30.1.11

winged things


leaf after a pagoda box worm is done with it -image by J

It became a winged thing imperceptibly, as a maturing face imperceptibly becomes beautiful. And its wings - still feeble, still moist, kept growing and unfolding, and now they were developed to the limit set for them by God, and there, on the wall, instead of a little lump of life, instead of a dark mouse, was a great Attacus moth like those that fly, birdlike, around lamps in the Indian dusk.

And then those thick black wings, with a glazy eyespot on each and a purplish bloom dusting their hooked foretips, took a full breath under the impulse of tender, ravishing, almost human happiness. [From Nabokov's story in Russian "Rozhdestvo", reproduced in Nabokov's Butterflies]
It was actually Facebook that had sent me to find and wipe off the dust from my copy of Nabokov's Butterflies. And as I was reading random parts of the book again, I found the except above. Ah, who else but Nabokov could have written these sentences that seem to take flight, and just when you try to catch you breath, he tries his luck with just that one more word "ravishing". My literary hero.

OK, enough adulation.

The first Facebook link was to this NY Times article on the recent vindication of Nabokov as a lepidopterist. Nabokov's hypothesis was that the Polyommatus Blue evolved and travelled to the New World over millions of years from Asia. This was supposedly dismissed by most professional lepidopterists in his time who perhaps saw his hypothesis as more fiction than a studied possibility. Gene sequencing technology today has proven - finally - that Nabokov was right! Of course, what is fascinating is that a family of butterflies, these slight fragile creatures, had travelled through such enormous distance. Just how many butterflies over how many millions of years would it take?

The second link that led to a blog was left by J's Facebook contact K in response to J's photograph (see above). J had taken of a large leaf he had found that was punctured almost throughout his entire surface. K's link attributed these circular wounds to the appetite of the (pagoda) bagworm.
Bagworm moths are of the Order Lepidoptera, same as the butterflies and family Psychidae. The distinctive feature of bagworms is that their larvae are remarkable architects, building mobile cases made of environmental materials, in this example, the leaves, to hide themselves in. Thus, within each case hides a tiny caterpillar. For the pagoda bagworm, it scrapes the chlorophyll off the leaf before incising cleanly around the area consumed, creating a circular wound. The excised leaf piece is then added to the bagworm’s protective casing.[From the Urban Forest blog]
Images of the pagoda bagworm and other species of the bagworm are quite amazing, their cases looking at times like architecture and at times, almost fluid like a sweeping cloak. And who can resist a name like the "Pagoda Bagworm"! As if a diminutive traveling salesman had renounced the world and retreated, albeit with his bag of samples, into a quiet tower somewhere in Kyoto.

These little discoveries make perfect a rainy Saturday night.

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