Polyphemus

August 11, 2022

I have mentioned my routine for getting around in the mornings.  I sleep in while Melissa logs on for work but am usually awake an hour or so later.  Rather than getting up I open my phone and play my “mind” apps.  This begins with a crossword on Wordscapes.  Next, I play Let Me Out, where you move various sized vehicles around to allow the target car to escape.  I always end with a Mahjong puzzle.  Like my newspaper crossword, I tell myself this is keeping my mind active.  By this time Zena is usually waiting patiently just outside the bedroom door for me to see her.  I usually have a cup of coffee (or iced tea!) and may read the morning paper.  I have added a new activity since Zena’s arrival, and we go for a walk.  If I take too long getting ready Zena becomes anxious and begins to pace.  Then I put on her harness, grab the treats, and we are off.  On this morning’s walk we came across a polyphemus moth fluttering in the gutter.

When I looked online, I found the polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) is a North American member of the family of giant silk moths (Saturniidae).  The polyphemus is a tan-colored moth, with an average wingspan of 6 inches (15 cm).  The species was first described by Pieter Cramer in 1776.  The moth is the most widely distributed species of large silk moths, and ranges throughout North America from subarctic Canada and into Mexico.  The moth exhibits sexual dimorphism with males having plumose (bushy) antennae to detect unmated partners and females with a larger abdomen (carry eggs).  There is a surprising color variation within the species, but all are a shade of brown.  The most notable feature is the large, purple eyespots on the hindwings, which give it its name, referring to the Greek myth of the cyclops Polyphemus.

Polyphemus is the giant one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology described in the ninth book of Homer’s Odyssey.  Polyphemus first appears as a savage man-eating giant who captures Odysseus and his men.  Two are eaten every morning and night until Odysseus finally escapes by blinding Polyphemus with a fire-hardened wooden stake.  Folktales like Homer’s Polyphemus are widespread throughout the ancient world.  In 1857, Wilhelm Grimm collected versions of the myth in Serbian, Romanian, Estonian, Finnish, Russian, and German.  Other versions are also known in Basque, Lappish, Lithuanian, Syriac, Gascon, and Celtic.  More than two hundred different versions from twenty five nations are identified, covering a geographic region extending from Iceland to Portugal, Africa to Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and Korea.  Like the moth, the tale of Polyphemus got around.

THOUGHTS:  While the adult polyphemus moth does not eat, the polyphemus caterpillar can eat 86,000 times its weight at emergence in a little less than two months.  Caterpillars feed on leaves of broad-leaved trees and shrubs, as well as their eggshells after hatching and their freshly molted skin.  In large numbers the polyphemus caterpillars can be considered pests to plum orchards in California.  There are no direct positive effects of polyphemus on humans, but many are hand-raised by the curious.  This was the first polyphemus I had ever seen, and I understand why some would raise them.  They are large and beautiful.  Having few negative or positive effects on humans means the polyphemus is (mostly) allowed to survive under human radar.  As with many plants and animals, this is a good thing for the moth.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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