Friday, 16 September 2016

Warming-up a dull day

Oh dear, the mornings are growing darker with distressing speed. But that does not mean that the moths are following suit. Here are two characters which greatly cheered me up this morning: a Ruby Tiger, above, showing off its fine front breeches, and that gallant old trouper, the Red Underwing, below.

The latter is the first I've had this year, a big moth and very impressive in flight. This one paused to allow me just the one photo and then powered off over our lawn and into the safety of an oak tree. It was a delight to watch it in flight, with the warning colouration of its underwings deterring any nearby, hungry birds.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Warm but frosty

One of my favourite moths called last night for the first time this year: the Frosted Orange. Its colouring and pattern is wonderfully subtle and well-suited to its name; a mixture of the warmth of summer which is now beginning to give way to mellow autumn and chilly winter.

The Sallows are another signal of the changing seasons and share the orange which is a colour shared by summer and autumn. This cCentre-barred Sallow disdained the trap and chose to sleep instead on a metal window frame. It was a very conspicuous object to my human eye but not, apparently, to birds. It was still safely there this afternoon.

Finally, the second generation of Snouts are upon us, darker and smaller than their cousins who were here from June to early August. Pinocchio and Cyrano de Bergerac come to mind although the snout is actually the moth's palps, organs whose role involves touch and taste rather than smell.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Fringe on top

Another new arrival for me came a couple of nights ago - I'm sorry that I getting a bit indolent but that end-of-season feeling is creeping in.  It wasn't a new species but a form or variety of a species that I've never had before and moreover, one which the Moth Bible describes as 'rare'.

The trap had appeared to be dull as I sifted through the eggboxes, glancing wearily at hundreds of Large Yellow Underwings and Setaceous Hebrew Characters. There were one or two different moths but all them familiar: a Burnished Brass, a Brimstone moth and a Rosy Rustic.

But then I got on to the final phase of my checking, looking at the moths which had chosen the inner walls of the trap bowl to snooze on, rather than the eggboxes. Among them was a Treble-bar or Lesser Treble-bar, species which are very difficult to tell apart. And then, crouched on a plastic nut which forms some structural part of the bowl, there was the moth in my first two pictures today.

It was different from anything I've seen before; but a check with the Bible suggested that it must be the form fimbriata (fringed) of the Lesser Treble-bar. It chimed exactly with Richard Lewington's painting but because the text gave only two Oxfordshire records (1993 and 1999) I thought that I had better check with the experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog.

The prime one, Dave Wilton, unhesitatingly confirmed that I was right, and also gave me the 'fringed' translation of fimbriata, a term which also appears in Linnean names of a plant, a fish and the Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing.  His colleague Peter Hall chided me for not tempting the moth in my second picture on to a piece of glass, so that a check could be done of the end of its abdomen (home of the sexual equipment which so often defines moth species) to tell wither it was the T-b or the LT-b.

To be honest, I can't be bothered with such ways of sorting out species. Give me, any time, the approach of people such as the Dorset Moth Group whose excellent website says: 'Diagnostics include: inner dark 'bar' resembles flag and flag-pole rather than hockey-stick.' On that criterion, I would go for Lesser Treble-bar in this case. And be damned.

Saturday, 3 September 2016


I am very pleased to have discovered another literary outing for woodlice, in Francesca Kaye's novel The Translation of the Bones. I won't spoil it for you but it is more lengthy and interesting than their cameo in Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse, even if unlikely to supercede that in fame.

I haven't got a woodlouse to show you this morning - although I could find hundreds within minutes, both under stones in the garden and in cracks in the masonry of our house. But the creature in my first picture got me thinking about them, because it is so peculiar.

My younger son found it on his shin while hiking in the Picos de Europa, magnificent mountains in northern Spain. At first, he thought that it was a scrap of dead grass, as I did when I saw the photo. In fact it is a youngish stick insect. Like most British children, he is well familiar with these from primary school. One of the poignant moments of our sons' childhood was being in a Bradford petshop at the same time as another child, who had been entrusted with his class's stick insects for the holidays and had let them escape. He and his mother were trying to buy lookalikes.

And so to moths, and I think that you will see the reason for the link: extreme spindliness. This is one of the T-shaped UK 'plume' micros but I cannot be considered to be a trustworthy guide as to which. Past experience and the very tightly furled wings lead me to suggest the Common Plume which has the unusually pleasant and comprehensible Linnaean name of Emmelina monodactyla (single-winged Emmeline). But I will leave it at that, except for a final, handsome moth.

This came on Thursday night: a Feathered Gothic, tucked among the hordes of drably familiar Large Yellow Underwings and Setaceous Hebrew Characters which currently have mass bookings of my eggbox cones. I had to tap it out which made it jittery and it flew-flopped on to the lawn. But after it had calmed down, I enticed it on to a finger and then the moth trap cowl, and here it is again, below, showing off the glorious antennae which identify it as a male.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Blushing sweetly

Another delicately beautiful moth came to call last night, following yesterday's lovely white Peacock. This one is the Maiden's Blush, a sweet name which illustrates another aspect of the age-old complications in relationships between men and women.

