Sphinx of the Southern Loess Hills

Genevieve Williams, poetry mentor of the day, gave us an hour to wander and read and write. The good thing about reading poetry, or trying to write it, is that it slows you way down. If not, our friend Chelsea may not have found something fat and slow and green.

sphinx kalmiae

Larva of Sphinx kalmiae. Photo by Chelsea Balzer.

Something so big and colorful should be easy to identify. But not so! That it is a sphinx moth larva is plain enough, but there are around 50 species of sphinx moths documented in Iowa. It looked to me like a species belonging to the genus Manduca, but our good friend Dr. Ted Burk set me straight. It is Sphinx kalmiae, the fawn sphinx. A nocturnal pollinator of the deciduous forest, the larvae feed on ash leaves and those of other members of the olive family. The fat green caterpillars, like wandering poets on a summer’s day, seek the cool and shady forest. Breezes stir us under high canopies and together we do our good work.                                                                                                            –Jack Phillips

July poetry in the woods at Waubonsie State Park. Contact Jack at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com.