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Chapter 11

The Garden Fly: Protoparce Carolina


Protoparce Carolina is a 'cousin' of Celeus, and so nearly its double that the caterpillars and moths must be seen together to be differentiated by amateurs; while it is doubtful if skilled scientists can always identify the pupa cases with certainty. Carolina is more common in the south, but it is frequent throughout the north. Its caterpillars eat the same food as Celeus, and are the same size. They are a dull green, while Celeus is shining, and during the succession of moults, they show slight variations in colour.

They pupate in a hole in the ground. The moths on close examination show quite a difference from Celeus. They are darker in colour. The fore-wings lack the effect of being laid off in lines. The colour is a mottling of almost black, darkest grey, lighter grey, brown, and white. The back wings are crossed by wavy bands of brownish grey, black, and tan colour, and the yellow markings on the abdomen are larger.

In repose, these moths fold the front wings over the back like large flies. In fact, in the south they are called the `Tobacco Fly' ; and we of the north should add the `Tomato and Potato Fly.' Because I thought such a picture would be of interest, I reproduced a pair---the male as he clung to a piece of pasteboard in the `fly' attitude.

Celeus and Carolina caterpillars come the nearest being pests of those of any large moths, because they feed on tomato, potato, and tobacco, but they also eat jimson weed, ground cherry, and several vines that are of no use to average folk.

The Carolina moths come from their pupa cases as featherweights step into the sparring. They feed partially by day, and their big eyes surely see more than those of most other moths, that seem small and deepset in comparison. Their legs are long, and not so hairy as is the rule. They have none of the blind, aimless, helpless appearance of moths that do not feed. They exercise violently in the pupa cases before they burst the shields, and when they emerge their eyes glow and dilate. They step with firmness and assurance, as if they knew where they wanted to go, and how to arrive. They are of direct swift flight, and much experience and dexterity are required to take them on wing.

Both my Carolina moths emerged in late afternoon, about four o'clock, near the time their kind take flight to hunt for food. The light was poor in the Cabin, so I set up my camera and focused on a sweetbrier climbing over the back door.

The newly emerged moth was travelling briskly in that first exercise it takes, while I arranged my camera; so by the time I was ready, it had reached the place to rest quietly until its wings developed. Carolina climbed on my finger with all assurance, walked briskly from it to the roses, and clung there firmly.

The wet wings dropped into position, and the sun dried them rapidly. I fell in love with my subject. He stepped around so jauntily in comparison with most moths. The picture he made while clinging to the roses during the first exposure was lovely.

His slender, trim legs seemed to have three long joints, and two short in the feet. In his sidewise position toward the lens, the abdomen showed silver-white beneath, silvery grey on the sides, and large patches of orange surrounded by black, with touches of white on top. His wings were folded together on his back as they drooped, showing only the under sides, and on these the markings were more clearly defined than on top. In the sunlight the fore pair were a warm tan grey, exquisitely lined and shaded. They were a little more than half covered by the back pair, that folded over them. These were a darker grey, with tan and almost black shadings, and crossed by sharply zig-zagging lines of black. The grey legs were banded by lines of white. The first pair clung to the stamens of the rose, the second to the petals, and the third stretched out and rested on a leaf.

There were beautiful markings of very dark colour and white on the thorax, head, shoulders, and back wings next the body. The big eyes, quite the largest of any moth I remember, reminded me of owl eyes in the light. The antennae, dark, grey-brown on top, and white on the under side, turned back and drooped beside the costa, no doubt in the position they occupied in the pupa case.

The location was so warm, and the moth dried so rapidly, that by the time two good studies were made of him in this position, he felt able to step to some leaves, and with no warning whatever, reversed his wings to the `fly' position, so that only the top side of the front pair showed. The colour was very rich and beautiful, but so broken in small patches and lines, as to be difficult to describe. With the reversal of the wings the antennae flared a little higher, and the exercise of the sucking tube began. The moth would expose the whole length of the tube in a coil, which it would make larger and contract by turns, at times drawing it from sight. When it was uncoiled the farthest, a cleft in the face where it fitted could be seen.

The next day my second Carolina case produced a beautiful female. The history of her emergence was exactly similar to that of the male. Her head, shoulders, and abdomen seemed nearly twice the size of his, while her wings but a trifle, if any larger.