The Large Yellow Underwing could be a Lawrentian man, showing interest...

The White Peacock bird in D H Lawrence's novel, which I mentioned in yesterday's post, is used by a discontented character as a simile for one of the novel's leading women characters whom he sees as vain and empty-headed, a showy bird-brain.  A maiden's blush stands as a metaphor for a different sort of femininity, modest, inexperienced and winning general approval. From men at least.

This one, with its very subtle shade of blush on the lower forewing, was accompanied by a third delicate white moth which I am pretty sure is a Cream Wave. There are, however, a number of waves which - as always with UK moths - can be frustratingly similar. So I will do some double-checking after breakfast.

Finally, to make a trio of lovelies such as that which confronted Paris in Greek myth, here is a battered but still very appealing Bordered Beauty, slumbering on the moth trap's cowl with the lamp behind. Altogether, a very rewarding spell this morning with the eggboxes.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Pea or paw?

A new moth for me this morning, one of a steady flow this year which is my third summer of trapping the insects in Oxfordshire. This is a Peacock - or possibly the very similar Sharp-angled Peacock - and a very delicate moth it is too.

The name is a bit of an exaggeration if you think of a conventional Peacock bird but perhaps the christener had the famous White Peacock variety in mind.  The White Peacock is also the name of D H Lawrence's first novel, so this is a moth with claims to wider distinction and interest beyond its value to me as a novelty.

My headline is based on the more mundane fact that its most prominent marking resembles a dog's paw. Pawcock doesn't have quite the same lilt to it as a name, sadly, so Peacock I am sure it will remain. There is, incidentally, a marvellous moth found on the continent called the Great Peacock. As you can see from the photo below - many thanks to Wikipedia - it richly deserves the name.

Also new to me was this pose by a Chinese Character moth, a curious little species whose normal resting position is unique. To be banal again, it resembles a bird poo. In my picture below, you can see the delicate threads of the supposed Chinese character on both wings at once, in the grey moustache-shaped area, something I have never previously seen.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Riches once more

After a slowish period in terms of new arrivals for the year, the moth trap picked up last night in stylish fashion; newcomers, beautiful guests and very large numbers of moths overall, plus a rich variety of beetles, flies and other insects.

My favourite is the Gold Spot or Lempke's Gold Spot, a very similar species, which also intrigued my granddaughter on whose finger it is perching in my first picture. These 'metallic' moths are a wonderful tribute to the intricacies of wing scales on moths; the effect of the tiny reflecting and refracting plates, fixed like tiles on a roof, simply glows.

I was also very pleased to have an example of the super-stylish Sycamore moth shown in my third picture. Its palette is modest and not at all in the colourful part of the spectrum. But there is something about the clean lines and well-defined pattern which make it extremely appealing.

There is something Autumnal about the arrival of the Sallow family of moths, but we still have plenty of Summer left to be enjoyed by early-comers such as the two Centre-barred Sallows shown above. Meanwhile it's good to see Burnished Brasses of both forms - aurea top with an equally greenish shield bug and juncta bottom - below.

Top marks too for the lovely Chinese Character moth whose eponymous piece of 'Chinese lettering' shows up nicely on this photo:

Two slightly different Marbles Beauties next, one of them under investigation from one of many different varieties of Shield Bug which came along to suss out the eggboxes. 

And next a pair of different Carpet moths, a family whose delicate colouring is always a treat to find in the trap.  The top one is  a Red Carpet  Update: no, as per my Commentor, it's the very similar Flame Carpet and the second one a Garden Carpet, according to my best estimation.

Now to a couple of Thorns, August or September I've not got to time to say precisely but will have a better stab shortly, aided by the recent excellent guide which I borrowed from Upper Thames Moths.

And so to the Miscellanea, which I will identify by captions 'cos I've got to be off shortly to set the trap for whatever comes visiting tonight.

Flounced Rustic, I think

A Large Yellow Underwing guards one of those naughty American ladybirds with all its spots

An absolutely minute but rather beautiful micro whose identity I will try to establish before the end of the month. Sorry for bad focus. Update, both my Commentor and Peter Hall on the Upper Thames Moths blog kindly point out that this is a leafhopper, not a micro-moth. Whoops.

A Green Shield Bug (as opposed to stamp) in pole position on the bulbholder. Update: No, it's a Hawthorn Shield Bug - thanks to my Commentor again.

A nice little assortment: Mother of Pearl, Large Yellow Underwing and Tawny Speckled Pug

Our old and very regular friend the Poplar Hawk in a state of alarm (at my granddaughter's presence)

Another Flounced Rustic? Plus a Brimstone, one of the commenest moths around just now.

Swallow Prominent

Garden Rose Tortrix

Rosy Rustic

This is a puzzle. A Ringed China-mark maybe? Sorry for poor quality pic.

And a Holly Blue butterfly in the garden to end up with. Has anyone ever seen one of these open its lovely top wings? I haven't.