I know there are better things to be doing on a Saturday night than surfing the web, but my partner was away and there was nothing on TV, so I’m afraid that’s where you’d have found me last weekend. The cat was around somewhere, but as long as he wasn’t bothering me, I wasn’t going to bother about him.
Then he started: “Miaow.” “Miaaoooww.
I couldn’t see him, but guessed from the sound that he, too, was intent on a screen: the screen door. It was a mild evening and the front door was open, but we keep the screen door latched as Tucker was brought up a house cat and even when we’re in the country he’s happiest indoors.
The ensuing conversation went like this:
“What’s up, pussycat?” Well, no I don’t suppose I really said that, but something along those lines.
“It’s ok, Tucker.”
“There’s no-one there.” True, I hadn’t actually checked, but the house is set away from the neighbours and I was pretty sure there wasn’t anyone about.
“Ok, I’ll come and look.” It had become clear that my platitudes were not enough to comfort him, so direct action was needed.
Which was when I found we had a visitor trying to get in. Not human, fortunately, but the biggest moth I had ever seen. It was sort of rusty brown and had huge eyes on the undersides of its five-inch wings. (Since it was flustering against the screen I had a perfect view.) At this point I went to fetch my camera, but was too slow off the mark and it had left by the time I got back. Although I was disappointed not to get a picture, I was actually quite relieved it had gone, and I suspect Tucker was, too. Like I said, he’s a house cat and nature worries him.
In fact the moth hadn’t gone very far. When I went outside a bit later, I found it in the log bucket on the verandah. That gave me a chance to go back and get the camera and take a few snaps. Surprisingly, the flash didn’t seem to bother it at all: it just stayed down at the bottom of the bucket minding its own business, though at the time, I didn’t know what that business was.
Having downloaded the images to my computer, I then had a good excuse to spend a few more hours surfing to find out what species it was. Turns out it was a Giant Peacock Moth – the largest native European. And a little close observation of the photos I’d taken told me our visitor was a female. (You can tell from the antennae.)
The next morning she was still in the bucket and I was reduced to asking a variant on the old riddle: how many eggs does a Giant Peacock lay? Perhaps I should think of her as a Giant Peahen – on closer inspection it turned out she was producing a clutch of small, white geometrically-arranged eggs.
So, she wasn’t just a moth. She was a mother. (I’d even go so far as to say she was the mothest.) What to do?
I’d read on the web that one reason the females are so fat is because they are carrying eggs, but also because they don’t eat at all in the adult state. That only lasts a few weeks, and the idea of such a brief life, never brightened by food, made it seem cruel to think about turning her away if she was busy fulfilling her raison d’être; I rather felt she ought to be allowed to die happy, in the belief that she’d left behind her contribution to the survival of the species.
But I’m not really a bug lover and I’d also read that Peachick caterpillars eat cherry and pear leaves which boded ill for our orchard. I carried the bucket to the far end of the garden by the gate and postponed making a decision. “When in doubt, procrastinate”, that’s my motto.
Around lunchtime I was feeling guilty so went to see how she was getting on.
No longer there.
Nor was the bucket, which the Romanian gardener had obviously found when he arrived that morning and had tipped out and returned to its place in the shed. I know he thinks I’m odd with my environmentally-friendly ideas about not using too many chemical sprays and stuff, so I haven’t plucked up courage to ask if he saw her. Anyway, he’s probably used to the bigger night-flying monsters of his home country and didn’t notice it. What’s a little moth in comparison to a vampire?