Shooting the Sphinx, 3

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

August 11, 2011

I had intended this Note to be about photographing Sphinx moths at night. It was to be the last in the series. However, there are some new developments in my discovery learning process, and I hope you will indulge me for a few more days.

First, I have found a giant stand of Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) along the edge of a nearby cornfield. It has Sphinx moths.

Second, we are approaching full moon, and I would like to see what effect, if any, this has on the moths. Stay tuned.

For now, I give you two other personal records–and a cautionary tale on the price of genius.

Lettered Sphinx (Deidamia inscriptum)

Lettered Sphinx (Deidamia inscriptum)

The first personal record is a Lettered Sphinx (Deidamia inscriptum), which flew into my home on 2 May of 2008 and posed very nicely on our living room curtains. It is the only Lettered Sphinx that I have ever seen.

The second personal record is for an adult Pandorus Sphinx. I had seen them in flight before, but this time I got a good up-close look–several times over.

Now, my beloved wife is not the “eeek, it’s a bug, kill it” screechy, shrieky kind of a person. In fact, living with me, lo these many years, she has developed considerable sang froid when it comes to, oh, dead things in the freezer, bugs in bags, plant specimens on the breakfast table, and her kitchen shears used for things that most would consider…unhygienic, at best.

However, she is not tolerant of any large insect that can suddenly take wing and zip around the room. Doesn’t like it. You can tell she doesn’t like it because she narrows her eyes, speaks slowly and calmly, and says things like “You need to get that creature out of my house,” or “Take that thing outside, now,”or some similar intolerant command.

I’ve tried to change her, but some attitudes…. Well, you’ve got to want to change, don’t you?

On the last day of July, I had staked out the cleome patch at my front door. At around quarter past nine it started to rain, and I had to take the camera inside (digital cameras and rain are not a winning combination).

I was fascinated to see that the moths continued flying, disregarding the rain.

It was then that I had my flash of genius: by propping the front door open, I could photograph from the shelter of the house.

The moths cooperated. In fact they continued to fly until the rain became a heavy downpour, at which point they disappeared to, I don’t know where–with one exception.

A very large sphinx buzzed right by me and flew immediately into the kitchen. It was a Pandorus Sphinx–a big bug. The body is about the size of a hummingbird (minus tail feathers), and the wingspan, coming in at around five inches, a little bit larger than the hummers’.

It certainly qualified as a “large insect that can suddenly take wing and zip around the room.”

Pandorus Sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus)

Pandorus Sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus)

It lit on a decorative basket at first, and I was able to get a nice picture (not a particularly good environmental shot, but not a bad picture).

It did not, however, like the flash, which seemed to blind it, and it proceeded to beat itself alarmingly against the furniture.

I tried to catch it, but it went to ground behind the corner cupboard. Thinking perhaps it might be attracted to light, I turned on the porch light, turned off all the lights in the house, and opened the window.

Another sphinx (Carolina Sphinx) flew in.

This moth kept wanting to tangle with my ceiling fan. I really didn’t want to see the moth get hurt, so I turned the fan off and stopped it by ramming my hand into the blades (yes, that hurts, no, it will not cut your hand off, and no, you should not try it).

The Carolina also headed for the corner cupboard. I flushed them both out, gently, with a long-handled spoon. The Carolina, thankfully, flew across the room and lit on a dishtowel, and I was able to gently take it outside and shake it off.  The Pandorus took off for the interior of the house.

I searched high and low for the Pandorus. I can’t just leave it because I know that it will choose to “reveal” itself in some unpleasant manner the moment my wife drags home from her late shift at the hospital.

I gotta find that bug.

So I’m doing a room-to-room search–shaking curtains, looking behind furniture, under tables: nothing. The closet door is slightly ajar; I peek inside, and the darn thing explodes out of the closet, hits me in the face, and disappears up the stairs.

At this point my wife’s attitude does not seem so unjustified.

I chase the thing upstairs, where I basically repeat the room-to-room scenario. This time it comes buzzing out of a curtain–and disappears back downstairs. So begins another room-to-room search.

I have now been at this for more than two hours. I have a sense of dread.

I can’t find the moth. I am discouraged, disheartened, dispirited,  My wife is due home at any moment. The usual sweet savor of my heart’s delight returning to my arms has become as ashes in my mouth. An advent that normally fills me with joy, fills me with foreboding, a sense that this is not going to end well.

I go for a cold drink.

The moth explodes from the space between the doors of the refrigerator.

It flies around the room frantically for a while, then it lands on a chair. I move ever so slowly toward it, speaking in soothing tones (honestly, to an insect), and I pick the up the chair. I walk slowly a-tiptoe through the living room to the big back-porch door, slide the screen door open, and step into the night. Gently, I set down the chair and let out a sigh of relief.  Free at last, the moth flies–back into the house.

Once more I find myself talking to the moth, but now the words are not so soothing. I have a lot of experience with what Mr. Spock famously called “colorful metaphors.” I was, in a former life, renowned for applying such metaphors to unhappy situations. They worked then, and they work now. The moth, buffeted by a gale of professional-level malediction, fled through the still-open door and into the night.

Next time: photographing night flyers (I promise).

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2 Responses

  1. donald h. miller, Ph.D (prof. emeritus) said:

    I’m not quite sure how i got on
    your site but it is wonderful.
    I liked your commentary about
    your interaction with your beloved,
    bugs in the frig, etc., plus the
    beautiful photographs.

    Please keep in touch.

    Don H. Miller-Lyndonville, Vt.
    PS: I wondered if you knew Allen
    H. Benton of Fredonia?

    • Sir,
      Thank you so much. I’m glad you liked it. I just finished that series tonight. May I ask what your Ph.D is in? I worked with an interesting crowd, mostly at the doctoral or diplomaed engineer level, when I was overseas–learned much.

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