Friday, 2 October 2015

Autumn colours


The nights are longer and the mornings darker, but keeping the moth lamp burning into the autumn brings a rich reward. This morning, for example, saw these three interesting and beautiful overnight visitors. A welcome start to the day.

The Green-brindled Crescent, subject of my first two pictures, is a straightforwardly lovely moth with a marvellous mixture of greens, greys, browns and pinks which any dress designer would envy. It comes in two main forms, one greenish the other browny, but has all manner of subtle variations in between.

My second arrival, above, is a familiar friend, Blair's Shoulder-knot, but I have learned more about it while checking my finds with that excellent web page Hants Moths Flying Tonight. Because this referred to the insect as Blair's Shoulder-knot or Stone Pinion, I did a little more Googling to discover the origins of this alternative which was new to me.  

I have often referred in the past to the eminent Dr Blair, a retired entomologist from the Natural History Museum in London who lived on the Isle of Wight and discovered no fewer than three species new to England there which all now carry his name. Blair's Shoulder-knot, Blair's Wainscot and Blair's Mocha all made landfall in the UK on the island after setting out from continental Europe on probes north. What I didn't know was that Dr Blair modestly described the Shoulder-knot as 'Stone Pinion' in his original report of the find in 1951.

Although it acknowledged the moth's similarities with the Pale and Tawny Pinion - the first an occasional visitor here too - the name didn't catch on and others insisted that the moth should acknowledge Blair. It has since spread rapidly, almost certainly because of the huge - and in all other respects depressing - surge in popularity for its foodplant, cypress. If only the caterpillars could dispose of all those Leyland cypress hedges.

Finally, here's that delightful Autumn regular, the Frosted Orange. As the newsletter of South Wales Butterfly Conservation (one of my Googling finds) says: 'Those observers who keep trapping well into Autumn are often rewarded not only with the chance to see Blair's Shoulder-knot, but also some of the most beautifully-marked species found in Great Britain.'  The writer adds sagely that many Autumn moths are considered rarer than they probably are, simply because so many people have called it a day for the year's trapping.

Monday, 28 September 2015

In the pink

The moon famously went pink last night, and so did my moths. I wanted to see the eclipse of the 'supermoon' and managed to wake myself up at 1.30am, 2.15am, 2.45am and finally 3.30am when the eclipse was under way. Sleepiness and the limitations of my iPad mean that my photographic record of the great event is rudimentary. But there was a nice coincidence in the moth trap this morning.

Three Pink-barred Sallows had arrived, my first of this year. They couldn't have chosen a more propitious night. I've now had the Sallow, the Centre-barred Sallow and the Barred Sallow. The Orange Sallow, the Dusky-lemon Sallow and the Pale-yellow Sallow have yet to make it. The last is very rare, so I'm not expecting it. But you never know.

Also there among the Lunar Underwings et al was this nice Snout moth. It always puts me in mind of Pinocchio, and I do not tell a lie.

Saturday, 26 September 2015


The nights have got colder and the moth trap's contents have settled into routine mode, with the likes of the Black Rustic and Lunar Underwing coming in good numbers, along with a dozen other familiar species. So it's been down to Penny the World's Leading Outside-the-Trap Spotter, to come up with the goods this time.

She spotted the little chap in the top two pictures on our flour jar - or should that be flour pot, as opposed to flowerpot)? At first, because of the heart shape, I thought it was what I call the Valentine moth, Acleris forsskaleana, which can have a second brood around now. But a closer look at the patterning and the wing shape convinces me that it is one of the lively family of Carnation Tortrixes,  Cacoecimorpha pronubana, who live in our greenhouse.

By chance, a rather similarly coloured micromoth spent the night in the trap. I think that it is a Light Brown Apple moth, Epiphyas postvittana, which is a stalwart here and no doubt enjoys our apple trees.  Back to Penny, and she did well to spot this Large Ranunculus, below, sleeping just under our porchlight, along with two Lunar Underwings, one grey and the other brown but both very well camouflaged.

I was a bit of a Penny myself when I went to inspect the moth trap. I usually check out its surroundings though my thoroughness depends on how sleepy I am feeling plus the competing call of early morning tea. On this occasion I was quite alert and spotted these three Black Rustics on the wall and grass.

While checking the eggboxes, I had time to take this photograph of a flimsy little carpetty moth, but it fluttered away before I could take a more illuminating shot. Dave Maunder on the endlessly excellent Upper Thames Moths blog has come to my rescue by ID-ing it as a Common Marbled Carpet.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Tale of a tail

Moths are generally very samey when it comes to resting positions. When Penny and I came in last night, she (the unparalleled moth-spotter where insects outside the trap are concerned) noticed three of them sleeping happily in light drizzle below our porch light. All formed neat little triangles with their bodies and underwings well hidden even though they were otherwise very different-looking species: two Lunar Underwings and a Large Ranunculus.

Today's moth is different. One of the many Square-spot Rustics around at this time of year, it had pegged out rather thoroughly on the base of the moth trap's bowl. Update: I think today's commentor is right to re-identify this as a Small Square-spot. Many thanks. In the process it revealed its thickly tufted tail. When photographing moths, you get used to seeing a mop of hair or fur on the heads of recently-hatched specimens, which have yet to undergo the rigours of life including hair loss. But many are well endowed at the other end too. It is just that this feature is seldom seen.

