Strolling at dusk the other night, we very nearly stepped on an enormous and magnificent giant peacock moth. Chris found a twig, and with great tenderness and care he delicately moved the stunning winged beauty out of harm’s way. Upon returning home later that evening, I had a quick scan of our ‘garden’ (which consists of some small pots with herbs, vegetables and a few hardy flowering plants). To my outrage, horror and disgust, I found four slugs surreptitiously munching on our lemon thyme. Without thinking twice, I pinched each offender angrily about its squishy, sticky, non-existent, little midriff and petulantly flung it to the bushes about a meter below.
I know that I should have gently removed the unwelcome diners from my plants and compassionately placed them in a safe and comfortable spot as we had done with the moth, but somehow my visceral aversion to the interlopers, not to mention their copious and astoundingly tenacious slime (has no one bio-mimicked this stuff?!) somehow compelled me to unceremoniously hurl the hapless and unsuspecting epicures into the dark.
Where is the justice in this verdict? My subsistence does not rely upon the output of my garden, and while I do feel some sense of irritation at being raided by these silent but voracious vegetarians (and I am not alone in this regard), I realise that I am passing an aesthetic judgment where none is warranted.
One of the first few websites I found regarding the giant peacock moth gave a whimsical and enchanting description of its courtship and conception ritual ( http://tpittaway.tripod.com/silk/s_pyr.htm). It sounded more like a teenage romance than a biological account. The next site provided some genuinely mesmerising footage of the moth’s life cycle. (http://naturedocumentaries.org/9823/great-peacock-moth-saturnia-pyri-life-cycle-adam-grochowalski-2015/) Further sites waxed lyrical about the moth’s great beauty and how lucky people felt to encounter one. There were even links to an oil painting of a giant peacock moth, which was based on earlier chalk and ink drawing by van Gogh, who said, ‘To paint it, I would have had to kill it, and that would have been a great shame since the animal was so beautiful’
In contrast, when tapping slugs into the search field, up popped hundreds of websites, list-serves, articles, personal recommendations and home remedies elaborating on methods to evict snails and slugs from one’s garden. The schemes were varied and included several lethal solutions. Try though I might, I could not find one reference on how to get rid of giant peacock moths.
We view butterflies with admiration and hold them as talismans of freedom and metamorphosis, the capacity to become beautiful through iteration and growth. They are ephemeral, with most living only a few days, eating nothing during their short lives. Yet caterpillars, their ravenous, unruly, adolescent precursors, are responsible for considerable damage to trees and crops around the world.
Where then do we draw the line? Who is friend and who is foe in this inexorably connected world?
Why do I appreciate aesthetically pleasing creatures but recoil from those that seem ugly or alien to me, when their actual impact in the world has nothing to do with their appearance?
On what do we base our verdicts and valuations when it comes to the other denizens of the planet?
And if we have biases or skewed priorities, how do we go about evaluating and/or re-aligning them?