Friday, 25 May 2018

Pink - or green

This is a lovely time of year for the moth enthusiast. Every morning, the trap offers fresh beauty and excitement even if almost all the inhabitants of the eggboxes are species which I have seen before. The weather is less of a deterrent, too. Last night was warm but turned wet in the small hours. In spite of that, Mr and Mrs Robinson's rain-shield did its job perfectly and protected, among many others, my grandaughter's favourite moth.

This is the Elephant Hawk shown in my first composite picture (the excellent app called Layout is how I do those0. You can see why a little girl might like it. Like so many other grandparents, parents and other carers, we have fought a losing battle against fascination with pink - although her little brother approves of it too, but perhaps mostly because he faithfully copies his sister in all that she does.

But is it pink? Or is that exquisite limey-green the dominant colour? I would answer Yes to this question so far as the topwings are concerned - and not forgetting the white, black and grey as well which add powerfully to the overall effect. But underneath, pink wins hands down.

The Elephant Hawk is dear to me as the first moth I bred from caterpillars, striking creatures with 'eyes' and a long grey body like an elephant's trunk; hence the name. As I have recounted many times, my kind mentor John Armitage, natural history curator at Leeds City Museum when I was boy, told my brother an myself to look for the catties in August on the lower leaves of rosebay willowherb growing on the verges of Leeds ring road in Adel. We looked and there they were.

A useful tip he gave was to wait until late in the season when the mature caterpillar goes grey after spending its previous instars being green which makes it much harder to find, like runner beans.

Here are some other visitors to the trap last night:

From top left, clockwise: Red Twin-spot Carpet, Pale Tussock, White-spotted Pug, micro awaiting ID, Scorched Wing (excellent moth!), Pug awaiting ID, Checking, Green Tortrix

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Nursery World

I didn't think that I would find myself breeding Emperor moths again, after all the angst and turmoil of raising three previous broods on willow which dried-up and curled with annoying speed. But I couldn't resist the progeny of the Emperor which escorted Penny and myself to Windsor (for a boat trip, not the wedding), and I have been rewarded by their loyalty to hawthorn which lasts fresh longer.

They have been sharing their Tupperware home with the much larger and very fast-moving caterpillar in my second and third pictures (and featured in the previous post). But not any more. I appealed for an ID from the unfailingly helpful Upper Thames Moths blog. One of their friendly experts, Marc Botham, suggested that it looked like a Satellite moth cattie - a species known to eat other larvae. I have hastily released it on to a hawthorn bush, leaving behind only its poos, whose difference in size from the Emperorlets' show the difference, as pictured below.

Meanwhile the trap has produced plenty of interest and beauty on the less frequent outings which I am giving it this year, because of my other commitments. Here are some of the arrivals in the last week, all of them delightful to re-encounter:

From top left clockwise; standard Peppered, melanic ditto, Sallow Kitten (lovely creature), Gold Spangle and Cinnabar (I saw one of these day-flying too, on Tuesday), and Small Phoenix

Ditto: Clouded-bordered Brindle, Treble Lines, Common Swift,  ditto with more modest markings, three merry cockchafers, Coxcomb Prominent, Bee moth, Waved Umber

Ditto: Orange Footman from above and below, and another, different one ditto, Buff Ermine

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Births and Birthdays

The moths have a fine record of being good to me on my birthday, so I wasn't concerned when yesterday morning's haul was modest. The birthday had many hours to go, I reasoned, at least three of them in darkness. When we got home from assorted treats laid on by Penny, my hopes rose higher still: the late evening was full of scent from Spring blossom and the air was reasonably warm.

Sure enough, this morning produced these beautiful visitors: two Eyed Hawks, a Poplar Hawk and a Puss Moth neatly positioned on one of the cross-bars of the trap's bulbholder. The moths were extremely sleepy and I had no trouble persuading them on to my fingers for a bit of fashion photography. They are now back in the eggboxes and will, I hope, stay sleepy long enough to be enjoyed by a family on a sponsored walk up the canal who are calling here for breakfast at 9am.

