There are a lot of little benefits to rural life in the midwest, kind one of them is the abundance of wildlife we get the opportunity to experience.
Yes - this may seem an odd statement - isn’t even the rural territory of Illinois largely tamed? It is true that we don’t have to fear wandering grizzly bears or marauding packs of wolves (though wolves aren’t really the danger that children’s stories would suggest), but we certainly do have a variety of other critters, including coyotes, foxes, and an array of marsupials and large rodentia, not to mention the f&%king raccoons...
But mid- to late summer here also offers an explosion in activity of the insect variety. Some of this is less than desirable, of course - it’s amazing how quickly after cracking open a beer the picnic bugs arrive, for example. But then there are the moths and butterflies.
Between the agriculture around us, and the array of things we allow to grow in and on the borders of the property, butterflies seem to find our little homestead a fine place to hang out.
I’ve discussed this tangentially before, but spying multiple examples of this little guy brought it to the forefront.
It’s a curious looking little fella, and when I see things like this I find, more often than not, I want to know what it is. When I was younger, of course, that would require a trip to the encyclopedia set and/or the library, all assuming that a) I would remember to look it up once the opportunity presented itself; and 2) that I would accurately remember the thing that I’d seen days (or possibly weeks) before well enough to match what I was seeking.
Of course, the naturalists of the 1800’s would simply have sketched themselves a drawing of the thing they’d seen in their notebooks. This makes me think, nowadays, how nice it must have been to have the time to sit there and sketch things into one’s notebook. It also makes me wonder what became of all of the naturalists out there who were poor artists. Were they shamed by their peers? Or did the Royal Society require them to be able to pass a drawing test before allowing them to join? "Why I’m sorry old chap, but if you cannot accurately render Tippy the Turtle, it strains the mind to consider what would occur if you attempted to represent a tortoise in the Galapagos..."
Instead of consulting with my tweedy colleagues in the smoke-filled gentleman’s chambers at the Royal Society or combing through their notebooks, I was able to look the little guy on the grill up on the North American Caterpillar Identification site (how cool is it that such a thing exists?).
A little scrolling there finds that it is the caterpillar guise of the White-Marked Tussock Moth. If that doesn’t sound like a familiar species it may be because, like a child star, the stand-out part of this critter’s existence is in its youth. For Orgyia leucostigma adult life is one of blending into the background like a desk worker wearing khakis and a polo. Adult males are gray and black in a fashion that suggests they are moths we’ve all seen time and time again, paying them no attention except perhaps to be irritated by them. The females get the real short end of the stick, however, as they don’t grow wings strong enough to fly - they live their lives in and around their cocoon.
They are a small part of the array around us, of course. Yet, they do help to remind how much there is to see here, even within our own little wild space.