There are dedicated moth-trappers who put out traps throughout the year for there are a few of our native moths adapted to fly during the winter months. Lacking their dedication, so far this year I have identified just one moth although it was a very special one and encountered far from home. It was resting with wings spread like a giant butterfly on the perimeter wall of Campamento Anaconda, a tranquil backwater off the main street of Las Claritas, a raucous gold-mining town in southern Venezuela that was like a place out of a latter day Wild West with horses replaced by pick-up trucks.
The moth was pale but with wings marked with series of zigzags and blotches. With a pen held below it for comparison (pictured) I estimated its wing span as 11 inches. There are no identification guides to Venezuelan moths but, back at home, it emerged from internet research as a White Witch, systematic name Thysania agrippina, the moth with the biggest wingspan in the world. It goes by a number of other names reflecting its size and pale appearance, Birdwing Moth, Ghost Moth, Great Grey Witch and Great Owlet Moth. Despite its size, it is an elusive species about which little is known except that it occurs in Mexico, Central America and the northern part of South America. Its caterpillars are rarely seen and their food plants are not known.
At places where we stayed I checked around outside lamps for moths but saw few others and photographed just one, small by comparison with the White Witch but still large with a six inch wingspan. While butterflies flourish in hot, humid tropical lowlands, moths seem to prefer the cooler temperatures at higher altitudes and, although we ventured above 5000 feet, at night we stayed in the lowlands.
The giant moth was one of the highlights of what was essentially a bird-watching trip that produced a myriad of parrots, toucans and hummingbirds. One other stand-out non-avian moment was a large oval structure in the crook of a sapling that at first I took for one of the big termite or wasp nests sometimes found in forest trees. Closer inspection turned it into a long-haired, curled up mammal with closed eyes and black snout, a Three-toed Sloth, living up to its name in its immobility. Tropical forests are full of wonders.
Nature Notes & Photo by Denis O’Connor
Wharfedale Naturalists Society