Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Firefighters rescue some educational eggs

Fresh-hatched caterpillars fascinate

By Lew Moores, lmoores@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        UNION TWP. — The stories, of course, are legendary: Firefighters rescuing cats from trees and dogs from burning homes.

        But when a huge moth flew through the bay doors of the Miami Township fire house at Wards Corner Road and Branch Hill-Guinea Pike in Clermont County recently and deposited 53 eggs on a firetruck and on the floor, the firefighters could have swept them down a floor drain.

        Instead, they “rescued” the eggs, carefully scraping them off the stainless steel door of the fire truck and placing caution cones around the ones on the floor.

        Jason Burbrink, a firefighter-paramedic, called the Cincinnati Nature Center's Rowe Woods.

        “Personally, I'd never seen a moth that big before,” said Mr. Burbrink. “I didn't know what kind of moth it was. I didn't know if it was endangered or whether it was something the nature center would want to study.”

        Harriett Clark, environmental educator at Rowe Woods, hurried over to the firehouse. She encouraged the firefighters to check the Internet to see if they could identify the moth. Firefighters Jim Petry and Vic Miller determined it was a Cecropia moth, North America's largest, with a wingspan of close to 6 inches.

        At the nature center, caterpillars hatched from the eggs on May 29. Ms. Clark feeds them walnut leaves and uses them as a teaching tool at Rowe Woods. The caterpillars will grow fat and get bigger. By late July they should spin cocoons and overwinter before emerging as moths next spring.

        While neither endangered nor uncommon, the moth is elusive and rarely seen because it is nocturnal. In addition, an adult moth lives only a week to 10 days.

        This week at Rowe Woods, Ms. Clark enthralled 18 children ages 6 to 10 from Morrow Early Childhood Center with the life history of the Cecropia moth as she passed around a walnut branch loaded with the growing caterpillars.

        She also showed them an adult Cecropia moth that had emerged recently from a cocoon.

        “What do you think we should do with this?” she asked.

        “Let him go!”

        She cupped the moth in her hands, walked outdoors and released it.

        “I didn't know they grew into moths,” said Chelsey Bradshaw, 10, of Morrow. “And I thought it was amazing to see the moth fly away. I like to see stuff returned to the wild. It makes me happy.”

        Ms. Clark felt the same way about the unusual “rescue.”

        “These guys . . . seemed delighted to save the eggs,” she said. “Of course, that's what they do. They rescue things.”


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