Friday, 27 May 2016

Bug fun

I have recently had a look at the 'Stats' section of the blog which the hosting service Blogger provides - extraordinary to someone of my generation that all this comes for free, though doubtless Google benefits in mysterious ways, especially data collection and advertising. I could host advertising myself but the algorithms would almost certainly pick clients selling mothballs and the like and that would seem at odds with my own, more musing.

Anyway, the figures show that in the last couple of weeks, the number of daily views has leaped up, to over 1000 on one day, just under that on another and 500+ on the rest. The slightly more detailed data Blogger provides suggests that most of the increase comes from the US. 

So if there is a school class over there studying moths, please say hello in Comments.

In your honour, meanwhile, I am both flying the flag (left) and running a few pictures of the European Cockroach or Maybug which infests the moth trap in large numbers at the moment. Its bizarre appearance always makes me grin.  America doesn't have it, although its transatlantic relatives the June beetles - a couple of different kinds  below, courtesy of Wikipedia - are pretty smart.

Actually, I suspect this sudden burst of apparent moth interest may be a statistical freak and due to access to other websites by hosts or whatever. I say that because Norway has also long been a surprisingly big source of page views of this blog; but when I sent a message to readers in Norwegian, the fjords and forests responded not a peep.

Here are some cockroaches again. A bit more info on them from earlier posts is here and here:

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Incy and her little wincies

Here is the reason why there are so many spiders in our house, above. A single Harvester was spotted by Penny with her multifarious, newly-hatched brood.  As grandparents who find two little ones a full-on occupations, we can only imagine the work involved in Spiderland. But maybe they use some of the more drastic measures known in the animal kingdom, such as eating offspring.

Because of the well-known and touching book shown left, we have always tried to be nice to spiders. Instead of Hoovering them up (although I feel that the inside of a Hoover bag might be quite exciting for a spider), we use a special electric suction device which P found in a gadget catalogue years ago.

Here it is doing its work, below.  The mechanism is then reversed and the spiders and spiderlets blown out to start a new life in a bush, far, far away.  That's the idea, anyway. But the first time we used it on a big single spider, proudly demonstrating our pro-spiderness to our sons, they pointed out a while later that the spider had managed to leap from the bush un-noticed and was sitting happily on P's cardigan sleeve.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Dusky and Specky

A Dusky Scalloped Oak came to stay last night, another first for the year, although the moths are continuing to be a little meagre in terms of variety. They make up for it in fun, however, as with these two Spectacle moths below. I find them irresistible.

Here's another one, below, whose posture from this angle more resembles a watchful cat. And one with a curiously moustached and bearded face on its back. Finally, below that is the moth as seem from the side. A worthy creature in all respects.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


After yesterday's Big Boy, the Poplar Hawk moth, I thought I'd give some space to the littlies at the other end of the scale. The one above is our representative of the Pug family; I think a Common Pug but beautiful and complex-patterned for all that. I await confirmation from the experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog. Update: it is.

Now for a couple of Carpets; a Red Twin-spot if I am not mistaken, above (Update: I'm not)  and a Green Carpet pretending to be a butterfly, below.  As you can read at more length in the tab 'Moths and Butterflies - the Difference,' the resting position is normally: butterfly wings are held vertically above the back, moth ones folded horizontally over the back.

And so to the third and much the largest category of small moths - the micros, which form a second tribe to the macro moths of the UK and outnumber them some four or five times. Above we have - I think - Epiphyas postvittana aka the Light Brown Apple Moth,  Cochylimorpha straminea and Nomophila noctuella, aka the Rush Veneer. Update: my Commentor below suggests that the last is a Cnephasia micro, probably the Light Grey Tortrix, and I agree - but shrink from the dissection needed to be certain. Anyway, the moth is long gone.   
Below are three different photographs of Tinea trinotella, a relative of the two devastating clothes moths which confines its destructive work to birds' nests of wool left out in the open air.

From above
From further away
From the side
And last of all, am I right in thinking that the little chap below is some sort of weevil?

Monday, 23 May 2016


This Poplar Hawk caught my eye this morning; the commonest of the UK's hawk moths, it is nonetheless an interesting creature on account of its body and wing posture. Whatever would they make of it in deportment classes?

Like many of the Carpet moths and other small species, it curls its abdomen so that the tip of its tail is suggestively raised. Since this is where its sexual organs are and since mating is its chief aim (as the insects do not feed and are inevitably short-lived), I suggest that 'suggestive' is the right word.

It also holds its wings in a curious position with the hind ones pushed forward, like some US stealth aircraft. This has the effect of hiding its 'surprise camouflage', two patches of rusty red on the lower part of the hindwings which might startle a predator if flashed.