As these moths are feeders, and live for weeks, I presume when the female has deposited her eggs, the abdomen contracts, and loses its weight so that she does not require the large wings of the females that only deposit their eggs and die. They are very heavy, and if forced to flight must have big wings to support them. I was so interested in this that I slightly chloroformed the female, and made a study of the pair. The male was fully alive and alert, but they had not mated, and he would not take wing. He clung in his natural position, so that he resembled a big fly, on the smooth side of the sheet of corrugated paper on which I placed the female. His wings folded over each other. The abdomen and the antennae were invisible, because they were laid flat on the costa of each wing.

The female clung to the board, in any position in which she was placed. Her tongue readily uncoiled, showing its extreme length, and curled around a pin. With a camel'shair brush I gently spread her wings to show how near they were the size of the male's, and how much larger her body was.

Her fore-wings were a trifle lighter in colour than the male's, and not so broken with small markings. The back wings were very similar. Her antennae stood straight out from the head on each side, of their own volition and differed from the male's. It has been my observation that in repose these moths fold the antennae as shown by the male. The position of the female was unnatural. In flight, or when feeding, the antennae are raised, and used as a guide in finding food flowers. A moth with broken antennae seems dazed and helpless, and in great distress.

I have learned by experience in handling moths, that when I induce one to climb upon bark, branch, or flower for a study, they seldom place their wings as I want them. Often it takes long and patient coaxing, and they are sensitive to touch. If I try to force a fore-wing with my fingers to secure a wider sweep, so that the markings of the back wings show, the moths resent it by closing them closer than before, climbing to a different location or often taking flight.

But if I use a fine camel's-hair brush, that lacks the pulsation of circulation, and gently stroke the wing, and sides of the abdomen, the moths seems to like the sensation and grow sleepy or hypnotized. By using the brush I never fail to get wing extension that will show markings, and at the same time the feet and body are in a natural position. After all is said there is to say, and done there is to do, the final summing up and judgment of any work on Natural History will depend upon whether it is true to nature. It is for this reason I often have waited for days and searched over untold miles to find the right location, even the exact leaf, twig or branch on which a subject should be placed.

I plead guilty to the use of an anesthetic in this chapter only to show the tongue extension of Carolina, because it is the extremest with which I am acquainted; and to coaxing wide wing sweep with the camel'shair brush; otherwise either the fact that my subjects are too close emergence ever to have taken flight, or sex attraction alone holds them.

If you do not discover love running through every line of this text and see it shining from the face of each study and painting, you do not read aright and your eyes need attention. Again and again to the protests of my family, I have made answer--

"To work we love we rise betimes, and go to it with delight."

From the middle of May to the end of June of the year I was most occupied with this book, my room was filled with cocoons and pupa cases. The encased moths I had reason to believe were on the point of appearing lay on a chair beside my bed or a tray close my pillow. That month I did not average two hours of sleep in a night, and had less in the daytime. I not only arose `betimes,' but at any time I heard a scratching and tugging moth working to enter the world, and when its head was out, I was up and ready with note-book and camera. Day helped the matter but slightly, for any moth emerging in the night had to be provided a location, and pictured before ten o'clock or it was not safe to take it outside. Then I had literally 'to fly' to develop the plate, make my print and secure exact colour reproduction while the moth was fresh.

For this is a point to remember in photographing a moth. A FREE LIVING MOTH NEVER RAISES ITS WINGS HIGHER THAN A STRAIGHT LINE FROM THE BASES CROSSING THE TOP OF THE THORAX. It requires expert and adept coaxing to get them horizontal with their bases. If you do, you show all markings required; and preserve natural values, quite the most important things to be considered.

I made a discovery with Carolina. Moths having digestive organs and that are feeders are susceptible to anaesthetics in a far higher degree than those that do not feed. Many scientific workers confess to having poured full strength chloroform directly on nonfeeders, mounted them as pinned specimens and later found them living; so that sensitive lepidopterists have abandoned its use for the cyanide or gasoline jar. I intended to give only a whiff of chloroform to this moth, just enough that she would allow her tongue to remain uncoiled until I could snap its fullest extent, but I could not revive her. The same amount would have had no effect whatever on a non-feeder,


Gene Stratton-Porter

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