Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Brief Hour

 It's been a cold summer, but we had a few August-warm evenings this past week. On the warmest, I was wearing a light summer dress, sprawled in an armchair with my knitting. The crickets outside were clear and bright as sleigh bells. Amidst the winter jingle, I was savoring the soft luxuriousness of the summer night, wistful at the thought of how fleeting summers are.

Phoenix and Matisse came out to report that there was a huge winged insect on the back screen door. Matisse rummaged around for the insect book, and the two of them set about trying to identify this lovely creature:

After some rummaging in the insect book, Matisse thought it might be cicada.

But it wasn't a cicada.

I took a flashlight and went around the outside of the house to take a closer look at the top of the insect. It clearly wasn't a cicada. I went through the insect book, but no insect in the book seemed to have wings that neatly overlapped and attached like this creature's.

I looked through the moths, thinking that it might be some sort of sphinx moth.

But it wasn't a sphinx moth.

There was clearly no sort of insect big enough and delicate enough to be this one. It kind of reminded me of a dragonfly or a lacewing, both of which were clearly wrong in different ways.

At the end of the section on lacewings, though, there were a small number of strange large insects: dobsonflies, fishflies, stoneflies, and snakeflies. All of the insects pictured in the book were also clearly wrong, but the shape of the head, the attachment of the wings to the body, and the shape of the wings was very similar to that of our visitor. 

There are so many species of insect out there that it is a challenge to find the right one. This insect, however, was not even a general type of insect that was familiar to me. It was something completely different, completely out of my ken.

I set the book aside and searched the web for these insects. Eventually, I narrowed the search to the Megaloptera, a primitive group of insects that spend years living in water or mud as happy caterpillary larvae and then a brief week as delicate adults who look clumsy on their wings.

Phoenix and I went out with a flashlight and a camera to photograph our insect. I also photographed the underside so that you can see the bright orange abdomen.

Meet Neohermes californica, the California fishfly or California dobsonfly. Our visitor is a female. The males have feathery rings of hairs on their antenna.

In bygone years, this would have been treasured as a homeschooling moment. With 3/4 of the children now adults, however, it felt more like a chance to briefly touch back into the past while holding a delicate moment in our hearts.

California fishflies live for years as larva, but their adult lives are very very brief. Although they live around us all the time, we had never chanced a glimpse of one in its full adult glory before. We might never see another.

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