A dozy Poplar Hawk in a moth trap doesn't go in for much wing-flashing, but I persuaded this one to give us a peep. An intstructive side-effect of my goading - by gently brushing the forewings forward - was watching the moth slowly warm up and start to vibrate its wings in preparation for flight to safety.

Sunday, 22 May 2016


Discussing the Muslin moth the other day, I referred to its grander relations, the Ermine family. Here is one of them which arrived this morning in pristine condition, with its House of Lords robe (update: see foot of post) looking very fine indeed. It is a common but lovely creature, all the better for being discovered a little more frequently than most moths. 

I remember a teenage cousin coming downstairs with one which he had found snoozing in the fold of a curtain, and how he was struck by its delicate appearance, at a slightly unlikely age for such things. (Nigel Fotherington-Thomas of 'Hello clouds! Hello sky!' fame in Ronald Searle's Molesworth books put a lot of boys off too much overt nature appreciation).

There have been some other welcome newcomers for the year over the last few nights, along with the veritable plague of Common Swifts. Here they are: first a Lychnis with its striking X pattern,

then a Treble Lines, a moth with a cautious caterpillar which feeds by night and hides in soil or undergrowth by day. Update: I overlooked a second Treble Lines, shown below, with a greyer ground colouring compared to the first, brownish one.

And here's that weird little fellow, the Flame, which resembles the stub of a cheap fag.

Its near namesake the Flame Shoulder is a finer fellow which prompts one of the rare quips (and exclamation marks) in the Moth Bible which says of it: 'Comes to light, when it flies wildly and has an unfortunate habit of entering the ears of moth recorders near the light!' Mine was well over such pranks when I finally got to it at 7am, and willingly co-operated with a short photo session to reveal its charms.

Further update. We took friends to the outstanding Broughton Castle today, a wonderful place lived in by a marvellously hospitable family, the Fiennes, who are almost always there and happy to chat and point out interesting 'extra' things. Among these were sets of the ermine-lined peers' robes which I referred to at the start of this post. Here's a pic, below, to show the similarity with the moth.  (Not that there was any sign of clothes moth damage on the robes).

Saturday, 21 May 2016

57 varieties

Every so often, but not very often, the light trap attracts a large number of a particular species rather than the half-dozen or so which is usually the maximum per type of moth. In Leeds, the Large Yellow Underwing held the record, with 70-odd coming on several occasions. Last night we had a slightly smaller invasion by 57 Common Swifts.

These are interesting moths, first to the layman on account of the tremendous variety between individuals as shown - I hope - in my pictures today; and secondly to the scientist, because they are 'primitive moths'; they cannot feed, have rudimentary antennae and live for a very short time. One of mine  this morning had its life curtailed even sooner than Nature intended when it foolishly lit off from the eggboxes for a nearby tree. A robin was in on it like an arrow. Munch, munch.

The number of insects and grubs required to sustain our bird population is absolutely staggering. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds calculates that an infant Blue Tit needs 100 caterpillars a day. Ditto with the mass moth arrivals which I mentioned at the start of this post. In his deservedly famous book Moths (part of the Collins New Naturalist series) Prof E B Ford describes an occasion when a light trap in Hampshire attracted 50,000 Setaceous Hebrew Character moths in one night alone '...and vast numbers of other species.'

I simply cannot imagine 50,000 moths in my trap, nor the patience required to establish that so many were there.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Ruby Friday

I had a happy time chasing this beautiful moth this morning, humming the old Stones song Ruby Tuesday - with that incredibly low note on 'She would never say where she came from...' 

My quarry was a Ruby Tiger, common enough here (as it was in Leeds) but not so easy to photograph at its best. When resting, it hunches up and presents a largely dull, brown appearance - although, as always with moths, if you inspect more closely, the 'brown' turns out to be something much subtler; in this case a satiny sheen with traces of the red which account for the species' name.

Partly this is due to the relatively thin layer of scales on the forewings which allows the hidden glory of the moth, its red underwings and abdomen, to show through. In imaginative moments in the past, I have ventured in metaphor about the Folies Bergere to describe these tantalising glimpses of exotic lingerie. 

You spot them when the moth is in your hand, or eggbox, but capturing them on camera is another matter. Quite apart from the moth's reluctance to show them unless scared and on the run, my camera skills lead to the focus being baffled by the subtle distinctions between tawny, ruby and the other, pleasantly port-related, colours. I went back three times to the eggboxes, after each lot of pictures proved blurred, before finally using my iPad Mini to get the ones above. Appropriately, the green is not Astroturf or wallpaper but the iPad's case.

This was indoors and the moth rapidly warmed up and started scurrying about, as above. Eventually it took wing but fortunately returned to settle briefly on a one of our many pieces of Duplo, below, allowing me to take the picture at the top of the post.