With FD working from home under the COVID-19 Safer at Home guidelines, the pace of life around here has changed a little. It’s much more relaxed since FD doesn’t have to be dressed up for work, or preparing to fly off to some destination. I get up an hour later than usual, at 6:30 now, thanks to Oscar’s gentle pawing at the gate to our bedroom. I let Oscar and Lollipop out to do their morning business, then get a cup of coffee going. By that time, FD is up and I get on the computer for a short time, finish my coffee and head out to do chicken chores and load the Kawasaki Mule with whatever tools I will be needing for the day’s work. I then pack a water jug and head out. FD needs quiet to conduct conference calls and meetings, so I leave the house to him. I cannot run kitchen devices or be clanging and banging around or otherwise carrying on inside, so I keep to the outdoors. Fortunately, spring work in the yard and garden is enjoyable this time of year, and there is plenty to do!
On my way to the barn last week, I was reveling in the cacophony of song from the birds. It had rained during the night and my boots made a squishing noise as I plodded between the two barns. Some big, yellow butterfly or moth was flying erratically in front of me, which I thought was a bit odd this early in the day. Generally, I find insects sunning themselves to warm their wings for flight in the early morning. Suddenly, I realized what I had just seen! It was – a Luna Moth (Actias luna)! I have only seen one of these beautiful moths in my life, and it was a dead one. Picking up my pace to follow the moth’s flight path, I saw it take a turn to the left, but as I rounded the corner to the metal barn, the Luna moth had disappeared. I assumed it probably dove into the tall phlox at the front of the building, so I looked a bit, but realized it would be impossible to find as thick and tall as the phlox was. I continued to the barn to get the chickens set up for the day. It was still quite chilly out so I opened the little chicken door, planning to return later to open the big windows.
At mid-morning, I returned to open the big windows and air out the barn. With forty-three chickens to tend to, the barn needed cleaning more frequently and I generally kept fans blowing on warmer days. Soon, the nighttime temperatures would be warmer and the windows could be left open continuously. As I arrived at the first window, I found the luna moth clinging to the corrugated fiberglass! “How did it get in here?”, I thought, as I reached for my iPhone to snap a picture – only to realize my phone was still in the house! Quickly, I ran back to the house, then to the barn, and captured a few photos. There was no way I would disturb the moth by dropping the window down, so I went to the bigger barn door to leave it open for the day instead. And there, on the inside of the barn door, was another luna moth! I took a few more photographs and realized something was going on. Mostly, I wondered why they were in the barn, and was not so sure that was a good place for them to be. Chickens eat insects, and though the luna moths were perched high enough to be safe, I wasn’t convinced this was a natural spot for them to be in. I decided to look for more lunas in other areas of the barn. Sure enough, I found another in the front part of the barn. This one on a glass window pane.
Once back in the house, quietly researching the luna moth at my computer while FD conducted a staff meeting via his iPhone, I realized this was one of two to three spring broods that occur in the southern United States, from March-September. I also discovered that host trees included persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), of which we had three on the property located near the barn. I learned to determine the male from the female by observing the thickness of their antenna “feathers”. With that knowledge, I determined there was one female and two males in the barn. I observed all three throughout the day, but they stayed where they were. I would have to wait and see what happened during the night. From my research, I learned that mating took place after midnight, so maybe in the dark they could find their way outside and keep safe from the chickens who would be roosting near the opposite wall of the barn.
The next morning, the female had vanished. The two males were still at the windows in separate areas of the barn, and still clinging in the same locations. One looked as though it had tried to get out through a crevice but was not successful. At that point, with the female gone, FD and I decided that the males may need help finding their way out of the barn and needed to be outside where they stood a better chance of mating. We prompted them to make flight without touching them, allowing them to exit the barn into the yard and away from the chickens. One flew to an oak tree and the other to a nearby maple. Both blended in with new leaves. I wondered if we had done the right thing? I hoped so.
Yesterday, I no longer lamented about our decision to “help” the male Lunas escape the barn. While fetching eggs from the chicken nest boxes, I spied a bit of green color in the straw on the floor. On closer inspection. I realized it was what was left of the female luna. A cluster of dried eggs were exposed, and one slender antennae still remained with tattered wings. I removed her from the barn, and laid her near the base of the persimmon tree. I knew the eggs were probably not viable, and the persimmon leaves had been knocked back from a recent, late freeze, but I felt this is where she belonged. I wished I had thought to set all three lunas free from the barn that first day. I am thrilled, though, for the experience the lunas provided and what I discovered about the life cycle of these beautiful woodland moths.
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