Friday, August 12, 2005

Little Lives

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Paying attention to the living and the dead....

Earlier today I drove our old newspapers to the recycle bin at the "post office mall," the strip across the street from my PO Box. I dropped the papers off, then rounded the stores. Up north I'd have simply cut across the parking lot, but since moving here I've adopted the habit of staying in the shade in summer, beneath the overhangs. Even overhangs that still dripped from an earlier downpour.

An extraordinary creature stopped me, perched above the entrance door to one of the shops. I am also learning to carry my digital camera with me, for occasions such as this, and fished it from a pocket in my cargo shorts. Got home with the mail; dropped our empty recycle bin beneath the kitchen table; dove for the field guides to Florida, Southeastern U.S., North America.

Found nothing.

I told Mary, "It looks like a cross between a dragonfly and a moth." I'd never seen a moth with such narrow wings -- streamlined, with odd cuts to them. Its orange body tapered neatly, offset by an equally tapered head (as much as I could tell from below). Its shape alone amazed me, seemed more sculpture than insect.

A close cousin seems to reside in far North Queensland, Australia, where a web search took me (I clicked on "Image," typed, "orange moth"). It might be a Hawk Moth, I thought. But the match wasn't exact.

I came closer with the Tersa Sphinx Moth, courtesy of What's That Bug? -- though I didn't find an exact match there, either. The little being at the mall was a lighter orange in color, and the lines across its tapered body seemed horizontal rather than vertical.

(Our field guides teach us about variability within species. It seems that for every match we find, another critter comes only so close to what we see in the pictures. Then again, a short walk around the neighborhood provides a broad slice of variability within our own species.)

I'm betting on the Tersa Sphinx Moth, especially after finding on BugGuide.Net that the moths' travels take them through Florida in August. In fact, sphinx and hawk moths come from the same family (Sphingidae) within the Lepidoptera order of butterflies, moths, and their caterpillars. At the very least, I've found a cousin.

More information about the Tersa Sphinx --
Xylophanes tersa tersa -- is here. Writes Bill Oehlke: "In Greek myth, Phanes is the golden winged Primordial Being who was hatched from the shining Cosmic Egg that was the source of the universe. He personifies light emerging from chaos. 'Xylo' is the Greek word for wood."

It was quite a primordial little creature that rested on the brick. A gorgeous critter of light amidst the quiet chaos of a strip mall. I found another image on The Taming of the Band-Aid's blog, which also hails from Florida, about 250 miles south of me.

This evening I was watching Ape to Man on the History Channel as Mary installed gaskets behind switchplates. She called me over, during commercials, to the switch controlling our yard lamp and porch lights. "Take a look."

I looked. Saw wires.

"Keep looking. Every corner. Move your head to the side."

I switched angles. There, tucked to the right of the switch that controls the yard lamp, lay what seemed the full skeleton of a lizard. "Picked clean," Mary said. We don't know how long it's been there. Mainly I've seen skinks around the neighborhood. When we visited my father here in 1998 Mary had found another skeleton in a corner of the living room.

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They frequent our hedge out front. I suppose one finds its way inside on occasion and dehydrates or starves. Since we've been down here, I've caught one inside the art league and escorted it back to the grass.


Blogger Brandon said...

i got a shot of this white lined sphynx last year in my sage:

not quite the same, but still, pretty remarkable. as large and loud as a hummingbird (which might explain why it's called a hummingbird moth, i suppose...)

8:59 PM  

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