Sunday, June 27, 2010

Imperial Moth(s) at Our Little Acre

When I go out to the gardens, 99% of the time I take my camera with me because you just never know when something amazing will present itself.  The other 1% of the time, I wish I'd grabbed it as I went out the door. You'd think I'd learn.

Thursday was one of those 1% times, and I really thought I'd been through the garden without seeing anything that I hadn't seen or photographed before.  As I left Max's Garden and headed toward the house, I glanced over at the grape arbor and something caught my eye.  I had to do a double-take, because it took a second for my brain to register that there was something different about the scene.

When I looked the second time, my eye was drawn to the bottom of one of the 4x4 posts, where I spotted a HUGE moth.  I didn't recognize it, other than I knew it wasn't a Luna Moth, because this one was bright yellow and Luna Moths are green. Lunas also have long tails and this one didn't.  I sprinted for the house to get my camera before it flew away.

Upon my return, I turned my camera on and used the 20x optical zoom to zero in on it and snapped a couple of photos.  I inched my way closer until I was a mere inches from it, but it didn't move a speck.  What a beautiful moth it was!

I took a couple more photos, then went back into the house.  Romie was due home from work in a couple of hours, and though I had the pictures, I knew he'd want to see it for real, so I went back out and gently picked it up to bring inside.

We've raised Monarch caterpillars in the house all the way through their metamorphosis, then released them after they emerged as adult butterflies.  For this, we always use a rather tall punch bowl with panty hose stretched across the top.  I put the moth into the bowl, and covered it.

In the hours until Romie came home, I looked it up online and identified the moth as one of the Wild Silk Moths, subfamily Royal Moths.  It was an Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis) and is native to our area, though this was the first time I'd ever seen one. I found it interesting though, that there have been no reported sightings of it in the Ohio counties surrounding ours, with the closest being three counties away.

The life cycle of the Imperial Moth is such that they burrow into the ground as caterpillars in late summer to pupate during the winter, then emerge before sunrise June through August.  The female positions herself in one spot and emits pheromones, the scent of which the male picks up in the wind, leading him to her from as far away as a mile.Sometime after midnight following that same day, they will mate.

Around dusk, she will lay her eggs on any number of host plants, such as pines, sweet gums, maples, oaks, sassafrass and box elders, although the list of what they will eat in the absence of these is quite long.  She will lay eggs singly or in groups of 2-5 eggs on the underneath sides of the leaves, and in 10-15 days, the caterpillars will emerge and feed on the leaves.The adult moth does not feed and dies shortly after laying eggs.

I left the room while Romie was still looking at the moth and went about my business, not giving the moth another thought except to think to myself that I wanted to keep her. I know I might be criticized for doing this, and perhaps rightfully so, but it's not endangered and I rationalized that she was going to die soon anyway.

The next morning, I went into the room to check on her and I found the punch bowl without its covering and I'd assumed that Romie had let it go after looking at it.  Okay, no big deal really.  When he got home from work Friday night, I asked him if he'd let the moth go.  "No," he told me.  I didn't believe him at first, although he did admit taking the cover off the bowl.

We went into the dining room to look for it and found it resting on the side of our china cabinet.  Just below that, there was a cardboard box with an open lid and she'd laid a cluster of eggs there.  Not 2-5 eggs, but more like 20.  Upon further inspection, she'd also laid a similar cluster on the side of a Longaberger basket nearby.  I kept looking and found another large cluster on the side of one of the dining room chair legs and even some on the carpeted floor.

I had actually stepped on the ones on the carpet with my bare feet and felt them.  I picked those off the carpet and was surprised to feel how hard they were.  They were tiny and yellow, about the size of a seed bead (less than 2mm in diameter).  I decided to gather the eggs and put them in a small dish.  I'd read that this was the thing to do, then cover - with air holes - and place them in a warm, slightly humid environment.

It wasn't practical to take the eggs outside at this point, because I couldn't attach them to host leaves, so I took them to our upstairs bathroom, where they'll be warm and the humidity is higher.  Now the watch is on, with the first possibility of emerging on July 5th and the last being on July 10th.  Hopefully, I'll get to see at least some of them emerge before leaving for Buffa10.

Once the caterpillars emerge, we'll take them to the leaves of any number of host plants that we have here at Our Little Acre. (Sweet gum, oak, pine, maple.)  I estimate she laid about 75 eggs. That would be a lot of little caterpillars!

The day after she laid the eggs, she went missing.  We searched and searched every surface of every single thing in the dining room, but we couldn't find her.  We knew she had to be in there, but she was nowhere to be found.  This morning, she came out of hiding and was seen under one of the plant stands, not moving right away when I touched her.  I honestly thought she was dead already, but she fluttered a wing a little bit. I don't think it will be long though before she dies.  She's fulfilled her life's purpose.

Upon further reading, the possibility exists that this female didn't mate and the eggs are infertile.  Only time will tell.


Diane said...

