Sunday, July 13, 2008

Drunk as a skunk? and PS from Marie

Nessus Sphinx in an altered state of consciousness

Beth Bergman describes her first reaction to the sight of a Nessus Sphinx moth on the
Carousel sap tree, and then what happened when she came back to get her second set of photos.:

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's SUPER BUG. . . My brain screamed, "hummingbird!" It was small with wings that hummed and it was hovering at the sweet spot at the oozy tree (sap).So I did what every law abiding person would do, jump the fence for a closer look. This wasn't a hummingbird, but it looked like something I saw once in Colorado, also resembled a hummingbird and wasn't.

When confused, take pictures, ID will follow, but this was a hard subject, -low light, moving subject, dark-on-bark. I got the ID that evening from expert, Marie Winn, a Nessus Sphinx moth. Wow! What a fascinating thing.

Today I went back to the oozy tree, this time with a strobe and diffuser. If the moth was there again I might get better pictures. Lo and behold it was there, perched at the sap spot sucking up the stuff non-stop. The best plan is always to take pictures first, get a few shots, and then do adjustments, because anything in nature can fly away in a split second. I got the few shots then got out the extra gear. The moth never left...... suck, suck, suck, suck, suck.... enough time to shoot from several angles.

Then all of a sudden it fell off the tree, not fly, FELL, plop, thud, as if dead. I couldn't find it. Where did it go? Is this "drink-till-you-drop"? It seemed so. And then I saw it on the grass, found it by looking for its tail bands. It was moving slightly. Drunk? And then it turned, face up. The camera got the face better than what my eyes saw, because I was trying to predict what would happen next. What a great face! It flew back to the sap spot and resumed drinking.

P.S. from Marie

In the last chapter of Central Park in the Dark I finally find out why the Moth Tree [There was only one until Beth Bergman discovered another one near the Carousel] oozes that insect-attracting sap. Here's a passage from page 267, just after a tree expert tells the Central Park Mothers [rhymes with authors] that the tree is suffering from a disease called Slime Flux.:

Slime flux! A quick Internet search confirmed the diagnosis.
Many websites included photos of diseased trees that looked just like the Moth Tree. Many sites mentioned a symptom that left us no doubt that Kane had nailed it: “Various types of insects are attracted to the slime flux,” wrote the authors of “Ornamental Disease Note No. 8” from the North Carolina State University Plant Pathology Extension. “Insects feed on the slime,” observed a tree expert at Colorado State University. Walter Reeves, a gardening commentator on Georgia Public Radio, wrote that “the ooze is usually surrounded by insects,” adding a bit censoriously, “some of whom seem inebriated!”
PPS Last night at the Moth Tree:
1 Yellow-striped Armyworm
1 Ilia Underwing [conspicua form]
Many Lunate Zales
2 Large Yellow Underwings [an exotic]
Many Copper Underwings

PPS Don't forget there's a new page devoted to news of Central Park in the Dark