he said "mamma told him to say he wanted the picture, and she would give him the money." My sympathy was with her. I wanted the studies I intended to make of that Cecropia myself, and I wanted them very badly.
I opened the box to examine the moth, and found it so numb with the cold over night, and so worn and helpless, that it could not cling to a leaf or twig. I tried repeatedly, and fearing that it had been subjected to rough treatment, and soon would be lifeless, for these moths live only a short time, I hastily set up a camera focusing on a branch. Then I tried posing my specimen. Until the third time it fell, but the fourth it clung, and crept down a twig, settling at last in a position that far surpassed any posing that I could do. I was very pleased, and yet it made a complication. It had gone so far that it might be off the plate and from focus. It seemed so stupid and helpless that I decided to risk a peep at the glass, and hastily removing the plate and changing the shutter, a slight but most essential alteration was made, everything replaced, and the bulb caught up. There was only a breath of sound as I turned, and then I stood horrified, for my Cecropia was sailing over a large elm tree in a corner of the orchard, and for a block my gaze followed it skyward, flying like a bird before it vanished in the distance, so quickly had it recovered in fresh air and sunshine.Wallace Hardison's Interwoven Twin Cocoons. Left, Male; Right, Female
I have undertaken to describe some very difficult things, but I would not attempt to portray my feelings, and three days later there was no change. It was in the height of my season of field work, and I had several extremely interesting series of bird studies on hand, and many miscellaneous subjects. In those days some pictures were secured that I then thought, and yet feel, will live, but nothing mattered to me. There was a standing joke among my friends that I never would be satisfied with my field work until I had made a study of a "Ha-ha bird," but I doubt if even that specimen would have lifted the gloom of those days. Everything was a drag, and frequently I would think over it all in detail, and roundly bless myself for taking a prize so rare, to me at least, into the open.
The third day stands lurid in my memory. It was the hottest, most difficult day of all my years of experience afield. The temperature ranged from 104 to 108 in the village, and in quarries open to the east, flat fields, and steaming swamps it certainly could have been no cooler. With set cameras I was working for a shot at a hawk that was feeding on all the young birds and rabbits in the vicinity of its nest. I also wanted a number of studies to fill a commission that was pressing me. Subjects for several pictures had been found, and exposures made on them when the weather was so hot that the rubber slide of a plate holder would curl like a horseshoe if not laid on a case, and held flat by a camera while I worked. Perspiration dried, and the landscape took on a sombre black velvet hue, with a liberal sprinkling of gold stars. I sank into a stupor going home, and an old farmer aroused me, and disentangled my horse from a thicket of wild briers into which it had strayed. He said most emphatically that if I did not know enough to remain indoors [in] weather like that, my friends should appoint me a "guardeen."
I reached the village more worn in body and spirit than I ever had been. I felt that I could not endure another degree of heat on the back of my head, and I was much discouraged concerning my work. Why not drop it all, and go where there were cool forests and breezes sighing? Perhaps my studies were not half so good as I thought! Perhaps people would not care for them! For that matter, perhaps the editors and publishers never would give the public an opportunity to see my work at all!
I dragged a heavy load up the steps and swung it to the veranda, and there stood almost paralysed. On the top step, where I could not reach the Cabin door without seeing it, newly emerged, and slowly exercising a pair of big wings, with every gaudy marking fresh with new life, was the finest Cecropia I ever had seen anywhere. Recovering myself with a start, I had it under my net that had waited twenty years to cover it! Inside the door I dropped the net, and the moth crept on my fingers. What luck! What extra golden luck! I almost felt that God had been sorry for me, and sent it there to encourage me to keep on picturing the beauties and wonders of His creations for people who could not go afield to see for themselves, and to teach those who could to protect helpless, harmless things for their use and beauty.Male Out; Head of Female Showing at Half-Past Eleven, May Fourteenth
I walked down the hall, and vaguely scanned the solid rows of books and specimens lining the library walls. I scarcely realized the thought that was in my mind, but what I was looking for was not there. The diningroom then, with panelled walls and curtains of tapestry? It was not there! Straight to the white and gold music room I went. Then a realizing sense came to me. It was Brussels lace for which I was searching! On the most delicate, snowiest place possible, on the finest curtain there, I placed my Cecropia, and then stepped back and gazed at it with a sort of "Touch it over my dead body" sentiment in my heart. An effort was required to arouse myself, to realize that I was not dreaming. To search the fields and woods for twenty years, and then find the specimen I had sought awaiting me at my own door! Well might it have been a dream, but that the Cecropia, clinging to the meshes of the lace, slowly opening and closing its wings to strengthen them for flight, could be nothing but a delightful reality.
