The drab moth had been on my bathroom wall for several days before I poked it to determine if it was really alive. It was pressed flat to the tile, approximately 2 inches across, and marked with a distinct pattern of brown waves and scallops on its forewings with a thin white border of white on the edges. The color and complexity of the pattern rendered it compatible with pine bark, but noticeably out of place on blue-and-white bathroom tile. Yet, I’d seen these kinds of moths many times before, and learned to call them ‘miller moths’ in accordance with my southern mother’s terminology.
I pulled out my thin paperback moth guide, Macromoths of Northwest Forests and Woodlands (Jeffrey Miller, Paul Hammond USDA Forest Service, FHTET-98-18, 2000) and flipped through the pages until I found something closely resembling the specimen at hand. It was, I concluded, a barberry looper moth (Coryphista meadii), with a caterpillar revealed on bugguide.net to look just like the gray and white loopers with red heads that I had observed on my Berberis thunbergii Crimson Pygmy planted in June shortly before it became a network of defoliated twigs.
It was an ah-ha moment. We had had no barberries on the property before this, and yet suddenly here was a moth that looked like one I’d seen all my life suddenly taking on a new aspect completely unbeknownst to me. I’d never even thought of what its caterpillars looked like, but now I knew its life cycle and suddenly, it affected me and my ambitions. Presumably there might be other plants in the family Beriberidaceae on the property that might have harbored them, or perhaps the eggs came in from the nursery supplier, for of the four plants that I bought, only this one was eaten by loopers.
I am reminded of the song about the hole in the bottom of the sea, where sat a frog on a log, with a bump and a wart and a hair and a flea and so on until the microscopic world had been achieved on that one frog. Then the kids singing the song gave up for lack of ideas beyond bacteria. How little did I realize when I was a child that I was singing a song that celebrated biodiversity.
The other day, while removing the plastic clips that hold electric fence tape from a series of fence posts, I noticed that nearly every clip harbored a tiny, pale brown spider. The little beasts were flattened to where they could lie almost two-dimensional on any surface, and apparently liked the narrow space of the clip designed to hold the polytape because of the shelter it offered. As I worked to pull the clips off one set of posts to move them to another, I witnessed a tiny arachnid paratrooper dropping from nearly every clip. Every other clip seemed to hold a small white package of spider eggs. I had created habitat in spite of myself.
Of course, both moth and spider were probably here long before I was, and my surprise was merely that of my own unexpected discovery. Still, everyday that we open our eyes to the variety around us, we are richer for it. From mushrooms, to moths, to spiders, I am sure that this property has untold thousands of species I’ve yet to discover. But they don’t need my knowledge of them to validate their existence. They have every right to go on, even if they encroach on my world now and then.