Stunt buses and the backyard drama of the cecropia moth 

Race fans! Hot rodders! Get ready for a weekend full of non-stop, full-throttle action-action-action! Public transportation-style, that is.

Kinda loses its zing when you put it like that, doesn’t it? But the fact is, all those demolition derbies and monster truck rallies can go to hell. This weekend, Missoula will play host to what is by far the Treasure State’s coolest motor event, the Montana Bus Roadeo. That’s right, sports fans. On Sunday, June 25 at 9 a.m., the Big Sky High School parking lot will become a white-hot grease fire of pure entertainment, as rip-roaring, smoke-spewing, fire-breathing, um, buses, tear up the asphalt at the annual statewide bus-driving throwdown.

According to Mountain Line’s general manager Steve Earle, the Roadeo is a young but revered tradition among Montana’s transit navigators, kind of a bus pilot’s potlatch. “The objective is to promote safer operation of transit vehicles, not only through competition but also through camradarie,” he says.

Yeah, yeah. But the really boss thing about it—and probably the real reason everyone goes—is the obstacle course. Operators will be subjected to a gauntlet of bus-driver’s nightmares, like the traffic course, in which drivers have to weave buses around a series of serpentine corners at 35 m.p.h. within a mere 45 seconds, and the death-defying diminishing clearance course, which calls on operators to squeeze their rigs through a series of barrels until there’s just one inch of leeway on each side. (“I’ve seen some of those barrels get knocked a long ways,” Earle says.) Heard enough? I have. Stunt-buses? I am so there!

City folk that many of us are, even in Missoula, we sometimes tend to think of nature as something outside the city limits. Often we don’t notice the little miracles until it’s time to scrape them off the windshield or fish their charred little corpses out of the bug lamp.

Are you aware, for example, of the drama currently being played out in our backyards and alleyways by the species Hyalophora cecropia, the largest moth in North America? It’s always a treat to see one of these nocturnal wonders: wingspan of up to six inches, dazzlingly colored (as far as moths go), with eyelike glassine panels in pairs on each wing. You don’t forget your first time.

But alas, any Cecropia you see is not long for this world. The moths emerge from late May to early July and spend the next (and last) two weeks of their lives racing against the clock to reproduce. The female of the species emits pheromones which the male can detect at distances of up to seven miles; upon finding each other, they usually mate just before dawn and remain coupled until the following evening. The female will then lay rows of reddish-brown eggs and the mating pair will begin the natural process of dying.

For, you see, in one of Mother Nature’s crueler jokes, adult Cecropia moths cannot eat. They have no mouths. Their purpose is to mate, be done with it, and recycle themselves.

Think about that next time you’re pondering our higher purpose.

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