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Giant silkworm moth

Published: Thursday, April 20, 2017 10:19 a.m. CDT

Big news on the Empty Nest Farm! This February, during one of our warm spells, I found what appeared to be a leafy cocoon or chrysalis under our maple tree. It was about as large as my thumb, and seemed to have two twigs poking out of one end. When I picked it up, I could feel movement inside. I laid it down on the picnic table in the unusually warm winter sun, reminiscent of Indian Summer, and sure enough, it bounced around like a Mexican Jumping Bean.

I carried it into the house and hollered for Ginnie to, “Quick, come see!”

She came running. I had the thing lying on the kitchen counter. “Eww,” she said. “What is it? I don’t think I want that thing in my house.”

By this time it had lost its movement. I wondered if I had harmed it by bringing it in.

I took a picture of the thing and posted it on Facebook, asking, “Does anyone know what this is?” I got a lot of response, most of it tongue-in-cheek. A friend from California suggested that I put it in a jar, with holes in the lid, and wait to see what happens.

Well, I did. I set it in Ginnie’s garage, on the barbecue grill, where we would see it every time we passed by. “I think that thing is dead,” Ginnie kept reminding me. I thought so, too. But what the heck? It wasn’t bothering anything, and it wasn’t stinking. Yet.

Lo-and-behold, on April 12, Ginnie was getting in her car to go to town for groceries. This would be her first attempt at driving since her hip-replacement surgery, and her first trip to the grocery store by herself. (I have finally convinced her that’s it’s OK to use the motorized carts.) I checked to make sure she had her cell phone so that she could call in case of problems, or if she couldn’t remember whether we needed milk or not. I waved goodbye and, as I was going back in the house, I saw movement in the jar.

Holy moley, guacamole! The critter was out of its shell and thrashing around. It had a huge abdomen, once again about as big as my thumb, and absurdly tiny wings, like a cartoon bug. I text Ginnie, “It hatched!”

I grabbed a box, dumped the critter into it, and covered the box with plastic wrap. Then, before my eyes, I watched a miracle of spring unfold. Those tiny little wings grew into huge, beautiful sails, with an eye spot on each. Praise God! I hadn’t seen anything like this since the birth of my kids. I was reminded of the proverb, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

Ginnie came home, and we took it’s picture. Once again, I posted it on Facebook. This time, my California friend’s wife identified it as a giant silkworm moth, stating, “The feathery antennae indicates that it’s a male. They use the antennae to ‘smell’ for a female. I’m so jealous!!!”

We turned Silky loose in the flower garden before Buddy could glump him down. With Silky’s freedom, hopefully, will come survival. Although, according to Wikipedia, the male seeks a mate and dies within a couple of hours. Also, that cocoon or chrysalis, is built in tree branches (thus, the twigs sticking out of the end). The “eye” on the wing is for startling a would-be predator into “thinking” it’s an owl. The caterpillar can spend its entire life in the tree and can consume “86,000 times its weight in a little less than two months.” Move over Miss Piggy!

The next morning, as I let Buddy out and retrieved the morning newspaper, I looked to see if Silky was still around. Nope. A nearly full moon winked its eye. Maybe Silky found his bride.

Contact Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526 or curtswarm@yahoo.com

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