A few days later, in the valley of the Wood Robin, while searching for its nest I found a large cocoon. It was above my head, but afterward I secured it by means of a ladder, and carried it home. Shortly there emerged a yet larger Cecropia, and luck seemed with me. I could find them everywhere through June, the time of their emergence, later their eggs, and the tiny caterpillars that hatched from them. During the summer I found these caterpillars, in different stages of growth, until fall, when after their last moult and casting of skin, they reached the final period of feeding; some were over four inches in length, a beautiful shade of greenish blue, with red and yellow warty projections -- tubercles, according to scientific works.
It is easy to find the cocoons these caterpillars spin, because they are the largest woven by any moth, and placed in such a variety of accessible spots. They can be found in orchards, high on branches, and on water sprouts at the base of trees. Frequently they are spun on swamp willows, box-elder, maple, or wild cherry. Mr. Black once found for me the largest cocoon I ever have seen; a pale tan colour with silvery lights, woven against the inside of a hollow log. Perhaps the most beautiful of all, a dull red, was found under the flooring of an old bridge crossing a stream in the heart of the swamp, by a girl not unknown to fiction, who brought it to me. In a deserted orchard close [to] the Wabash, Raymond once found a pair of empty cocoons at the foot of a big apple tree, fastened to the same twigs, and within two inches of each other.
But the most wonderful thing of all occurred when Wallace Hardison, a faithful friend to my work, sawed a board from the roof of his chicken house and carried to me twin Cecropia cocoons, spun so closely together they were touching, and slightly interwoven. By the closest examination I could discover slight difference between them. The one on the right was a trifle fuller in the body, wider at the top, a shade lighter in colour, and the inner case seemed heavier.
All winter those cocoons occupied the place of state in my collection. Every few days I tried them to see if they gave the solid thump indicating healthy pupae, and listened to learn if they were moving. By May they were under constant surveillance. On the fourteenth I was called from home a few hours to attend the funeral of a friend. I think nothing short of a funeral would have taken me, for the moth from a single cocoon had emerged on the eleventh. I hurried home near noon, only to find that I was late, for one was out, and the top of the other cocoon heaving with the movements of the second.
The moth that had escaped was a male. It clung to the side of the board, wings limp, its abdomen damp. The opening from which it came was so covered with terra cotta coloured down that I thought at first it must have disfigured itself; but full development proved it could spare that much and yet appear all right.
In the fall I had driven a nail through one corner of the board, and tacked it against the south side of the Cabin, where I made reproductions of the cocoons. The nail had been left, and now it suggested the same place. A light stroke on the head of the nail, covered with cloth to prevent jarring, fastened the board on a log. Never in all my life did I hurry as on that day, and I called my entire family into service. The Deacon stood at one elbow, Molly-Cotton at the other, and the gardener in the rear. There was not a second to be lost, and no time for an unnecessary movement; for in the heat and bright sunshine those moths would emerge and develop with amazing rapidity.
Molly-Cotton held an umbrella over them to prevent this as much as possible; the Deacon handed plate holders, and Brenner ran errands. Working as fast as I could make my fingers fly in setting up the camera, and getting a focus, the second moth's head was out, its front feet struggling to pull up the body; and its antennae beginning to lift, when I was ready for the first snap at half-past eleven.Male Climbs a Few Steps; Female Half Out
By the time I inserted the slide, turned the plate holder and removed another slide, the first moth to appear had climbed up the board a few steps, and the second was halfway out. Its antennae were nearly horizontal now, and from its position I decided that the wings as they lay in the pupa case were folded neither to the back nor to the front, but pressed against the body in a lengthwise crumpled mass, the heavy front rib, or costa, on top.
Again I changed plates with all speed. By the time I was ready for the third snap the male had reached the top of the board, its wings opened for the first time, and began a queer trembling motion. The second one had emerged and was running into the first, so I held my finger in the line of its advance, and when it climbed on I lowered it to the edge to the board beside the cocoons. It immediately clung to the wood. The big pursy abdomen and smaller antennae, that now turned forward in position, proved this a female. The exposure was made not ten seconds after she cleared the case, and with her back to the lens, so the position and condition of the wings and antennae on emergence can be seen clearly.
Quickly as possible I changed the plates again; the time that elapsed could not have been over half a minute. The male was trying to creep up the wall, and the increase in the length and expansion of the female's wings could be seen. The colours on both were exquisite, but they grew a trifle less brilliant as the moths became dry.
Again I turned to the business of plate changing. The heat was intense, and perspiration was streaming from my face. I called to Molly-Cotton to shield the moths while I made the change. "Drat the moths!" cried the Deacon. "Shade your mother!" Being an obedient girl, she shifted the umbrella, and by the time I was ready for business, the male was on the logs and travelling up the side of the Cabin. The female was climbing toward the logs also, so that a side view showed her wings already beginning to lift above her back.
