The Flaming Moth Syndrome

moth-webA glint of flame—a tiny puff of smoke; intermittent tragedy occurs around a blue light on the back porch…

A dull brown feather-winged moth fluttered through caves a million years ago—her ancestors had probably been fluttering that way for millions of years before. The search for safety and sustenance in those nocturnal paleolithic hunting grounds led them to dark shadowy caverns, inhabited by few predators.

But for purposes of procreation, the brown moth found herself drawn by instinct out into the open sunshine among flowers and leaves, taking a chance on becoming an hors d’oeuvre for some voracious bird or reptile.

The instinctive directive that led her from the safety of the caves to that place of vulnerabiity was phototropism: an attraction to light.

There was undoubtedly adequate selective-genetic justification for this tendency: foraging among green leaves and grasses, though dangerous for moths, was surely more survival-adaptive for hungry green caterpillars than scrounging in desolate caverns.

But nature is unforgiving of habits and instincts once adaptive, which are
maintained beyond their adaptive time. Between the taming of fire by our ancestors, and our final perfection of the bug-zapper, there was insufficient opportunity for a more selectively phototropic moth to evolve.

So nature accepts the loss of those moths whose encounters with light in its
modern, more deadly forms is terminal, balancing it in some cosmic ledger against the adaptive value of an instilled instinct.

And in the larger picture of time and events the flaming moth becomes an acceptable loss.