Monday, 24 October 2016

Hepialus humuli

I was in the garden today, doing some sketching. I spotted something attached to the spider webs that cover this big wall of ivy we have, and it was a dead moth.

I feel affection towards moths; they're so fuzzy and cute. So I took him down and the naturalist in me took some pictures of him lying on the ivy leaf. He has one black eye and one white eye, and it's just his exoskeleton and bits of fluff and wings left.

Why is your eye white, little moth?

It reminds me of a time last July, when I'd first moved into the other house. I was sitting outside and I spotted something fluttering among all the overgrown vines on the ground. It was a big fluffy orange moth, and it was covered in ants. It kept trying to fly away but couldn't. Its wings weren't working, and every time it touched the ground again more ants would crawl onto it. I was filled with horror at what it must be like to be eaten alive, so I saved it. I coaxed it onto a big leaf, carried it to a safe place and squished all the ants. After that it just lay there, and died. It was a beautiful moth, but its wings were deformed and different shapes to each other. It's hard to describe what I felt then. I wanted the moth to survive over the ants so I killed them, and then the moth died anyway. The moth would probably have never survived, but I couldn't just watch it be eaten. I tried in vain at the time to try and find out what moth it was but couldn't because the wings weren't a normal shape. Months later I was flicking through a nature book in a charity shop and saw it. It was a ghost moth, Hepialus humuli!

It was a female ghost moth that I saw because she was bright yellow. They're called ghost moths because the wings of the male are pure white and he hovers, rising and falling, over low ground in his search for a female. I think the one I found today is most likely a common swift, which is in the same family as the ghost moth. He definitely has a similar look about him. In death, that is. I didn't get to meet this one when he was alive.

It makes me wonder: their lives are so short, but do they feel as long as ours? I just can't equate our long lifespan to the less than a year they get. Does a second feel like a minute to them? Do they even have a concept of time? Probably not. I suspect we humans are one of the few that have evolved a sense of our own existence, rather than the live-eat-breed-die that drives everything else. Does a moth ever feel it's coming near the end of its life? Does it ever think of all the little eggs it's laid? Or is it driven by pure instinct? It makes me sad to think of a life that's so easily taken. We don't have predators, we don't have to find our own food, we don't breed every year of our adult lives. In return we're left with such an abundance of free time that we don't know what to do with it so we invent philosophy and think there must be a meaning to it all. Maybe that's why seeing a dead moth brings such a feeling of insignificance to me. I get the same feeling from looking out at the cosmos.

We are all made of star stuff, moths and all.

Limpet x

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