Summer of the Imperials

by Liana M. Mahoney -

“Did you hear that?” Kenna whispered, sitting up in her sleeping bag.

“Hear what?” Madison answered.

Kenna unzipped the tent. Through the glare of the lampposts, she saw a winged creature flapping frantically in the grass. “Quick, hand me the firefly jar!” She started toward the deck.

“Kenna,” Madison cried. “Be careful!”

Kenna crept forward, then kneeled and scooped the flapping creature into the jar.

“Ew...I can’t look!” Madison squealed. She turned away as Kenna returned to the tent.

“I think you’ll be surprised,” Kenna said, smiling. She shone the flashlight on the jar. Inside was a yellow moth. Blotchy pink freckles dotted its tattered wings. The moth’s legs were covered in pink fuzz.

“It’s a pretty moth,” Madison said.

“Its wings are hurt,” Kenna said. She looked around the tent and emptied the large paper bag that had been full of snacks for their sleepover. Kenna tipped the jar on its side, then removed the cover. She placed the jar inside the bag and folded down the top.

“There. Now it can climb out and stretch its wings. We can let it go in the morning,” Kenna said.

The next morning, Kenna and Madison carefully unfolded the bag. Inside, the moth lay still at the bottom.

“Kenna, I think it’s...dead,” Madison said softly.

In the daylight, the girls got a better look. The moth had a thick, soft belly. At the top of its head were two antennae that looked like thin curvy feathers.

Madison peered inside the bag. Clusters of yellow beads stuck to the paper.

“Eggs!” Madison said.

Kenna took a closer look. Eggs dotted the bag from top to bottom. “Lots of eggs! Let’s find out what kind of moth she is.”

The girls went inside to get some field guides from Kenna’s mother. They discovered their moth was a type of giant silk moth called an imperial. They learned that the females die shortly after laying eggs.

“It says here the caterpillars hatch in about ten days,” Kenna said. “They eat pine needles, and they need to eat almost all of the time.” She gave Madison a knowing look.

“We’ve got an old pine tree in the yard. It won’t hurt to cut some branches,” Kenna’s mother said. “But it will be lots of work. You’ll be busy most of the summer.”

“It will be the ‘Summer of the Imperials’,” Kenna said.  Madison gave her a high-five.

Kenna and Madison counted twenty-two eggs. Kenna put eleven in an empty fish aquarium, and Madison put eleven in a clear plastic jug. The girls cut squares of cheesecloth to cover their containers. Then, Madison took her jug home.

Over the next week Kenna checked the eggs, watching for signs the baby moths might hatch...

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