Moths are frequent visitors to our house and garden.  They often stop by on their way to somewhere else (or so it seems) and usually spend a day or two resting before moving on.  They pick an out-of-the-way spot—the shady side of a column or the inside of the storm door—settle in, and then sit motionless until they disappear.  Most of them are of the garden variety, medium-sized and brown, but occasionally we get something more exotic.  One year it was a Luna moth, which is colored a luminous yellow-green, and another year it was a flock of Ailanthus Webworm moths, which are very small and very colorfully and intricately marked, like hand-woven tapestries.

Today, when deadheading the petunias growing in hanging pots on the south side of the house, I brushed off what I thought was a soggy brown leaf, blown there (I figured) by a passing storm the day before.  As I flicked it away, I realized that it was not a leaf but a large, brown and shaggy moth.  Obviously, its natural camouflage worked quite well.  I inspected it to make sure I hadn’t harmed it and carefully moved it to a safer location, out of the way of foot traffic.  Later, I spotted a second moth of the same variety, quietly sitting on the patio.

I thought at first that these might be hawkmoths, the variety whose larval form is the dreaded tomato hornworm (or tobacco hornworm, in other parts of the world).  If that were so, I should be on the lookout in a few weeks for signs of these voracious eaters.  After consulting my handy Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders (National Audubon Society), however, I learned that they are more likely Big Poplar Sphinxes.  Their caterpillars feed on poplars and willows, about which I am much less worried.

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