Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Brisk Riverside Ramble

A bright beautiful day today, but ooh, that wind!  Ear-piercing, nose-numbing, cheeks-freezing wind.  I really hate wind in the winter.  But I'd been house-bound for two days and I had to get out, so I drove to the end of Potter Road in Moreau and made my way down to the Hudson through the woods.  Here, there is often some shelter from wind, thanks to mountains rising to the south and west, and it's almost always quiet in the woods.  There was a brisk wind whipping down the course of the open river, but the water out there lay still as glass under a sheet of ice from shore to shore.

Last time I was here, I found the cocoon of a Cecropia Moth lashed to a twig of a Black Tupelo, and I was glad to see it was still hanging there.   Today, backlit as it was by the sun, I could see that the larva was still snug inside its winter wrapper.  It seems hard to believe that that packet of flimsy tissue could keep a living thing safe through the bitter cold, but I guess it must.  Does anyone know if I could break off that twig and bring the cocoon home to place outside my kitchen window, so I could watch it emerge in the spring?  Or should I leave it where its caterpillar chose to place it?

There is some snow in the woods along the river here, but it's icy and pocked by having been melted, rained on, and then refrozen.  I couldn't find any animal tracks except those of deer, the only animal heavy enough to break through the hard crust. It really is amazing to see the variety of tracks criss-crossing this woods when the snow is fresh:  otter, mink, fisher, coyote, fox, squirrels (red and gray), turkey, deer, rabbits, mice, voles and shrews, plus wingprints of ravens and eagles as they land on the frozen bays.  You'd never guess, without those tracks as evidence, that this woods is so well-populated by all these creatures.  Rare indeed is the moment when you actually lay eyes upon them.  I thought for just an instant today, that I'd caught a glimpse of a large owl sitting at the base of a tree.  But nope, just some peeling bark with two dots of well-placed fungus.


Elizabeth said...

I love giant moths! I don't know if you SHOULD bring the cocoon home with you, but I would be sorely tempted... I once found a Polyphemus Moth caterpillar immobile in the cold, and brought it inside with me where it immediately warmed up and used the leaves I gave it to spin its cocoon. On the advice of a Lepidoptera expert at my school (I was in college at the time), I put a safety pin through the leaf and attached the cocoon to the inside of my window screen (outside the glass so it would get exposed to all the natural weather and temperature it needed, but inside the screen to protect it from birds). The following July (way later than I expected), it hatched out and I got to see the amazing creature up close. :) (I'd taken it out of the screen by then, in case its wings got squished.) I'm really curious to see if anyone more knowledgeable than me weighs in on this matter, especially since I'll definitely have the urge to bring such cocoons home with me if I happen across them myself someday!

Also, that's a pretty cool "owl" you saw. :P

Adirondackcountrygal said...

That is an interesting question about the moth. I raised some monarch caters I found this summer and released the butterflies. This was a first for me! Mother nature sure is beautiful no matter what season however I'm not a winter fan!

catharus said...

Yeh, I's suspect as long as you keep the cocoon outside, you could enjoy monitoring it at home!
As for the winter wind, yes it's nasty (!), but my solution is simply a thin polypropylene balaclava -- does wonders to keep the wind off my face. But today, I'd recommend a close look at balaclava or chute from

Ellen Rathbone said...

I would also agree - as long as it is kept outside, it should be fine. And if polyphemi (?) are found around your house, then it should be able to find a mate next summer. Your other option would be to let it hatch out, and then carry it back to where you found it and release it there.

Wayne said...

What a delightfully-confusing image your owl impostor is. As for the Polyphemus, if you avoid rapid temperature changes, they usually do well outside. The difference in microclimates from the river to your home should not be great enough to mess up synchronization between this pupa's emergence and others of the species in your neighborhood. The adults have no mouthparts for eating, so they don't live long. Because of that, emerging at the same time as potential mates is vitally importand for them.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

It's nice to know I have so many moth lovers among my readers. Thanks for the advice about keeping the cocoon. I did go retrieve it, and now have its twig hanging from a nail on my screened porch, well out of reach of the kittens' claws and exposed to the weather. I looked at images of cocoons on Google Images, and this looks more like a Cecropia than a Polyphemus. But I'm no expert. I guess we will know when (or if) the creature emerges some time next spring or summer, at which time I will promptly return it to the riverside where I found it. After photographs, of course!