I had only five snapshot plates in my holders, so I was compelled to stop. It was as well, for surely the record was complete, and I was almost prostrate with excitement and heat. Several days later I opened each of the cocoons and made interior studies. The one on the right was split down the left side and turned back to show the bed of spun silk of exquisite colour that covers the inner case. Some say this silk has no commercial value, as it is cut in lengths reaching from the top around the inner case and back to the top again; others think it can be used. The one on the left was opened down the front of the outer case, the silk parted and the heavy inner case cut from top to bottom to show the smooth interior wall, the thin pupa case burst by the exit of the moth, and the cast caterpillar skin crowded at the bottom.Male Reverses Wings; Female Clears Opening
The pair mated that same night, and the female began laying eggs by noon the following day. She dotted them in lines over the inside of her box, and on leaves placed in it, and at times piled them in a heap instead of placing them as do these moths in freedom. Having taken a picture of a full-grown caterpillar of this moth brought to me by Mr. Andrew Idlewine, I now had a complete Cecropia history; eggs, fullgrown caterpillars, twin cocoons, and the story of the emergence of the moths that wintered in them. I do not suppose Mr. Hardison thought he was doing anything unusual when he brought me those cocoons, yet by bringing them, he made it possible for me to secure this series of twin Cecropia moths, male and female, a thing never before recorded by lepidopterist or photographer so far as I can learn.
The Cecropia is a moth whose acquaintance nature-loving city people can cultivate. In December of 1906, on a tree, maple I think, near No. 2230 North Delaware Street, Indianapolis, I found four cocoons of this moth, and on the next tree, save one, another. Then I began watching, and in the coming days I counted them by the hundred through the city. Several bushels of these cocoons could have been clipped in Indianapolis alone, and there is no reason why any other city that has maple, elm, catalpa, and other shade trees would not have as many, so that anyone who would like can find them easily.
Cecropia cocoons bewilder a beginner by their difference in shape. You cannot determine the sex of the moth by the size of the cocoon. In the case of the twins, the cocoon of the female was the larger, but I have known male and female alike to emerge from large or small. You are fairly sure of selecting a pair if you depend upon weight. The females are heavier than the males, because they emerge with quantities of eggs ready to deposit as soon as they have mated. If anyone wants to winter a pair of moths, they are reasonably sure of doing so by selecting the heaviest and lightest cocoons they can find.
In the selection of cocoons, hold them to the ear, and with a quick motion reverse them end for end. If there is a dull, solid thump, the moth is alive, and will emerge all right. If this thump is lacking, and there is a rattle like a small seed shaking in a dry pod, it means that the caterpillar has gone into the cocoon with one of the tiny parasites that infest these worms, clinging to it, and the pupa has been eaten by the parasite.
In fall and late summer are the best times to find cocoons, as birds tear open many of them in winter; and when weatherbeaten they fade, and do not show the exquisite shadings of silk of those newly spun. When fresh, the colours range from almost white through lightest tans and browns to a genuine red, and there is a silvery effect that is lovely on some of the large, baggy ones, hidden under bridges. Out of doors the moths emerge in middle May or June, but they are earlier in the heat of a house. They are the largest of any species, and exquisitely coloured, the shades being strongest on the upper side of the wings. They differ greatly in size, most males having an average wing sweep of five inches, and a female that emerged in my conservatory from a cocoon that I wintered with particular care had a spread of seven inches, the widest of which I have heard; six and three quarters is a large female. The moth, on appearing, seems all head and abdomen, the wings hanging limp and wet from the shoulders. It at once creeps around until a place where it can hang with the wings down is found, and soon there begins a sort of pumping motion of the body. I imagine this is to start circulation, to exercise parts, and force blood into the wings. They begin to expand, to dry, to take on colour with amazing rapidity, and as soon as they are full size and crisp, the moth commences raising and lowering them slowly, as in flight. If a male, he emerges near ten in the forenoon, and flies at dusk in search of a mate.Male Searching for Shade; Female's Wings Begin to Lift
As the females are very heavy with eggs, they usually remain where they are. After mating they begin almost at once to deposit their eggs, and do not take flight until they have finished. The eggs are round, having a flat top that becomes slightly depressed as they dry. They are of pearl colour, with a touch of brown, changing to greyish as the tiny caterpillars develop. Their outline can be traced through the shell on which they make their first meal when they emerge. Female Cecropias average about three hundred and fifty eggs each, that they sometimes place singly, and again string in rows, or in captivity pile in heaps. In freedom they deposit the eggs mostly on leaves, sometimes the under, sometimes the upper sides or dot them on bark, boards or walls. The percentage of loss of eggs and the young is large, for they are nowhere numerous enough to become a pest, as they certainly would if three hundred caterpillars survived to each female moth. The young feed on apple, willow, maple, box-elder, or wild cherry leaves; and grow through a series of feeding periods and moults, during which they rest for a few days, cast the skin and intestinal lining and then feed for another period.
