Codex Lepidoptera

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

[ex: clandestine-tropic moth, cornella lesioglauca]

Past water lily, feathered mint, transparent
burning prairie— You can come close,

so close to the fire as if to touch, as if any
particle of heat could unloose your rosy

girdle or your dun-legged cloud.
From your trysts in the clandestine

tropics, your unclear early capers,
you rest among the separated cabbages:

boreal head cinnabar, and spring-streaked.
Your capes are jet, are forest-scalloped

and splotched with thought and shagbark.
Even the noxious, stump-humming toadflax

would welcome your company. Agreeable
among catkin soybean, sleepy magpie

next to cup fruitworm: until recently
we had no other names for your morbid dots,

your funerary plummets, your nocturnal
wainscoting. But we’ve been given

the keys to an endless codex, its pages furred
and tented, breathing and glowing in the dark.


Inspired by Katie Rose Pipkin and Loren Schmidt, and their @mothgenerator at Twitter


In response to How to Make a Moth and Moth Generator at Twitter (Katie Rose Pipkin and Loren Schmidt).

The names of underwings

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

underwing moth

For some reason, the names of many moths in the genus Catocala have bizarrely soap-operatic names. Here are some of my favorites, as encountered in the wonderful new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie:

  • The Penitent (Catocala piatrix)
  • The Betrothed (Catocala innubens)
  • The Old Maid (Catocala badia coelebs)
  • Obscure Underwing (Catocala obscura)
  • Widow Underwing (Catocala viuda)
  • Tearful Underwing (Catocala lacrymosa)
  • Oldwife Underwing (Catocala Paleogama)
  • Youthful Underwing (Catocala subnata)
  • Sad Underwing (Catocala maestosa)
  • The Bride (Catocala neogama)
  • Once-Married Underwing (Catocala unijuga)
  • Mother Underwing (Catocala parta)
  • Darling Underwing (Catocala cara)
  • The Sweetheart (Catocala amatrix)
  • Magdalen Underwing (Catocala illecta)
  • Sordid Underwing (Catocala sordida)
  • Wonderful Underwing (Catocala mira)
  • Charming Underwing (Catocala blandula)
  • Connubial Underwing (Catocala connubialis)
  • Girlfriend Underwing (Catocala amica)
  • The Little Nymph (Catocala micronympha)

I suppose the way these moths lift their forewings to reveal bright pink-, red- and orange-striped hindwings suggested something feminine, like a petticoat, to the lepidopterists who named them.

I’m a little embarassed to admit however that many of the underwings look pretty much alike to me, even with the help of a field guide, so I’m not entirely sure which species is pictured above. (Maybe the Sweetheart?) This is the one I saw back on September 2, and my mention of some of these names prompted Luisa to incorporate them into her poem for the day, “Telenovela” (which is Spanish for “soap opera”).