Things are lively here in another respect: my Emperor Moth eggs have hatched and we now have another nursery of aristocratic caterpillars. I am hoping that this time round, things will be less hectic as I am feeding them on hawthorn which lasts a little bit longer than the slender willow leaves on which I raised previous broods.

Also in the trap: the Cinnabar shown above with the Poplar Hawk, a couple of pretty White Ermines, a Powdered Quaker, a Bright-line Brown-eye, a lovely with its subtle hint of violet - and another, so far unidentified cattie which is sharing the hawthorn with the Emperorlets.

Thank you, moths!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Finger moth

The trap has been modestly populated since I last posted, perhaps because of temperatures falling quite sharply at night after the lovely warm days which we are enjoying. Nonetheless, there has been variety among the arrivals with a little colour in contrast to the demure grey Muslin moths which form the majority of guests.

The Brimstone and Cinnabars shown above were specially welcome in that regard. More in keeping with the Muslins was my third moth pictured, a Scalloped Hazel. Its low-key colouring is made up for by the unusual, serrated shape of its wings. And as with so many superficially drab moths, its patterning is delicate and subtle on close inspection.

The next moth led me a merry dance and my iPad Mini - my only means of photography at the moment - had problems getting it into focus.  But technology triumphed in the end and the moth - initially trapped upside-down on the dewy rim of the trap which may have accounted for its friskiness when freed - finally settled down enough for me to decide that it is an Ochreous Pug.

Finally, people examining my catches often ask about the difference between a moth and a caddis fly and the pair below conveniently provide a study in contrast. The micro-moth which I think is Agapeta hamana has found a comfy perch on a caddis, whose extra-long antennae are the distinction I use to separate the one tribe from the other.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Flying Prawn

"It's a prawn!" said Penny, when I took her this moth as part of our wedding anniversary celebrations (goodness, is it really Ruby next year? Yes). She was accurate in her description. Although the colour and pattern of the Pine Beauty are delightful, they and the resting position are definitely prawn-like. Mind you, I love prawns, so the description is entirely in the moth's favour.

I had to wait for our move from Yorkshire to Oxfordshire to see this moth in my own trap, although they are widespread in the North of England and Scotland and I came across one when making a radio programme about moths in pine-rich Forestry Commission woodland beneath the Whietstonecliff escarpment in North Yorkshire. Pine enthusiasts are ambivalent about the insect, however pretty, as its caterpillars have a healthy appetite. But with the exception of major pest damage when a tree called the North American Lodgepole Pine was introduced on poor soils in Scotland, it has been pretty well-behaved.

My second moth today has also led me a geographical dance. I first saw the Small Dusty Wave for definite on a wall in Bloomsbury, London. Yesterday morning, I found one slumbering on one of our windows here. It is tiny and often mistaken for a pug moth initially, an assumption which I made. But it has a lovely, gentle appearance which deserves the word 'dusty'. I hope that it feels at home here and starts a family.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Belles of St Clement's

This morning's moths brought a welcome change in the colour spectrum which chimes nicely with the livery of my sculling boat, Clementine, which is due to carry me down the Thames to London in September.   The Orange Footman is one of the UK's many moth-y success stories, a suspected immigrants species (sorry for any chilling echoes of current Home Office language) which has expanded from its south-western landfall as far north as Yorkshire. The Brimstone is an old and common favourite, a lovely moth whose equally delightful butterfly namesakes are numerous and active in the current sunny spell. I hope that you have them too, with their pretty companions, Orange-tips.

Pugs always have me foxed and I have applied for help with today's, as usual, to the unfailingly helpful Upper Thames Moths blog. My guess is Brindled.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Nothing wrong with being common

Here's a quartet of last night's arrivals and lovely moths they are too. The White Ermine, bottom left with my wedding ring and somewhat pudgy fingers, is an instant favourite with everyone who encounters it; ditto the Cinnabar alongside, whose striking red streaks and dots go superbly with its background colour of a very slightly green and rather oily black.

The two moths at the top are the delicate Green Carpet, named in the 18th century when wonderfully-patterned carpets from the East were arriving in commercial quantities in England, and the Iron Prominent whose colours have a touch of those paint suppliers to the gentry, Messrs Farrow & Ball.