How cool! I love the thought of the mom hiding in the house. I have my fingers crossed that the eggs hatch. You are going to have so many caterpillars!! I hope you are around to see them hatch, and that someone will take pictures while you're away.

RURAL said...

Really amazing, especially to someone who has never seen such a beautiful moth.

Can't wait to see what happens with the eggs.

I just saw your header, funny, I have almost the same shot of my sister's cat drinking out of her pond. Boleen, is a darling, and she loves to watch the fish.


Lona said...

I have never saw one before Kylee. How pretty. Oh, I hope the eggs hatch. It would be wonderful to see them grow even if I am not found of wiggly things LOL!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

We have had these beauties in our garden too. I hope some of the eggs hatch for you. It will be fun to see them.

KMG said...

I hope you will post whether or not they hatch. I have seriously thought about ordering some butterfly eggs this year - I've only seen one butterfly in my yard and the yard is full of all sorts of butterfly flowers - scary!

CanadianGardenJoy said...

Oh my goodness Kylee !
That was an amazing story and I too am very curious to know how this will turn out.
My story is a little sad .. we had so many beautiful caterpillers on my dill and fennel pot we thought for sure we would see the whole cycle happen with them .. but after counting almost8 or 9 of them .. all but one has disappeared .. we think they may have inched too far out and dropped to fall through the cracks of the timber on the deck .. if I had known they would survive indoors with lots of greens to eat I would have done that !
Next year I will keep that in mind if this amazing life cycle happens for us (I really hope so !)
Your moth is gorgeous and what an experience to have !
Joy : )

Kylee Baumle said...

Joy ~ Oh I'll bet your caterpillars are just fine! Caterpillars generally leave the plant they've been eating to pupate. They need a protected, safe place in order to do that. They're likely wrapped up in their chrysalids, hanging from a leaf or plant stem somewhere. I'm guessing you had Swallowtail cats. Look up what their chrysalids look like, then keep your eyes open for it!

Garden Lily said...

Wow, that is very exciting. We look forward to hearing more. I'm surprised by the 10 - 15 days, that is very quick. I guess I'm a tiny bit of a romantic, since as I was reading the story, I was imagining how cool it would be if a male had sniffed her out from afar, and was on the outside of your screen door looking for her. Let us know when / if they hatch!

Stone Art's Blog said...

That moth is awesome, they are amazing things, with some of the most amazing patterns and colours

Kari L√łnning said...

Is the wood you photographed her on a 4"x4"? She's huge. I hope the eggs hatch and that you'll let us know.

Kylee Baumle said...

Garden Lily ~ It is quick, isn't it? I love your romantic view to it! I will keep you posted as to what happens!

Stone Art ~ I always wonder what the purpose of a moth's life is when it can't even eat once it's grown and only lives such a short time!

Kari ~ Yes, 4"x4". Her wingspan is about six inches, so yes, she's huge! I will for sure let you know the outcome of the eggs!

Joseph said...

I just found this blog in a google search... To summarize, I just found one of these myself. And for whatever reason I had the same impulse to snag it- it's now in a hermit crab cage that I lined with paper towels. I had found her in the back of the garage on the door.

Any advice on what to do? She was disoriented when I moved her but otherwise seems pretty calm.

I can't decide if I should release her so she can find someone to mate with or wait to see if she lays eggs. If she's still looking for someone, she won't find him in a cage, but she probably wouldn't have found him in the back of a garage and I'm afraid that it would be dangerous to put her in an open area.

If I keep her and she lays eggs, it could be a problem since I'm moving from the suburbs to a city in about a week. I might could find someone though to raise them though. I guess I will let her out tonight if I don't know what else to do.

garden girl said...

How cool Kylee! The little eggs are beautiful.

Anonymous said...

My husband was working on something and needed our back door opened. Suddenly this huge moth flew in. My kids have one of those live butterfly garden habitats. We are actually waiting for those caterpillers to arrive in the male. Anyway my kids were sleeping at the time and I wanted thme to see it so I caight the moth and put it in the habitat. I lookek it up online and discovered it was an imperial moth and it was female. When I woke up I noticed she layed eggs. I think i will feed them leaves our sweetgum tree in the back if they hatch.

Unknown said...

Hi I just wanted to say I found one here at the campground in Jefferson,Ia. The moth is wonderful at first I thought it was a large brown leaf and when I took a closer look I new it was a moth. I read your storey and found it fascinating, will be showing the pic to the DNT here where I live. Y
Thank you for your info.

Stephanie Hammond said...

Hello,Thank you for this information. I found one of these moths just yesterday and I had put her in a large bowl with some grass so my son could see it. I kept checking on her and noticed all these small yellow balls all over the grass leaves. I thought to myself those weren't there when I pulled the grass. Then I thought surely they couldn't poo that much. When I realized they were her eggs. I let the mother out cause I felt bad and didn't want anything to happen to her. I didn't know until I read this that she would pass after laying the eggs. This will be a nice project for my son to watch and to document for a future school project. ( By the way I live in Mt. Sterling, Ohio and I have never seen anything like this. It was quite beautiful)

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