Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Hidden Life in the Meadowlands

After just about finishing up our Super Bird Sunday nature walk our hardy group casually strolled under one of the splendid River Birch trees that border the Meadowlands Environment Center. As I glanced at a branch just slightly above my head what looked like a small clump of dried leaves caught my attention.

After closer examination, this little, unobtrusive, dangling dried cluster turned out to be something much more wonderful … .a Polyphemus moth cocoon !


The Polyphemus Moth is a magnificent creature that gets its name from Greek mythical stories. It is one of the largest moths, having a huge 5 inch wingspan. It is a member of the Saturniidae family, which are the great silk moths. And there it was, waving its winter quarters, the breeze above our head, a testament to life itself.

Needless to say, at least from my way of thinking this was a wonderful discovery. Life dormant but alive as any bird in the Meadowlands, patiently waiting to continue its life within the very intricate lifecycles of our Meadowlands. Hidden from most, surviving the winter winds, predators and even human frailties, there it was in all its brown masked glory!

As I looked at the silk woven creation wrapped in dried birch leaves I imagined the caterpillar back in the fall, eating the birch leaves, growing to 3 or 4 inches. Avoiding the birds, the squirrels and even parasitic wasps to make it this far. To hopefully grace the warm Meadowlands nights and play its part in an ecosystem clandestine and wonderful, complex and yet visible for those that take the time to look.

As the winter continues lets not forget that life in the Meadowlands as well as your backyard, though seemingly vacant and void, is out there! It lies in the leaf litter, in the stems of your dried out flowers, under the bark and inside the mud. It is there very alive and yet, at least for now, very still. Our native bees, butterflies, amphibians and yes, even moths, depending on us to protect them while they rest. Waiting for the first warm days of spring to remind us life has begun again.

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