After the females have finished depositing their eggs, they cling to branches, vines or walls a few days, fly aimlessly at night and then pass out without ever having taken food.
I have painted this moth from a newly emerged female, when all colouring was much stronger than after a few days of life. I have been careful to place the most minute line and trace the finest colour shading from lavender and rose madder at the apex of the wing, to terra cotta, black and white at the base. How perfectly the engravers can reproduce all these complicated markings remains to be seen.Male Begins Wing Exercise; Female Raises Wings
Cecropia has several "Cousins," Promethea, Angulifera, Gloveri, and Cynthia, that vary slightly in marking and more in colour. All are smaller than Cecropia. The male of Promethea is the darkest moth of the Limberlost. The male of Angulifera is a brownish grey, the female reddish, with warm tan colours on her wing borders. She is very beautiful. The markings on the wings of both are not half-moon shaped, as Cecropia and Gloveri, but are oblong, and largest at the point next the apex of the wing.
Gloveri could not be told from Cecropian half-tone reproduction by any save a scientist, so similar are the markings, but in colour they are vastly different, and more beautiful. The only living Gloveri I ever secured was almost done with life, and she was so badly battered I could not think of making a picture of her. The wings are a lovely red wine colour, with warm tan borders, and the crescents are white, with a line of tan and then of black. The abdomen is white striped with wine and black.
Cynthia has pale olive green shadings on both male and female. These are imported moths brought here about 1861 in the hope that they would prove valuable in silk culture. They occur mostly where the ailanthus grows.
My heart goes out to Cecropia because it is such a noble, birdlike, big fellow, and since it has decided to be rare with me no longer, all that is necessary is to pick it up, either in caterpillar, cocoon, or moth, at any season of the year, in almost any location. The Cecropia moth resembles the robin among birds; not alone because he is grey with red markings, but also he haunts the same localities. The robin is the bird of the eaves, the back door, the yard and orchard. Cecropia is the moth. My doorstep is not the only one they grace; my friends have found them in like places. Cecropia cocoons are attached to fences, chicken-coops, barns, houses, and all through the orchards of old country places, so that their emergence at bloom time adds to May and June one more beauty, and frequently I speak of them as the Robin Moth. Cocoon on Right Opened to Show Outer Case and Silk Bedding. On Left to Show Inner Case, Cast Pupa and Caterpillar Skin
In connexion with Cecropia there came to me the most delightful experience of my life. One perfect night during the middle of May, all the world white with tree bloom, touched to radiance with brilliant moonlight, intoxicating with countless blending perfumes, I placed a female Cecropia on the screen of my sleeping-room door and retired. The lot on which the Cabin stands is sloping, so that, although the front foundations are low, my door is at least five feet above the ground, and opens on a circular porch, from which steps lead down between two apple trees, at that time sheeted in bloom. Past midnight I was awakened by soft touches on the screen, faint pullings at the wire. I went to the door and found the porch, orchard, and night-sky alive with Cecropias holding high carnival. I had not supposed there were so many in all this world. From every direction they came floating like birds down the moonbeams. I carefully removed the female from the door to a window close beside, and stepped on the porch. No doubt I was permeated with the odour of the moth. As I advanced to the top step, that lay even with the middle branches of the apple trees, the exquisite big creatures came swarming around me. I could feel them on my hair, my shoulders, and see them settling on my gown and outstretched hands. Far as I could penetrate the night-sky more were coming. They settled on the bloom-laden branches, on the porch pillars, on me indiscriminately. I stepped inside the door with one on each hand and five clinging to my gown. This experience, I am sure, suggested Mrs. Comstock's moth hunting in the Limberlost. Then I went back to the veranda and revelled with the moths until dawn drove them to shelter. One magnificent specimen, birdlike above all the others, I followed across the orchard and yard to a grape arbour, where I picked him from the under side of a leaf after he had settled for the coming day. Repeatedly I counted close to a hundred, and then they would so confuse me by flight I could not be sure I was not numbering the same one twice. With eight males, some of them fine large moths, one superb, from which to choose, my female mated with an insistent, frowsy little scrub lacking two feet and having torn and ragged wings. I needed no surer proof that she had very dim vision.