All these moths, and the year's first Flame Shoulder shown above, are common albeit seldom seen by those who are not lucky or wise enough to own a moth trap (the Cinnabar is the likeliest to have wider recognition, both because it flies by day as well as night and because its striking yellow-and-black-banded caterpillars are familiar on ragwort).  News of these hidden riches seems to be spreading, I am glad to say, and the number of moth observers and enthusiasts is increasing. Welcome all, and here are a couple more White Ermines from this morning's eggboxes to enjoy.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Hawk's worth

It's always a good moment when the year's first hawk moth arrives, specially for superficial moth enthusiasts such as myself for whom size and colour cause more excitement than scientific peculiarities or small aberrations in otherwise humdrum-looking insects.

Not that colour is the strong point of last night's arrival, the Poplar Hawk, whose colouring is overwhelmingly made up of different greys. It does, however, have a startling blotch of pinky-red on each underwing, which the moth may flash as a warning to predators when disturbed and alarmed. I wasn't feeling specially interventionist when I examined the trap this morning, so I left the moth in peace.

Its distinction, which lifts its otherwise humble status as the UK's commonest hawk, lies in the way that it holds its wings, with the under-ones projecting further forward than the topwings. This can give it a slightly sinister bat-like appearance and it is not a moth which appeals to everyone. For that, we need the pretty pink Elephant hawks.

Last night also brought the well-named Spectacle moth, above, which always brings a grin to my face, and I've added another Malvolio study of a Muslin, this time also showing his distinctive antennae - always a feature of the male and resembling Denis Healey's eyebrows. Perhaps he received extra knowledge through these which made him such a formidable politician. If we were allowed one extra feature from the animal world, I would be much tempted by antennae, although in the end, I suspect that like most people, I would opt for wings.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Small but beautiful

Another crop of interesting moths came last night as the lovely spell of weather continued. The one at the top is new to me - at least, new in the sense that I have not recorded it before. It is classified as 'common' and so I am sure that it must have paid me a visit, but passed un-noticed.

It is the micro-moth Acleris literana, not to be confused with its relative and near namesake Acleris laterana. I like the delicate indication of green, all the fainter on this specimen which looks as though he or she has been a round a bit.  The species is on the wing in the UK from July round to May, so we are also at the end of the 2017-18 cycle.

My second picture shows, clockwise from top left, a Pug moth which I have yet to ID exactly, a Muslin showing the Malvolio leggings which are such a contrast to its soft, dark grey cloak, a Pale Prominent with its characteristic snout and a very pretty Scorched Carpet.

Finally, this equally pretty little moth baffled me initially as it was scurrying about - though fortunately not interested in fluttering off - and made itself very difficult to photograph. I didn't recognise it until it finally found a spot which set its nerves at ease and assumed the unmistakable resting pose of a Chinese-character moth (the character being the silvery mark in the middle of the wing, rather than a Confucian state of mind).

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Royal family

News today of an unexpected and - for me - exciting consequence of Thursday night's visit by a female Emperor moth.  By happy chance, Penny and I were invited by friends to voyage down the Thames yesterday from Windsor to Maidenhead. In appreciation, we took them a bottle of wine, some home-grown purple-sprouting - and the Empress.

That's Windsor Castle in the background
On the way, I emailed about something else from the train to Dave Wilton, the wonderfully knowledgable and helpful organiser of the Upper Thames Moths blog, and I mentioned in passing that I was carrying out this minor piece of species redistribution. He replied: 'If she is travelling in the dark, she may have company by the time you get to Windsor.'

He was absolutely right. Look at the lovely clutch of eggs which she laid as the various trains conducted us between Oxford Parkway, Oxford, Slough and Eton and Windsor. I rewarded her by leaving her contentedly on a willow tree by the Thames at Runnymede (she was still in exactly the same spot when we wandered past an hour later after exploring the historic site). But I've brought the eggs back here for a little caterpillar breeding.

This is a very enjoyable occupation. I think that if you are interested and Google skilfully, you will be able to follow the long and fertile family saga of the beautiful Empress shown at the top of this blog's web page. I am also offering free eggs to anyone else who would like a go, so let me know if you are interested.