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The Emperor's New Clothes

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The crusty old cocoon I've lovingly cared for in my garden shedsince last September, and which has given my family serious concerns about my mental stability (again) finally erupted into life on the 16th April.

From out of that sad, brown, turd-like blob emerged a beautiful female Emperor Moth (Saturnia pavonia) in all her dazzling glory.  This emperor's new clothes were a definite improvement on the previous outfit.

She was a splendid looking specimen, so when her wings were fully expanded I moved her onto a wooden log in order to get a few photos before releasing her.  As you can see, she was very obliging.

When I finished she was still very sedentary, so I placed the log outside in a sheltered area of the garden and figured she'd leave after dark.  The following morning I was surprised to see she was still on the log and had only moved a few inches.  In fact she remained in the same place for a further day and a half, and then finally at 5pm on the 18th April the secret of her apparent lethargy was revealed.  A male Emperor moth had zeroed in on her, and the two were now mating.

While on the log for two days she'd been busy wafting her pheromones (perfume) about, and the male had detected these microscopic scent particles with his feather-like antennae, probably from more than 100m away.  It's thought that the males are so sensitive to the pheomones they can actually detect them from several kilometres away.

The two moths stayed together for several hours and then the male departed.  The female stayed on the log, for a few more hours, then laid her eggs and left too.

Keep an eye out for Emperor moths where you are.  They're one of the largest and more distinctive UK species, and our only resident member of the silk moth family.  The males are quite easy to spot in April and May as they zig-zag through the air 'sniffing' out the

females during the daytime.  Their large, round owl-like eyespots distinguish them from other moths.  The eyespots are used to frighten away attackers.  For added effect they sometimes fan out their forewings revealing a second pair of eyes on the hindwings for a double scary effect!

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