If it was, this creature might be nicknamed 'Tufty', just as William Morris was known to his friends as 'Topsy' because of the impressive thatch on top of his large and imagination-packed head. I learned this satisfying fact only yesterday on a hugely enjoyable first visit to Kelmscott Manor which I can't recommend too much. You are never too old to discover new things.  Here is a cartoon of Topsy fishing in the Thames which runs alongside the Manor's grounds; like the Disciples, he is drawn by Dante Gabriel Rossetti innocently casting his bait on the wrong side of the boat.

Another visitor more observant than me kindly pointed out the (deliberate) butterfly reflection of the stair lamp. And among May Morris's treasures in a cabinet upstairs, there was a lovely foreign hawkmoth preserved, a variant I think of the Striped Hawk.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Same difference

Willow and Sallow abound round here, with both a river and a canal within an easy walk from the garden. Not surprising, then, that we are visited regularly and in large numbers at the moment by the Sallow moth. What may surprise some readers, however, is the variability of the Sallow. My first three pictures are all of this species, in descending order of strength of colour in the creme caramel pattern.

The last of the three is the most washed-out although you can see the same basic structure of the different colours.  To add to the confusion (at least in the heads of poor moth-identifyers such as myself), there is a relative called the Pink-barred Sallow which is alarmingly similar. I don't think that either of the top two in my series of pictures is one of those, but I have been wrong before...

Another moth which is very common in the trap at the moment shares this range of colouring within a single species: the Lunar Underwing. The next four pictures are all of Lunar Underwings. I wonder if they find humans disconcertingly different in appearance.

Good to see a handsome Silver Y perching proudly on the bowl top, meanwhile, with a very washed out Green Carpet on the canopy. 

Finally, I think our micro moth representative today is a Bee moth, aka Aphomia sociella, Its name derives from its habit of nesting in old bumblebees' nests, where its caterpillars can be found feeding off the remains of dead former inhabitants. Update: I think that both Trent and the commentor on the next post are right to say that my 'Bee moth' is actually an immigrant species, the Rush Veneer. Many thanks to both.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Who sweeps a room...

I'm conscious that because I like new and shiny things, like some sort of magpie among moth enthusiasts, I make too many dismissive remarks about brown and grey moths of middling size. Anyone involved in moth trapping and study will secretly sympathise, I am sure, because a score of eggboxes full of Large Yellow Underwings and Square-spot Rustics can be a dispiriting sight. these pictures show, I hope, the unexceptional can be beautiful too, starting with the Beaded Chestnut at the top (which may alternatively be a Brown-spot Pinion but I don't think so), followed by the Vine's Rustic above and below. I say 'Vine's Rustic' confidently and I hope that I am right in both cases, but you can see if you look carefully that the patterns on the two moths are not exactly the same. this may mean that the top one is a Pale Mottled Willow, though I think not. Or, more likely, it is an illustration of the variation in colour and/or pattern within a species, which is another reason why I find these types of moth so trying.

Next comes an example of the Square-spot Rustic vilified above - no, two of them, because I've been so dismissive -  and below them, admiring my wedding ring, another Beaded Chestnut. Slightly different from the one at the top, I agree, so is one of them a Brown-spot Pinion after all? Update: thanks to Trent in Comments, you may rest assured that the first is a BC and the second a B-sP

The next moth is not a problem: a Setaceous (or 'bristly' - but why as it doesn't bristle in the least?) Hebrew Character. The Hebrew Character is the dark mark on the wings, something like a diabolo, which very much resembles the Hebrew letter 'nun', effectively an N.

Equally unmistakable is the Rosy Rustic below. Now this is a really lovely moth, for all its superficial brownness and average size. It is well worth double-clicking on the picture to see it much-magnified and admire the subtly pink and olivey-green tones.

The same applies to a moth which will be familiar to regular (or long-suffering?) readers of this blog because its rakish appearance and wonderfully fine but subdued colouring appeals to me greatly. the Angle Shades:

I haven't featured a micro-moth here for a while, although there have been plenty in the trap but all of them familiar. By way of penitence, here is a Garden Rose Tortrix, Acleris variegana

Garden Roses are big in our household at the moment because Penny won third prize at Kidlington Flower Show in the single rose bloom section, with this lovely example here:

I am sure that the Garden Rose Tortrix micros absolutely loved that one. It certainly had a delicious scent. Although it's in flagrant disregard of my late mother's warning that 'there's too much swanking in this family", I can't resist giving a tiny plug to my own triumphs: second in the Men Only Baking with a frankly inedible Swiss Roll. A neighbour said that there were only four entries and two were disqualified but I cannot believe that this was true. (We couldn't go on the day cos of people coming to lunch). And a second for my wild flower arrangement on the theme of the 2015 General Election. The big fat artichoke represents Alex Salmond.

Next, here are three Lunar Underwings, all slightly different for this is a highly variable moth which also comes in a brown colourway:

And finally...  A Black Rustic on the left, a handsome beast as lauded two posts back. And alongside it, an....Umm..Ummm...   Is it a very dark Marbled Minor? I am off to the moths books for help. Update: But Ben has got there first, in Comments. It's a Deep Brown Dart. Thanks ever so much, as ever.