Monday, August 20, 2012

The Riddle of the Sphinx

A day or two ago, I started out the red side door of our house 
with the intention of taking one of my dogs for a walk.
But the trip was delayed after I noticed 
we had an unexpected visitor clinging to the door:

When I saw this moth, the first thing that came to mind
was that it was wearing camouflage,
 for it would have fit in perfectly with a local army unit.
So I went to Google Images and typed in "camouflage moth"
which to my satisfaction
 yielded hundreds of photos of camouflage moths, 
actually their common name.

So then I searched the internet for camouflage moth information 
and came upon an article by columnist Mary Reid Barrow, 
a  nature writer for our local newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot, 
published just two days before.
Barrow said the "camo moth" is common here in Tidewater
since it feeds on both grape and Virginia Creeper vines.
Even though Virginia Creeper is prevalent in our woods,
 I'd never seen one of these moths in the Shire 
until the day it rested on our door.

But my husband said he had seen their caterpillars, 
which have a variety of unique markings  as part of their camouflage mechanism.
Sometimes camouflage moth caterpillars sport festive lime green bodies 
with five lateral red dots or pale green ones with yellow dots.
Others are red with white dots; 
some are emerald black, copper-bronze or gray with white dots.
This web site has some vivid photos of the moths and their colorful caterpillars:

The Latin name for the camouflage moth is eumorpha pandorus.
"Eumorpha" means well formed and Pandora and Pandorus 
were characters in Greek mythology.
As most people know, Pandora opened a box 
and unleashed trouble all over the world.
The nature of Pandorus is less certain; an uncited description in Wikipedia
claims Pandorus was an archer mentioned in the Illiad.
Pandora/Pandorus mythologies may not be connected to the moth's name, however.
So it remains a bit of a conundrum.
But if the camouflage moth causes any trouble like Pandora,
it's probably that it feeds greedily on vines.

This moth is also sometimes called the Pandorus Sphinx Moth.
It does have a body form similar in shape to the head of the great Sphinx,
so that may likely be the source for that common name.
But it's also true that in Greek myth, 
the Sphinx, depicted as having a lion's body 
and the head of a woman, guarded the entrance to Thebes 
and would devour anyone who couldn't answer the riddles she posed.

Why this sphinx moth felt an attraction to our door, I don't know.
I like to think it arrived to guard our entrance while we were out, 
but since it let us pass without posing a single riddle,
it may be planning some shenanigans instead.

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