A week ago, I spotted a regal moth beside the trail. Life had fled, and the orange-brown wings with white spots were stilled. Movement in the abdomen made me think perhaps it yet lived, but no, there was a hole where the rearmost part of the abdomen had been.
A yellow jacket emerged from the abdomen. Others surrounded the head. They were far too busy scavenging the carcass, gorging themselves on moth flesh, to notice me, let alone unleash their painful stings.
I recently experienced the sting of a yellow jacket, not my first time, when my landlord evicted a nest of them from a landscaping tie near my apartment. He had set fire to their wooden home just after dark, and I discovered the small conflagration when I smelled smoke.
Thinking it best not to leave the fire unattended, I remained close by. Intent on fire safety, I forgot about the yellow jackets being drawn to light, and one immediately investigated my headlamp. I recovered from a sting on my eyebrow that night and part of the following day. Thankful for an ice pack in my refrigerator, I rediscovered how ice prevents swelling.
Fortunately, I avoided the stingers on this day, though I am certain they would not hesitate to repel me, the intruder if I disturbed these yellowjackets. They were not shy about completing their task and went about stripping flesh like vultures on a dead cow.
I thought of Annie Dillard and her description of a moth that got too close to a candle and became a second wick. The story appears in her book Holy the Firm. She chose to think of the moth as female and said that she did not know if the moth had completed her work, laid her eggs.
I, too, know little of the life of the moth that lay beside the trail to Glen Falls. I know that the regal moth is a close relative of the lime green luna moth and a member of the genus Saturniidae. As such, the adult moth has no functional mouthparts. Adult luna moths, regal moths, and other saturniid moths live on stored reserves.
Books of natural history tell me that after a winter as a subterranean pupa, the regal moth emerges to grow wings and find a mate. The males then die, but the females must lay eggs before dying. The adult moths live a few days at most, and reproduction is their sole purpose.
The moth spent its first summer as a “hickory horn devil,” one of North America’s largest caterpillars. The spines on the head supply the horn in its name. If you have never seen one, do a web search. Photographs abound.
After a few months of feeding on hickory, walnut, or pecan leaves, it descended to the ground and found soft earth. It burrowed in to spend the winter.
It is easy to see the beauty in the regal moth. Can you see beauty in the caterpillar? What of the yellow jackets who feasted on the moth turning flesh into flesh? What of the yellow jacket that stung me? If Christ is present in all things, there must be a divine hand at work in each of these, moth, caterpillar, and yellowjacket as well.