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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: What the Heck? | 08-25-2016
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1993 - Federal govt. declares coastal California gnatcatcher (bird) a threatened species [story]


Commentary by Mari Carbajal
| Thursday, Aug 25, 2016

maricarbajalIt was bedtime at the Carbajal home. Everything was quiet. A soft breeze entered through the window. The alarm was set for work, a glass of water sat by the bedside, and Mari lay adorned in her nighty-nights.

Had the alarm really been set? She thought it had been, but there was that nagging, familiar question: Had she set it for a.m. or p.m. in a drowsy state? An all-too-frequent mistake in a rush to get some sleep.

Mari turned on the light to check the alarm. It was fine. But just as she went to turn off the light, an enormous animal flew into the room.

At first she thought it was a hummingbird. But at night, and so late? No, it wasn’t that at all.

All of a sudden, this flying monster came closer at the speed of light, directly toward the light over Mari’s head.

Mari ducked under the covers and was afraid to peek outside the safety of the sheet. She gained enough courage to see where and what this animal was and slowly lowered the sheet from her face.

On the wall perched the largest moth – ever.

It was as big as a small bird – much bigger than a hummingbird.

The moth took off from the wall with amazing grace and flew around the room. It appeared frightened and unsure of where it should go. Mari hoped it would just go back out the open window, but the moth seemed to start enjoying its boisterous aerobatics.

Shrieks could be heard as Mari once again went headfirst under the covers as the enormous moth again flew over her head.

Then her cat entered the room and was delighted to participate and join in the fun.

He began chasing the flying monster around and around. The cat pounced on the nightstand to catch the lurid animal, and the glass of water went flying across the bed where Mari was hiding – but now hiding in a soaked nighty-night.

Tired of the antics and wanting nothing but to go to sleep in peace, Mari got up from hiding and ran into the kitchen for a large container with a lid. The hunt was on.

She reentered the bedroom, and resting on top of the bed was the motionless Mothasaurus. Surely it was anticipating its next move, she thought. Quickly, Mari lunged forward with container in hand, knocking the cat off of the bed and capturing the horrendous beast.

Victory. But what was it? It filled the entire plastic container.

After doing some research, Mari found this beautiful creature to be a Manduca sexta, which is a moth of the family sphingidae. It’s also known as a Caroline sphinx moth and inhabits most of the continental United States.

What a spectacular animal. Even though it caused some major havoc, it was a pleasure to inspect the moth up close.

This was no ordinary little moth. “Little” is not a word to use in its description. Its body was 1 inch in width, with a wingspan of nearly 5 inches. No wonder it flew with such precision.

As larvae, they are called a tobacco hornworm or a goliath worm and are often confused with tomato worms. Tomato worms have blue-black horns, while tobacco hornworms have red horns. The tobacco hornworm larva grows to nearly 2-3/4 inches in length.

The adult moths are nectarivorous and feed on various species of flowers. As amazing as it sounds, they have the ability to hover – not too far off from Mari’s first impression of it being a hummingbird.

Adult males and females are sexually dimorphic. You can identify the male by his broader antennae. The female moth is ready to mate one week after emerging from the pupae state as an adult, but she mates only one time. Males mate many times in their life.

After mating, females deposit their fertilized eggs on the underside of leaves. The eggs are a translucent green and hatch in two to four days. Of course, the growth is followed by a pre-pupa and pupa stage until the moth finally emerges as an adult.

Unfortunately, Mari found that the lifespan of this species is only 30 to 50 days. How sad, she thought, that such a wonderful animal would have such a short time to live.

Feeling horrible for hiding under the covers and not spending more time to observe this amazing animal, especially in flight, Mari named it “What-the-Heck” and released it back into the wilds of Agua Dulce.

The End.

 

Mari Carbajal is a docent-naturalist at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

 

moth

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Patrick Comey says:

    What a wonderful story and a reminder to appreciate the beauty of nature!

  2. Like the one we saw in Saugus

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