Monday, August 17, 2009

The Eyes Have It

While a single candle provides only a feeble flame, an array of a half dozen provides plenty of light for dining. Plus, candles conserve battery power and aren't nearly as attractive to annoying insects as electric lights. We were about to sit down to a candlelight dinner when I saw that one of the candles had gone out. Going to re-light it, I noticed a large leaf sitting on the sand bottom of my improvised candle holder, so I reached in to pluck it out.

It turned out to be a large moth that had flown in (now my prime suspect as flame snuffer) and had probably exhausted itself trying to escape. This enabled me to handle it easily while Diane snapped a couple photos. The large false eyespots are normally hidden under the upper wings, and in it's resting pose the moth is well camouflaged (leading me to think it a leaf). But if disturbed by a predator, it need only spread its wings to reveal a pair of large menacing eyes, startling any would-be predator into believing that it may be about to become prey to a much larger beast, causing it to flee.

According to my trusty Mariposas de Costa Rica, my startling specimen was probably Automeris metzli, in the Saturniidae family. False eyespots are not all that uncommon in moths, especially among the Saturnids; although eyespots as large and distinctive as these are truly extraordinary. Interestingly, no sign of the deep dark spot is visible on the underside of the wing. And the upper wing, camouflaged to appear like a leaf when folded, has an eyespot on its underside (though not nearly as spectacular as the lower wing eyespot depicted in the photo).

And now, back to dining by candlelight...

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