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Chapter 9

The Sweetheart and the Bride: Catocala Amatyix--Catocala Neogama


There are no moths so common with us as these, for throughout their season, at any time one is wanted, it is sure to be found either on the sweetbrier clambering over the back wall, among the morning- glories on one side, the wistaria and wild grape on the other, or in the shade of the wild clematis in front. On very sunny days, they leave the shelter of the vines, and rest on the logs of the Cabin close the roof of the verandas. Clinging there they appear like large grey flies, for they are of peculiar shape, and the front wings completely cover the back when in repose. A third or a half of the back wings show as they are lifted to balance the the moths when walking over vines and uncertain footing. They are quite conspicuous on our Cabin, because it is built of the red cedar of Wisconsin; were it of the timber used by our grandfathers, these moths with folded wings would be almost indistinguishable from their surroundings.

Few moths can boast greater beauty. The largest specimen of the 'Sweetheart' that homes with us would measure three and one half inches if it would spread its wings full width as do the moths of other species. No moth is more difficult to describe, because of the delicate blending of so many intangible shades. The front wings are a pale, brownish grey, with irregular markings of tan, and dark splotches outlined with fine deep brown lines. The edges are fluted and escalloped, each raised place being touched with a small spot of tan, and above it a narrow escalloped line of brown. The back wings are bright red, crossed by a circular band of brownish black, three-fourths of an inch from the base, a secondary wider band of the same, and edged with pale yellow.

There is no greater surprise in store for a student of moths than to locate a first Catocala Amatrix, and see the softly blended grey front wings suddenly lift, and the vivid red of the back ones flash out. The under sides of the front wings are a warm creamy tan, crossed by wide bands of dark brown and grey-brown, ending in a delicate grey mist at the edges. The back wings are the same tan shade, with red next the abdomen, and crossed by brown bands of deeper shade than the fore-wings. The shoulders are covered with long silky hair like the front wings. This is so delicate that it becomes detached at the slightest touch of vine or leaf. The abdomen is slightly lighter in colour on top, and a creamy tan beneath. The legs are grey, and the feet to the first joint tan, crossed by faint lines of brown.

The head is small, with big prominent eyes that see better by day than most night moths; for Catocala takes precipitate flight at the merest shadow. The antennae are long, delicate and threadlike, and must be broken very easily in the flight of the moth. It is nothing unusual to see them with one antenna shorter than the other, half, or entirely gone; and a perfect specimen with both antennae, and all the haif on its shoulders, is rare. They have a long tongue that uncoils like Lineata, and Celeus, so they are feeders, but not of day, for they never take flight until evening, except when disturbed. The male is smaller than the female, his fore-wings deeply flushed with darker colour and the back brighter red with more black in the bands.

Neogama, another member of this family, is a degree smaller than Amatrix, but of the same shape. The fore-wings are covered with broken lines of different colours, the groundwork grey, with gold flushings, the lines and dots of the border very like the Sweetheart's. The back wings are pure gold, almost reddish, with dark brownish black bands, and yellow borders. The top of the abdomen is a grey-gold colour. Underneath, the markings are nearly the same as Amatrix, but a gold flush suffuses the moth.

There are numbers of these Catocala moths running the colour scheme of-yellow, from pale chrome to umber. Many shade from light pink through the reds to a dark blood colour. Then there is a smaller number having brown back wings and with others they are white.

The only way I know to photograph them is to focus on some favourable spot, mark the place your plate covers in length and width, and then do your best to coax your subjects in range. If they can be persuaded to walk, they will open their wings to a greater or less degree. A reproduction would do them no sort of justice unless the markings of the back wings show. It is on account of the gorgeous colourings of these that scientists call the species `afterwings.'

One would suppose that with so many specimens of this beautiful species living with us and swarming the swamp close by, I would be prepared to give their complete life history; but I know less concerning them than any other moths common with us, and all the scientific works I can buy afford little help. Professional lepidopterists dismiss them with few words. One would-be authority disposes of the species with half a dozen lines. You can find at least a hundred Catocala reproduced from museum specimens and their habitat given, in the Holland "Moth Book", but I fail to learn what I most desire to know: what these moths feed on; how late they live; how their eggs appear; where they are deposited; which is their caterpillar; what does it eat; and where and how does it pupate.

Packard, in his "Guide to the Study of Insects", offers in substance this much help upon the subject: "The genus is beautiful, the species numerous, of large size, often three-inch expansion, and in repose form a flat roof. The larva is elongate, slender, flattened beneath and spotted with black, attenuated at each end, with fleshy filaments on the sides above the legs, while the head is flattened and rather forked above. It feeds on trees and rests attached to the trunks. The pupa is covered with a bluish efflorescence, enclosed in a slight cocoon of silk, spun amongst leaves or bark."

This will tend to bear out my contention that scientific works are not the help they should be to the Nature Lover. Heaven save me from starting to locate Catocala moths, eggs, caterpillars or pupae on the strength of this information. I might find moths by accident; nothing on the subject of eggs; neither colour of body, characteristics nor food, to help identify caterpillars; for the statement, 'it feeds on trees,' cannot be considered exactly illuminating when we remember the world full of trees on which caterpillars are feeding; and should one search for cocoon encased pupae among the leaves and bark of tree-tops or earth?

The most reliable information I have had, concerning these moths of which I know least, comes from Professor Rowley. He is the only lepidopterist of four to whom I applied, who could tell me any of the things I am interested in knowing. He writes in substance: "The Bride and Sweetheart are common northern species, as are most of the other members of the group. The Amatrix, with its red wings, is called the Sweetheart because amor means love, and red is love's own colour. The caterpillar feeds on willow. The Catocala of the yellow "after-wings" is commonly called the Bride, because Neogama, its scientific name, means recently wedded. Its caterpillar feeds on walnut leaves.

"If you will examine the under side of the body of a Catocala moth you will find near the junction of the thorax and abdomen on either side, large open organs reminding one of the ears of a grasshopper, which are on the sides of the first abdominal segment. Examine the bodies of Sphinges and other moths for these same openings. They appear to be ears. Catocala moths feed on juices, and live most of the summer season. Numbers of them have been found sipping sap at a tree freshly cut and you know we take them at night with bait.

"New Orleans sugar and cider or sugar and stale beer are the usual baits. This 'concoction'is put on the bodies of trees with a brush, between eight and ten o'clock at night. During good Catocala years, great numbers of these moths may be taken as they feed at the sweet syrup. So it is proved that their food is sap, honeydew, and other sugary liquids. Mr. George Dodge assures me that he has taken Catocala abbreviatella at milk-weed blooms about eight o'clock of early July evenings. Other species also feed on flowers."

You will observe that in his remarks about the "open organs on the side of the abdominal segment," Professor Rowley may have settled the 'ear' question. I am going to keep sharp watch for these organs, hereafter. I am led to wonder if one could close them in some way and detect any difference in the moth's sense of hearing after having done so.

All of us are enthusiasts about these moths with their modest fore-wings and the gaudy brilliance of the wonderful 'after-wings,' that are so bright as to give common name to the species. We are studying them constantly and hope soon to learn all we care to know of any moths, for our experience with them is quite limited when compared with other visitors from the swamp. But think of the poetry of adding to the long list of birds, animals and insects that temporarily reside with us, a Sweetheart and a Bride!


Gene Stratton-Porter

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