One of my favorite things about my new life in Kansas City is the diversity of wildlife. It’s farther south than I’ve ever lived so I’m meeting animals and plants I had only encountered in books. There are eagles that circle over my house, cicadas and frogs that sing at night. New kinds of flowers and roadside weeds. Different ladybugs. And recently I encountered a luna moth at my front door.
Luna moths are stunning (as you can see in the picture). They’re also big insects - this moth was at least 6” across. As I leaned in to look, it flared its wings out, showing me the eye spots that might frighten a predator away. It was so small and so brave. If I were inclined to eat moths, it would have been an easy snack. I coaxed it onto my hand so I could move it to a spot less likely to be disturbed; I could feel its delicate toes gripping my finger, the soft, white body brushing my skin. It didn’t want to leave.
As it finally settled into a safer spot I remembered the first time I ever saw a luna moth.
When I was a kid my family took extended road trips across the U.S. We traveled from state-to-state in our VW bus, stopping at campgrounds along the way. I remember campfires and stars, torrential rains beating on the tent and hours spent in the back of the car. By the time I was 10, I had seen many of the contiguous 48 states.
At each new campground my parents would set up camp while I took a walk. It was a more innocent time, so there was no worry as I wandered, looking for friends. I’d find kids somewhere near my age, introduce myself and we’d see if we wanted to play together. I did this in every camp we stopped at. I met some great people and have some wonderful memories.
We were somewhere in the southeastern U.S. My parents were pitching the tent while I went out, looking for friends. I saw a group of kids standing in a semi-circle, looking at something on the ground. One had a stick and was poking at their object of interest. I walked up to introduce myself and saw a luna moth, pinned to the ground by a rock, its wings fluttering weakly.
I asked them what they were doing.
“Why do you have a rock on that moth?”
“Pick up the rock, let it go. It’s hurt!”
“It can’t fly anyway, see?”
One of the boys picked up the rock then put it back carefully, so the moth remained pinned, slowly crushed.
“That’s mean, you’re hurting it!”
By now the kids were less interested in the moth than in me. I found myself in the middle of their circle. The boy with a stick stepped up close.
“What do you care? It’s just a stupid moth. And it’s ours, we found it, so we can do what we want.”
“It’s a living thing, let it go!”
By now I’m sure I was yelling. The kids moved in closer, the boy with the stick was so close I could smell his breath. He was easily 6" taller and 20 pounds heavier. I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t leave the moth trapped. I didn’t want to get hurt.
With one sharp shove I pushed the boy down and ran, kicking the rock off the moth as I passed. I know now that was likely the moth’s death knell, but better a quick death than a lingering one. The kids chased me until we were back in the main part of the campground then fell back. We all pretended nothing had happened and I told my parents I couldn’t find any friends.
The next day I found crumbled moth wings at the front of our site. I didn’t tell my parents. I buried them, crying as quietly as I could.
Each time I see a luna moth I can’t help but look at it tenderly and want to protect it. Maybe I’m trying to protect the little girl I was, the girl who grew up to be someone who still can’t be quiet, who still pushes bigger bullies and who still wishes she could have saved that one broken beautiful thing.
(c)2013 Laura S. Packer