Aye, the eyes have it.  Polyphemus moth.



Drama in the backyard.

I was watering a climbing honeysuckle yesterday, didn’t notice this creature at first, and inadvertently rained on its parade.

The damp moth fluttered to the lawn, and I took a snap with my phone.

It dried its wings for a minute in the sun, and flew across the lawn, but couldn’t gain altitude.

A catbird noticed, and swooped down.

And those “false eyespots” worked as advertised!

At the last second, the catbird slammed on the brakes and swerved away.

It then sat on a branch and studied the situation, but before it could dive again, Sarah jumped in front of the moth.  She likes catbirds, but told this one off, and suggested it go find another snack, and leave the moth alone.  A polyphemus moth has less than a week of adult life, that’s short enough, and the bird can find something less beautiful to munch on.

Polyphemus was a giant cyclops in Greek mythology.  When Odysseus’s ship landed on his island, Polyphemus invited the crew to his cavern, with typical Greek hospitality, and mentioned he liked seafood.  The Odyssey turned out to be a typical cruise line experience, an epic fail, with rampant gastrointestinal issues, a buffet buffeted by fate – by “seafood,” the cyclops meant seafarers, and he started eating the crew.

I don’t understand naming the moth after him – – the fake eyes are clearly in pairs.

And we clearly see it as a welcome visitor, and not to be eaten.





Nature, Spring

Moth vs Bird


26 thoughts on “Moth vs Bird

  1. Various websites I checked all say the species name polyphemus is a reference to the moth’s pronounced eyespots. Maybe Polyphemos had a twin brother and someone saw the two side by side.

  2. Amazing moth! I’m glad its short life was saved. I had to look up Catbird as I’d never seen (or heard) one before. It reminds me in its head shape and movements of a gray version of our (British or European) robin.

    • Catbirds aren’t exciting-looking, but kind of attractive in a muted way. They do make a cat-like sound, and they also imitate other birds, and then improvise, mix the sounds together!

  3. Darts and Letters says:

    That moth was quite a beautiful specimen. The lower false eyes in conjunction with the inward v-shape curvature of the wings, distinctly remind me of an owl. Is Sarah your sister? One of my little sisters is a Sarah.

      • Darts and Letters says:

        What kind of honeysuckle does your mom and dad have? My mom has a few, one of them is Gold Flame. Your account of this moth made me want to know what varieties of honeysuckle she has and as we got to talking she said about ten minutes before dark she has been getting a handful of hummingbird moths come around, start buzzing like crazy about the vine! I thought that was just pretty incredible because I’ve only seen one my entire life (and it was in Michigan when I was visiting them, walking down a country road and all the sudden I heard this immense droning coming from the ditch…..the darn thing just wowed the heck out of me, kind of scared me too, thought it might fly away with me doggone it).
        Hope you have a good weekend.

        • I’ve only seen those hummingbird moths once, down at Chautauqua Lake. it’s kind of hard to believe that they exist, isn’t it? hummingbirds are amazing enough, and for a bug to do that it seems even more amazing somehow. I’m sorry, that plant has been there 25 years or more, and they don’t remember what variety it is. it has orange-colored flowers not like regular honeysuckle, and they were just noticing this evening around dinner time, that it really puts out a lot of perfume in the evening, even though it isn’t all that big. your anecdote remind me of that song “Bloodbuzz” by The National, “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees…”. Hope you stay grounded, and have a nice weekend.

  4. What a beautiful creature. It’s not only great that you got to see it, it’s really something that you got to see its defense in action. The hairstreak butterflies have little markings and antennae-looking things on the back of the wings. They look so much like the actual head of the butterfly that predators sometimes confuse front and back, and take a nip out of its rear end! It’s even better that this one got a little human help — birds can be determined!

  5. melissabluefineart says:

    I haven’t seen one of these beauties in years. Like you, I’ve never understood the name but whatever, a moth by any other name would be as cool to see. Or something like that.

  6. I’ve heard of the phrase, “sitting in the catbird seat,” but didn’t know a catbird was really a thing. Perhaps the “eyes” on the moth have a hypnotic effect if you get close enough. Paging Mothra, paging Mothra…

    • I’ve seen 2 or 3 Godzilla movies, but still haven’t seen Mothra, that always seemed like one of the most unlikely monsters, I assume he only attacked people wearing wool sweaters?

    • Thanks, Philip. Yes, surprising, and pretty funny. I saw an article recently, on the arstechnica site, about farmers in South Africa using exactly the same technique, painting eyes on the rumps on their cattle, to discourage predators, and it’s proven to be surprisingly effective. If I ever shave my head, I’ll consider the idea for a tattoo.

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