SAUCIER — Night flight, day light


“Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and decay destroy,” Jesus said.

Maybe the uncomely orbiter of light annoyed Him. Maybe He found holes in His favorite tunic. Regardless, He was not a fan of the moth.

Still, that familiar camel-colored lepidopteran with its long antennae and spindly legs has an interesting backstory. It is just one of 160,000 species sharing a common ancestor. It all began with a tiny aquatic insect that crawled up on shore, tasted some moss, and never turned back.

Then bats come along. The night-feeding mammals found moths a delicacy and became their primary predator, beginning an epic evolutionary battle.

Bats evolved to hunt by emitting sounds and locating prey with their echo. After early losses, the moth developed ears that could detect the bat’s emissions and allowed it to respond with evasive action like a locked-on fighter pilot in the movies.

Not to be outdone, bats began to create new frequencies of sound. The moths responded with a broader range of hearing.

Bats then perfected their echo locator, and moths tried to jam the bat’s sonar or mislead the bat to think it would be a toxic lunch.

Scientists thought that some moths adapted to become daylight feeders in order to escape the nocturnal bats. However, recent research suggests that some moths opted for the day shift even before bats came along.

Bees had come on the scene 125 million years ago. Plants decided to put them to good use as pollinators, and they began producing nectar to attract the bees.

After the bees and before the bats, some moths had morphed into butterflies, the latter taking with them the tube-like mouth structure moths had acquired for sucking sap and water.

With their straw-like mouths, some moths, and later butterflies, became day feeders to take advantage of a new food source when flowers were open.

That’s when butterflies began to go color crazy, trading in the drab of the night for a brilliant palette for mate attraction and self-defense.

The much-maligned moth is a model of persistence and adaptability.

This ill-treated insect was the progenitor of monarchs, swallowtails and all the other iridescent butterflies that delight children, poets and all who pause to admire God’s garden.

It turns out that pesky little arthropod used to warn us not to lay up treasures on earth was, itself, a veritable treasure on earth.