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IO – “New Jersey State Moth-to-Be” in Keyport Rain Gardens

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On March 2015, Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D_Middlesex) introduces a bill to the New Jersey State Assembly that would designate Io moth to be the official state moth.   

Io Moth - NJ State-moth-to-be

Io Moth – NJ State-moth-to-be

I would not be interested in this news if Al had not pointed out this beautiful Io moth while we were pruning, weeding and cleaning up the Keyport Rain Gardens in the waterfront. 

Keyport Rain Gardens, New Jersey

Keyport Rain Gardens, New Jersey

It is June 20, 2015; dark clouds are over our heads sometimes drizzling some rain drops on us and threatening the Keyport Garden Club’s work at the Rain Gardens.  While fishermen enjoying the cloudy weather, several of the members of the club are busy performing the beauty-makeover of our Rain Gardens.  With our gloves, pruners, paper bags, clippers, water bottles, and coffee cups, we spend two hours with nature.  We collectively decide if we want to leave some weeds alone since they will be blooming in a couple of weeks with beautiful yellow flowers.  A weed is not just a weed.  Sometimes, it can be a great showcase flowering plant.   The decision is in the eyes of a beholder.   And this beholder is the Keyport Garden Club.

Fishermen at the Keyport waterfront, New Jersey

Fishermen at the Keyport waterfront, New Jersey

As the team works hard at pruning the trees, deadheading the roses, and pulling out the weeds that crowd the beautiful plants, Al notices two colorful owl eyes staring at him.  These owl eyes are on the wings of a moth.  It looks beautiful.  It looks like a painting.  It looks like a little toy animal left on the branch of a bush.  We cannot believe it is a moth.  It is not the common gray moth we see around.  This one has a very cute personality.

Io moth with beautiful owl "eyes"

Io moth with beautiful owl “eyes”, Keyport, NJ

At the end of our work, Al and I go back to take some pictures.  We cannot find the moth.  We only see something resembling a dead leaf on the bush.  I shake the bush, and suddenly two cute owl eyes appear.  It happens so suddenly that we jump back. Even though we are sure that the moth is not looking at us and those eyes are a fake display evolved to keep the predators away, we feel invasive.  I am happy that I have a chance to capture this transformation from a dead leaf to a cute animal. 

Looks like a dry leaf, Io Moth, Keyport Rain Gardens, New Jersey

Looks like a dry leaf, Io Moth, Keyport Rain Gardens, New Jersey

Just one eye open, Io moth, Keyport Rain Gardens, New Jersey

Just one eye open, Io moth, Keyport Rain Gardens, New Jersey

Very cute face, Io moth

Very cute face, Io moth

Clare says the moth we saw might be the state moth.  Now our curiosity increases.  We start reading about it. 

The third graders at Lawrence Brook School in East Brunswick, NJ had done a lot of research about the Io moth and the ecological importance of moths under the guidance of David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty.  The students performed a song titled “New Jersey should have a ‘state moth‘” (on youtube) promoting Io to be the state moth. 

Moskowitz and Haramaty, ecologists and founding members of the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission (FEBEC)  have been very active to increase awareness of the ecological importance and biodiversity of the moths.  If you are interested in the importance of moths, please read the article titled “Importance of Moths” .

Apparently, the Io moth we saw is a female.  And she does not fly after she hatches.  Although the little hungry caterpillars eat a lot and have painful stings, the adults are harmless and do not feed.  They do not even have mouths!  The adult moth has only  one or two weeks of life.  And in this short period, it mates, lays eggs, and waits to die.  

I am planning to go visit this cute creature every day to see how she is doing.  If it is true that the Io female moths do not fly, I hope to find her where we left her.  I am a bit sad that she fell off the branch when I shook the plant she was on.  Maybe, I will carry her gingerly back to her branch.

We are done with the cleanup, Keyport Rain Gardens

We are done with the cleanup, Keyport Rain Gardens

Note:  Why the name Io?

The Io moth( scientific name: Automeris Io, Fabricius 1775) is a part of Saturniidae family.

I found two explanations as to why this cute moth is called Io:

Maybe, the person who named the moth  loved the solar system, the planets, and its moons. . And the largest moon of Jupiter is called Io and the moth “eyes” seemed like moons. (http://xplor.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/io-moth

Maybe, the person who named the moth loved Greek Mythology. Io was the daughter of the river-god Inachos.  Zeus turned Io into a dainty cow when his wife Hera found out about his affair with Io.  Hera tied the cow to a tree and had Argus be the watchman.  Argus had a hundred eyes and only half would close even when he was asleep.   Zeus sent Hermes to help save Io.  Hermes bored Argus to death with a long, monotonous story and freed Io.  Hera sent a gadfly to chase Io.  Trying to escape from the gadfly, Io jumped across the strait separating Europe and Asia Minor.  Now that strait is called Bosphorus (in Istanbul), meaning the “cow ford”.  (from D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths).  

(I am sure my regular readers were dying to know how could possibly relate this moth to Turkey).

Interestingly, another name given to his moth is “Lilith” by Strecker (1872).  Lilith was Adam’s first wife before Eve. 

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