Saturday, 3 October 2009
Two posts in one day, goodness! Unprecedented but also valedictory, nearly. I'm shutting up shop for the year any minute now but just wanted to squeeze in a contribution from an excellent Guardian colleague, Sally Burtt-Jones. She flawlessly organised a readers' walk which we did in Richmond (Yorks) earlier this year. In fact, if you have time on your hands you can read a little more about it, and about suicidal Peacock butterfly caterpillars, in the posts below. She emailed me in response to a question I had for her earlier this week, saying that she wouldn't reply until I identified this moth, which she had photographed (very well; young people have no problem with camera tremble...), in her parents' bathroom in Wales. No doubt she then ushered it safely out of the house, as in Which? magazine's instructions (see next post, below).
Well, it's a Magpie Moth, Sally, not uncommon but very interesting. It's poisonous to birds, immune to spider venom and plays dead when caught. It has also played a part in genetics experiments, described at length in his autobiography by Sir Geoffrey Keynes, the surgeon and brother of Lord Keynes, who was a great butterfly and moth expert. He and friends helped to provide black and redcurrant bushes for mass breeding of Magpie Moths to get as many variations as possible. If I can, I shall pillage the internet in a mo for some examples. The standard pattern can turn into all sorts of things, many looking like a Damien Hirst left out in the rain. The point was to relate butterfly gene transitions to human ones, a practice which has scored some notable medical triumphs, especially in the case of swallowtail butterflies bred by another famous doc, Sir Cyril Clarke, who therby cracked the rhesus negative blood problem of 'blue babies.'
Here we are. Not from the Internet but from good old Waring, Townsend and Lewington. There are plenty more variations within the range.