The Janus Moth

Christmas Morning Moth

When I stepped out the front door on Christmas morning, I found a moth perched on the doorframe. It was gray, with wavy lines across its wings, and some swaths of brown along the lines. It was definitely an Iridopsis moth and, given the month, most likely a Brown-shaded Gray (I. defectaria), a moth that flies earlier and later in the season than other Iridopsis moths. The winter has been unseasonably warm so far, so seeing one of the early/late season moths in December was not unexpected, though the fact that it showed up on Christmas morning was a pleasant surprise.

I returned home on New Year’s Day and the same moth was still sitting in more or less the same place. It stayed there for several more days. I thought about poking it to see if it was still alive, but I didn’t want to disturb it. One day, when I was going through the door, it twitched a little bit, so that was confirmation that it was still alive. Finally, when I went out on January 10th, the moth was absent. I didn’t find any trace of its body on the ground or in a spiderweb, and the previous night had been warm, so I like to believe it left on its own, having found a sheltered place to roost for 16 days. There’s no way to know for sure, and it will remain one of those little mysteries of natural history.

The episode reminded me of the Roman god Janus, the double-faced patron of beginnings and endings. The Janus moth crossed from the old year into the new roosting on a doorframe; doors also happen to be associated with Janus. The moth, of course, was just living its life with no knowledge of the associations it happened to evoke in the mind of a human observer. It was alive and active during a warm early winter and was attracted by lights to a location that proved to be a relatively good place to roost for a few days. Then it moved on.

So that was the first moth of the year, as well as the last moth of the previous year.