Saturday, 16 September 2017


A friend who stayed recently has been in touch with these pictures of his hop plants - and, of more interest to me, their current inhabitants. Fortunately he is not a brewer and does not depend on the hops for his living, for these are Comma butterfly caterpillars and chrysalises, a species which munches hops as if there was no tomorrow.  

By coincidence, I was admiring an adult Comma in the garden only on Wednesday as it flitted about in the sunshine, showing off its glorious, vivid russet colouring. This always sets my pulse racing in case the butterfly is one of the fritillaries, those aristocrats of the insect world which share the Comma's colours. Here are some examples of Commas from earlier blog posts:

 The other cheering thing about the Comma is that its recovery from meagre numbers in the 19th century is one of the great success stories of UK butterflies. You can read more on this previous post - - as well as about the role in the story of a distinguished woman entomologist, Edith Hutchinson, pictured below. The magazine of Butterfly Conservation in her native county of Warwickshire is appropriately named - see right - and the best-known variant of the Comma, the paler form common in early Summer, is named after her - variety hutchinsonii.

In the US the Comma has a close relative called the Question Mark, but we will deal with moths and punctuation another time.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Johnny House-moth

The weather has turned very chilly and the trap is quiet as a result albeit with the colourful Sallow family, among them the Centre-barred example above, keeping things from getting too dull. I wrapped the base of the trap in a large and colourful Farmers' Market banner last night which looked touchingly like a thoughtful scarf but was actually an attempt to provide nooks and crannies for visitors reluctant to venture past the mercury vapour bulb.

This had no obvious effect; its only resident was a solitary Black Rustic. But inside the eggboxes, among a scattering of yellow underwings and Setaceous Hebrew Characters, I was pleased to find the tiny scrap of a micro shown above and below. This is the White-shouldered House Moth or Endrosis sarcitrella and it performs a useful scavenging function. 

Its larvae munch on decayed animal and vegetable matter which is excellent, provided that you keep your larder clean and make sure your boxes of Corn Flakes are kept shut. In terms of keeping our garden shed tidy, there are no downsides and sarcitrella is a welcome guest.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Bright spark

After yesterday's self-indulgence with the Burnished Brass picture, you might have expected something more sober this morning. But you would have been wrong. Another moth which I cannot resist photographing and showing is the Gold Spot, or possibly the closely-related Lempcke's Gold Spot; the differences are too fine for a crude observer such as myself to detect. Especially when it chooses to settle in a delta shape, as this one did. 

The position shows the teardrop nature of the main reflective/refractive scale sections and also the cheery tuft of hair on its head which reminds me of a cheeky-chappy singer of my youth, Joe Brown - remember him?  It was altogether a cheerful assembly in the eggboxes and on the trap itself, including these three Centre-barred Sallows, in varying condition. The fourth picture shows the third moth upside down and looking rather startled after I upset it from its nook on the bulbholder and before it landed safely on my palm.

Another extremely agreeable visitor was the Gothic moth below, appropriately because yesterday P and I spent a couple of hours in York Minister at a good friend's memorial service. The delicate tracery on the wings of this species, a lover of damp surroundings and weedy hedgerows and therefore at home here, is delightfully delicate in exactly the manner of the great cathedral's Gothic architecture, left.

I also recorded the year's first 'Darth Vader Moth', the Black Rustic immediately below, and the two other gentlemen (or possibly ladies) in my final pair of pictures. These are common moths for this time of year but I always get in a tizz and need time to tell these sort of average-brown-or-grey moths apart, I haven't yet had enough. I will, however, guess as follows: 1. Vine's Rustic. 2. Square-spot Rustic. If correct, that's three rustics in  a row.

Monday, 11 September 2017

In an English country garden

Although only three-and-a-half, my daughter-in-law has a great fondness for insects of all kinds, not simply the obviously pretty ones such as butterflies or lady birds. She has a soft spot for woodlice, those curious little mini-armadillos which almost always scuttle away when you lift a stone or log, and there is nothing of Miss Muffet about her. She much admires spiders and never hesitates to pick them up - very carefully, and with a care which is directed at their welfare rather than hers.

She was interested rather than concerned, therefore, when we found this classically 'Nature red-in-tooth-and-claw' scene in her small but plant and wildlife-rich garden in London. You can't but feel sorry for the bee, but the apparatus constructed by a spider to survive is indeed an extraordinary and admirable thing.

Miss Muffet, incidentally, was almost certainly based on the daughter of Thomas Muffet, one of the first great English cataloguers of moths, butterflies and other insects. His book The Theatre of Insects (1559) was largely the compilation of other people's work and is impressively thorough, even though among the cast of butterflies, moths and of course spiders (on whose medical uses he wrote extensively) there appears a seahorse.

For the rest, glum weather has reduced my moth numbers but here is a nice Burnished Brass of the standard form aurea where the brassy bands are separated by the central brown one. The other form, juncta, has a join between the shiny columns thus forming an H-shape, and is commoner here and has regularly been featured because I cannot resist pretty moths, however common.

