Morning Magic With Park Visitors

I was sitting outside at Glenwood Gardens sharing and chatting with guests about the monarch’s life cycle, which is fun enough, when some movement on the ground caught my attention. Being the curious sort, I ventured over to the base of a garbage can and discovered something quite amazing.

Flopping about was a very large moth of tans and brown hues. Its wings, probably six inches across, appeared to be quite damaged and I felt maybe that the beautiful creature was no longer flightworthy. As I was pondering this insect’s fate, I noticed a few feet to the left was another moth of the same size with perfectly intact and vibrantly colored wings. Upon closer inspection, I determined that they were a male (the moth with the damaged wings) and a female Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus). Large, alluring eyespots “stared” out from their lower wings. Their bodies furry like the softest stuffed animal. I was dumbfounded at this magical occurrence.

A Polyphemus moth rests against a tree trunk. Its wings are closed.
The female Polyphemus moth resting against the base of an evergreen tree. (Photo: Doug Stevenson)

Why were they here? What was their story? My line of thinking determined that perhaps they rendezvoused under the nearby lamp post the evening before, as moths are often drawn to lamps being nocturnal beings. At some point in its short adult life of less than a week, the male may have encountered a bat seeking a tasty morsel. Luckily the moth escaped, but not without severe tears to its wings. I am not sure if the two moths successfully mated to carry on their kind. I would like to think so.

Guests were now arriving to the park in larger numbers, so I invited them to view the beautiful moths often never seen due to their nighttime working hours. Attempting to move the moths to a safer location, I carefully picked up the male. I was astounded at its fuzzy body and very large antennae. Usually the male’s antennae are substantially larger than the female’s. I held the calm male on my finger for a moment, and without as much as a “goodbye,” the moth took flight, out of sight up into the trees to safety. I was shocked because its wings so compromised did not keep the moth from staying the course to higher realms.

A brown Polyphemus moth sits on the ground with its wings outstretched. There are black "eyes" on the wings.
The female Polyphemus moth “stares” with her large black and yellow eyespots. (Photo: Doug Stevenson)

My attention then went to the female still on the ground with her wings open. I gently picked her up and tried to coax her to stand on a flower but she fell to the ground – too cold perhaps. I gingerly placed her under an evergreen. She stayed there quite a while as the morning chill kept her from freely moving and vacating the location. After about one hour, she had moved to the base of the tree with her wings now folded. An hour or so later, she was nowhere to be found. She had probably returned to her mysterious world.

A profile view of Polyphemus moth resting against a tree trunk. Its brown wings are closed.
A profile view of the female Polyphemus moth shows off the pattern on her outer wings. (Photo: Doug Stevenson)

I once again was the recipient of a special moment in time that I had never shared before with such secretive creatures. The morning magic lifted my spirits and I dare say all the spirits of the visitors who gasped out loud in awe upon seeing their beauty.

Don’t miss an opportunity to discover your own magic nature moment in one of Great Parks’ 21 parks and preserves. Seize the day!

Susan Sumner
Nature Interpreter, Glenwood Gardens