Promethea moth, otherwise known as a spicebush silk moth. PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL CALVERT

Nature: Promethea abound



When you are paying attention, nature is full of surprises

A friend on the island sent me a message this week about many big, beautiful moths gathering on a bush near his home. They were not as large as the Luna moths are, but they were still large enough to attract attention, and they were very colorful. He sent excellent photos for identificationI thought I needed help, so I contacted the state entomologist, and she was very helpful.  

It seems from the photographs that the moth is a promethea moth. This moth resembles a tuliptree silk moth in its mating ritualI have observed Luna moths gathered for mating purposes, and it is impressive no matter what moth it is! 

Many males gather for the occasion late in the day since the female releases her sexual perfume (pheromones) from about 4-6 p.m. This keeps reproduction isolated from other silk moth specimen. 

The promethea moth is a native one here on Mount Desert Island, and I urge you to look for more photos and information about the subject. There is a lot of interest in the entomology of Maine.  

Luna moth.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Luna moths belong to the large family of silk moths and are seen in Maine. Their exotic looks make them well-known. They emerge from a cocoon late in spring and mate. The eggs hatch in about 10 days from the time they are laid and the larvae feed during the summer. When the time is right, they build a cocoon and the cycle begins again, with the pupae wintering over. Not all make itfor ichneumon wasps often find and eat them. In this way, the lazy larva completes its life instead of the moth. Nature’s ways are fascinating, and if not disturbed, it all works! 

I remember one June many years ago when a female Luna moth in Otter Creek landed on a screen door at a greenhouse and sent out her perfume. Over 50 males responded from far and near. Many of them arrived completely exhausted after their long flight. Adults do not eat, and some may not have had a meal since their caterpillar stage!  

As I write this column in a small greenhouse room on the house, I can see two hens making their secret spot to lay today’s egg. It is their ritual. MY ritual is to gather that egg and have it for breakfast! 

Eastern phoebe.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Baby phoebes hatched this week in a garage on the island. They had put the nest on an empty shelf. That is a lot better than over a muchused doorwhich has often been the case. You well know these birds are around for their voice say ‘phoebe’ very clearly. Phoebes are friendly little birds, and they eat lot of insects. 

While you are out and about along the shore these days, watch especially for willets and dowitchers feeding or flying about. Both are shorebirds that come here at this time of year. Dowitchers are mediumsized wading birds with long, slender bills. Look for their white tailfeathers and their cinnamon red breasts. Their bill going up and down in the mud reminds you of a sewing machine needle as it moves! Often, what a bird is doing helps you identify it. 

Willets are also shore birds and are often recognized when they take off in their zig-zag flight when startled. Willets have long, slender bills and they show an orange tail. They are often seen along streams and at the shore. 

Let me know what you are seeing or if you have any wildlife questions by emailing me at [email protected] 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

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