The mid-July sun dances across the shoulder-high field of corn and the smell of fresh, second crop hay fills the humid air. These hot summer days are long as we enter the peak of another growing season. With help from a little more rain, there will be plenty for the dairy cows to eat through the coming winter.
There are still some area farmers who plant a few acres of tobacco to help supplement their incomes. The leafy young plants are only about a foot tall now but by harvest time, in early September, the rows of tobacco will be four feet tall. It will eventually be sold and used in a mixture used for chewing tobacco.
As a young man I could always make some extra cash by working in the tobacco fields. It was hard demanding work but it was always good to be outside in the hot summer sun. One of the first things to do was to sucker or top the plants. This meant walking down between the rows and snapping off the tops of the flowering plants. While doing this we were told also to pick off any caterpillars found on the large green leaves and step on them.
There were many kinds of caterpillars feeding on the tobacco leaves and the larger ones were known as tobacco worms. They are the larva of large moths like the sphinx, cecropia, luna and polyphemus moths. I would always take some of these large worms home and raise them to maturity in a 10-gallon aquarium before releasing the back to the wild. It gave me a chance to see how the caterpillars develop into some of the prettiest things on wings.
Many of these memories suddenly came rushing back to me this morning as I walked slowly through the flower gardens. Clinging to a bright red bee balm, with its large 5-inch wing spread, was a gorgeous polyphemus moth. Its huge presence on the flower reminded me more of a large feather rather than a moth. I could hardly believe my eyes when I first saw this magnificent moth. The large yellow-beige wings had four round yellow spots framed in black and looked like big eyes staring back at me. A hungry bird might not be so eager to eat a moth that has such a large presence with those big eyes.
It's always such a special treat to see one of these large moths that are members of a family known as giant silkworm moths.
These moths are not rare and may be seen anywhere in North America. In the caterpillar stage of their lives, they do all their eating. When they emerge as adults from a cocoon, they don't feed at all.
The sphinx or hawk moths are the exception and fly from flower to flower like hummingbirds as they feed on the nectar of the flowers.
So keep your eyes peeled on your walks down nature's trail. You may be surprised what you will see looking back at you.
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