Forest Munchers

Giant Spotted Leopard Moth

There is a period in early Spring where the forests are simply crawling with hungry caterpillars.  They are literally everywhere.  Butterfly and moth caterpillars alike — they are devouring the forest.  And, there does seem to be plenty to go around.  It’s just a little rough when they target my edibles.  However, after raising about 50-60% of my own food last year, I discovered that Nature gets a 20% cut of what’s grown.  And, that’s just that.  As Wendy Johnson, Zen farmer of Green Gulch wrote in her book “Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate,” “the world is a hungry place.”  Indeed…these caterpillars and their intense appetites express that reality, perfectly.

Side note:  I am actually working on renaming the full moons (13 moon calendar) in the Southern Appalachian area and am moved to call the full moon of April, the Moon of Hungry Caterpillars.

Sometime around late May/early June, after these hungry caterpillars have had time to disappear into their cocoons (and some of them go underground into holes)…they begin emerging again…  But, this time, as some pretty fabulous spectacles of nature.  For example, the above Leopard Moth, with whom I have not had the joy to encounter personally, was spotted recently in Asheville, NC by a friend.  Her awe and bliss at finding this two-tone, brilliant creatre prompted me to reminisce on some of the amazing moths I have seen over the past few years while in Southern Appalachia.

The rather large Imperial Moth (my solar fella)

The elegant Luna Moth (my lunar mama)

And, my favorite the Rosey Maple Moth (aka David Bowie Moth)

Most moths are described as pests, such as the Cabbage Moth that can decimate a cabbage crop.  However, when I look at these intensely curious beings, I can only think that they are serving a purpose I have yet to understand.  They are definitely part of the dynamic balance of the forest.  But how?

The Rosey Maple might be a good one to start with.  It needs a healthy stand of maples to be present — Red Maples, Sugar Maple, and the Silver Maple.  They also like Oak trees.  The caterpillars are the only ones that have the veracious appetites; the adults simply do not eat.  The cautionary spin on this moth is that there can be population explosions that can seriously damage the foliage of the trees mentioned above.  However, this makes me wonder…  Is it the moths fault or the fact that many forests have been cut and more continue to be at alarming rates?

To me, each moth that I read about is linked to hardwood forests and certain types of trees within them (the Luna Moth likes hickories, sweet gums, sumacs, persimmons, walnuts and birches).  It seems that they are intimately linked with the forest and that a forest’s health is somehow linked with them.  They seem to be culling certain trees back and shaping them in their caterpillar phase.  And, their decomposing bodies and cocoons must leave some nutrients behind in the forest?  So, in adulthood — what exactly are they doing, then?  They don’t eat…maybe all their energy from their well-fed caterpillar moment is then solely focused on mating?  Butterflies are similar, but they also pollinate during their adulthood.  Do moths participate in pollination?  I would imagine not, if they are not looking for nectar.

Please comment below if you can holistically answer my questions.  I’m curious to learn about the roles of these lovely creatures in the forest ecosystem (however small).

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