Finally, my solitary surviving Poplar Hawk Moth caterpillar seems to be trucking along, although still rather small. I live in nervous hope.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Last night saw the Great Invasion of the Trap by Bugs, Red-legged Shieldbugs or Pentatoma rufipes when they are in academic company. I am always intrigued by the meaning of scientific names and the second part of this one does at least come direct from words encountered in the early part of Kennedy's Latin Primer - rufi-pes, red foot. As so often, the namers shifted between Latin and Greek and pentatoma means 'five sections' in the latter. What those sections are, I leave to the Bug experts, content to be happy that such a playground word as 'bug' is actually used for a category of insects by the very serious and expert people who study them. (Update: and to find out the answer and some more bug lore, see Alex's very helpful Comment below. Many thanks).

A real moth beauty next; indeed its English name acknowledges the fact and it always appears here when it gives me the pleasure of calling by. It is a Beautiful Hook-tip, one of only nine UK moths to have the word 'beautiful' in their name, although there are a dozen or so others which have 'beauty'.  Curiously, there is no ordinary, plain Hook-tip but a goodly-sized family of other hook-tips does exist - the Pebble, Oak, Dusky, Scalloped, Barred and Scarce. Curiously, they and the Beautiful Hook-tip are unrelated. 

Here he or she is, consorting on the trap's outside with a rather finely-marked Snout
And here on her glorious own

For the second time in a week, but only the third since we moved from Leeds to Oxfordshire in 2013, an Old Lady moth spent the night here, pictured above with a bright little Brimstone. More colour was kindly provided by the Centre-barred Sallow, below.

I was interested too to get the picture below of that little micro regular Pyrausta aurata
Which seldom rests with its wings spread-eagled like this, and my last photo shows that handsome regular at this time of year, a Copper Underwing, or Svensson's Copper Underwing. It has colour too, as its name implies, but keeps it hidden when at rest.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Guest posters

Nature is famously red in tooth and claw, for all the sentimental guff which has poured forth about cuddly animals over the centuries. Here is an example, courtesy of my younger sister, who came across this unhappy end for a caterpillar at the hands (or mandibles and maybe sting) of a wasp. Since it the offspring of a 'Cabbage' White butterfly and was busily eating her brassicas, she was unmoved by its fate which was probably better anyway than the effects of spray. RIP.

She has also been keeping a lookout for other small-sized wildlife and was rewarded by discovering this plump Eyed Hawk Moth caterpillar, below, trundling along a road near Bradford in Yorkshire.  (See also Update, below). I am hoping that my Poplar Hawk cattie - still thriving - will reach this impressive state before burrowing underground to pupate.

Update: my sister has kindly sent an even better pic of this luscious beast and specifies that it was sauntering along a path in Northcliffe Park, Shipley (West Yorkshire).  I wish that I had been there.
Finally for today, regular readers will already know of Penny's hawkeye reputation for spotting moths in our house, as opposed to in the light trap. Now she has become a Butterfly Charmer as well. I never need any excuse to post a picture of a Red Admiral, as I did a couple of days ago. But this one appeals particularly. It visited P and some friends while they were playing tennis and, after initially fluttering away when they went to admire, settled on her blue fleece and refused to move.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Senior citizen

Many years ago, I stayed with an uncle and aunt in Suffolk, along with a cousin who shared my enthusiasm for butterflies and moths. We boys took to 'treacling' trees in their garden - this being way before the days when a moth trap became an affordable reality. Nothing much happened until the night before we were due to go home when an enormous moth appeared and set to guzzling the sweet and sleep-inducing mixture.

Having studied our moth books, we both knew what it was and we rushed indoors shouting: "We've caught an Old Lady!"  This caused some consternation as my uncle, a rural vicar, had two ancient women members of a previous congregation staying with them, known to everyone including themselves, as Baldy and Nye.

The initial reaction to our bursting-in was that some peculiar mishap involving us had befallen either Nye or Baldy. But eventually the truth of the matter dawned and we all went to bed happy with this moderately spectacular capture.

The second Old Lady of my acquaintance after the Suffolk one; a moth which we found on our car (as blue as my specs cloth on which today's OL is perching) in Leeds in July 2012.
Since then, I had seen an Old Lady twice until this morning when the tally rose to three. Turning over the boxes, I had almost reached the end and found a fairly routine collection of visitors - albeit including the lovely Frosted Orange and September Thorn shown below; and then I found the large arrival shown in my first four pictures. He or she had tried to snuggle into an eggbox cone alongside a Large Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing and a Snout, but his or her wings were so large that the attempt to creep into the furthest recesses was doomed.

Also in the trap this morning, among scores of yellow underwings and Setaceous Hebrew Characters: a Rosy Rustic, An Orange Swift alongside a Flounced Rustic, and another Snout, this one not in bed with an Old Lady.