Metamorphosis in Moths and Life
by Jeff Tome
Metamorphosis. It is the process of transformation. Life seems to be a never-ending process of transformation over time. We have all felt it, that feeling you get when something new grabs your interest and a whole new world opens up before you.
Get a close up look at some of the beautiful moths that emerge at night in early June at “Moths, Rock and Hops” on June 6th at the Audubon Nature Center. Photo by Jeff Tome.
There are certain times in life when those things are celebrated in huge community gathering. Weddings and birth and death are all acknowledged in giant gatherings of family and friends to show their support for the change. There is a time in life when weddings, bridal showers and baby showers seem to be all over the place.
Those experiencing those changes can’t even begin to understand all that will change as they move forward. It’s impossible to predict how joining your life to another’s will change you over time or how having tiny little lives depend upon you for everything will change your outlook.
Other transformations happen quietly and internally. Sudden passions for new pastimes introduce you to new people, new ideas and new things. It might be a new hobby, like photography, writing, gardening or genealogy. It might be a sport that you get involved in, like running, roller derby or cricket.
These Promethea Moth caterpillars were raised all last summer at the Audubon Nature Center. The adults will be emerging soon.
These things seem like something new and interesting at the time, but they can fundamentally change how you look at the world. A photographer starts to notice the quality of light and textures of the surroundings. Gardeners notice how landscapes blend into and enhance their surroundings. Genealogy brings a strong sense of the past into the present, an idea of where we have come from and how we have gotten here.
Change and transformation can start in the oddest places. Sometimes it seems to happen in a flash, like that moment when someone handed me this tiny baby and told me she was mine. Other times it happens slowly over time, such as the way photography has slowly changed my perspective and what I notice in the world.
Cecropia moths are one of the giant silk moths that emerge in summer.
Metamorphosis for moths can also happen fast or slow. Last summer, someone gave us the caretaking of several dozen Promethea Moth caterpillars. These slow growing caterpillars ate leaf after leaf after leaf, till they were the size of little green sausages last August. At that point, they wrapped a cocoon around themselves. They have been that way ever since.
The cocoons have been shuffled around the building a little bit. They lived in the lobby for a little while, then the auditorium, then a closet. They currently are hanging out on the corner of a back porch, waiting to emerge. Metamorphosis, the big transformation, is coming soon.
They will change from hungry little sausages to mating machines. These giant silk moths emerge in May and June without stomachs or mouths and only live a few days. They mate, lay eggs and die, their transformation complete.
Music at Moths, Rocks and Hops will be by local musicians Davis and Eng, who perform a mix of folk rock, swing and jazz.
To see one in the wild, the timing has to be right. The adults are only flying around for three weeks or so. Fewer and fewer live to adulthood, as parasitic wasps introduced for Gypsy Moth control have taken their toll on the caterpillars.
To celebrate their arrival, the Audubon Nature Center will be hosting a moth celebration, complete with music, adult drinks and, of course, moths. “Moths, Rock and Hops” will take place on June 6th from 8:30pm-10:00pm. Live music will be provided by Davis and Engs, a duo that performs Jazz and Blues. White sheets with black lights, as well as some special moth goo, will attract the various kinds of moths to the event. In addition, the moths on the porch should be coming out to join the fun.
Other moths that come out may be longer lived. Not all moths emerge without stomachs. Some emerge hungry. They can be attracted to banana mash and rum or white flowers in the garden. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some are beautifully colored, others look remarkably like twigs, sticks or leaves.
Come celebrate these ephemeral spirits of the night with us in June. The Audubon Nature Center is located at 1600 Riverside Road near Jamestown, NY or online at http://jamestownaudubon.org. Keep track of what is happening at the nature center on Facebook at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary.
Jeff is senior naturalist at the Nature Center.