Sunday, 24 May 2015

Puss, puss

Here's a moth which would perplex my granddaughter. She has cats and moths well-sorted, the former greeted with a mixture between a purr and a miaow and the latter getting her butterfly noise unless small and squat, in which case she does her bee imitation, blowing a small raspberry.

But a Puss Moth. How do you cope with that? If she was here this weekend, I would try to find out by showing her the real thing, which is still slumbering on a gatepost. As it is, I will show her these photographs when we're down in London on grandparent duty later in the week. She's used to my grubby fingernails.

What a lovely moth! Big and beautiful and with one of the finest caterpillars in the moth world. One of these days I must try to get some eggs and see if I can breed a family. But I think that today's visitor is a male.

There was an absolute crowd of other moths in the trap after the second perfect May night in a row, but  other engagements mean that they will have to wait for my next post. Except for this handsome Figure of Eighty Moth above. Names are often fanciful in the mothy world, but this one is spot-on as I think you'll agree from the detail on the left.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Carpet world

Suddenly it's busy.  Temperatures have risen and the rain has stayed away and that all means perfection for May moths. And for me, though the timing of my morning routines has become more complicated. I need to haul myself out of bed a little earlier to get both moths and morning tea done in time.

The first thing I noticed this morning was the number of different Carpet moths, which account for my first four photographs. Named because their delicate patterns reminded 18th century entomologists of the carpets arriving as something of a novelty from the Middle and Far East, these little moths are often nervy and flutter away when I lift the trap's transparent lid.

I need help with identifying the first, beautifully soft grey one - could it be an Early Tooth-striped? -  but I'm sure that the second is a Garden Carpet and I think the third is a Twin-spot Carpet. Sorry to be so hopeless but I stare at Richard Lewington's beautiful paintings in the Moth Bible until I am giddy, yet still cannot nail so many species. Ah me.

I do, however, know that the next moth, above, is that lovely little scrap, the Clouded Silver, and the one below, which privately I call the Bird Poo Moth, is a Chinese Character, a curiously-shaped insect which reminds me of the counters representing ten armies in old versions of the board game Risk.

Next in this long and diverse parade comes a dainty Small White Wave, I think - below:


and after that - below - what I believe to be a Treble-bar.

Then here's the Fag-end Moth, properly known as the Flame, which has been known to fly into entomologists' ears during light-trap inspections or vigils at night (not a habit of mine) and after him or her, a Shears, a Waved Umber, a Knot Grass (I think) and a Bright-line, Brown-eye.

Finally in the moth section of this compendious post (ARACHNOPHOBIA WARNING - a spider is coming. AND a hornet), here are a couple of neat little micro moths which I will sort out later.

A good collection, then - and there were plenty of others already featured in previous posts, such as an iron Prominent, a Brimstone Moth, more than a dozen common Swifts and several Flame Shoulders. But on to the spider and hornet.

I was digging weeds out of the veg patch when I saw the spider, quite an ordinary-looking one but scuttling away from my trowel which had unearthed it with what initially looked like a Mint Imperial.  Googling such phrases as 'spider with white ball' establishes that this is an egg sac, probably containing at least 100 eggs. One of the entertaining things about the internet is the way it links articles to supposedly related products and because this one referred to spiders moulting and shedding their skin, the ad link was to 'the best 2015 products for tightening loose, sagging face skin.'

I am happy with my face skin and indeed my wrinkles are said to give me kindly eyes; an advantage of age. My venerable years also left me unafraid when, cutting grass a little later, I disturbed this extremely large hornet with that evil-looking head borrowed by hundreds of creators of space aliens. It is now an ex-hornet, I am afraid. Pensioners rule!

Friday, 22 May 2015

A Tussocky shade of pale

I'm rather late in reporting today. Retirement life seems busier than when I was working. At all events, it was a great relief when I turned the lamp on this evening and the electrics gave their familiar hum. I'd been worried that I might have broken the bulb when I went to inspect the trap this morning. The reason? I was so startled to see a really nice big moth in residence, after a long spell of meagre catches, that my spectacles fell off my nose and crashed into the mercury vapour bulb.

All is well, thank goodness. And the big moth was a very fine female Pale Tussock - both pics above - a species whose fine size is augmented by outstanding woolly breeches on its forelegs. It isn't rare but how many people ever encounter one?

It shared the trap with my first Cinnabar of the year, above, and the grass around the lamp was also home to a number of slumbering visitors, including this Brimstone Moth, below.

Also new for the year was a Shears moth, known to me as the Secateurs because that is what the little pincer marks on its wings more closely resemble.

As ever, I have a number of browny creatures awaiting identification, below, but I'm prepared to hazard a guess at the nice little micro in the last picture of this post, with its cappuccino colours. I reckon that it's Argyresthia retinella. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

I shall go cross-gartered

Last night I put the trap in a corner of the garden which seems to be the favourite meeting place of Common Swifts, pretty little moths with variable markings and a pronounced quiff of hair like Tommy Steele's.  He was my pop hero when I was small, especially when I spent a week in Leeds General Infirmary after shooting an arrow into the sky with my home-made bow and watching it come all the way down until, Harold-like, it hit me in the eye. The boy in the bed next to mine was an Elvis Presley supporter and our vigorous battles definitely helped my full recovery.

At the risk of diverting wildly from moths, I must just add that I was discharged three days before Christmas, to my great regret. Why? My home was happy and loving, but you should have seen the pile of presents donated by kind-hearted souls and institutions to the children's ward. If you weren't there at Christmas, you didn't get one.

Anyway, above are three differently marked Common Swifts from the dozen or so in the eggboxes. The species is reckoned to be 'primitive' by the moth authorities because it has no means of eating and therefore cannot live long. Yet its pre-adult life cycle lasts for two years, with the caterpillar pupating and spending two years underground.

I've featured the smartly-dressed Muslin moth twice here in the last week and this morning there was another one in the trap and a second lying casually in the nearby grass. The latter's languid stance reminded me of yesterday's White Ermine moth and the pictures are usefully compared to see how these two species - very different from above or at a casual glance, are related. They share the same spotted and dotted bodies - and look: while complementing the Muslin moth on its tasteful appearance, I quite forgot to mention its startling yellow leggings. Veritably the Malvolio of the tribe.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Lordy, lordy

A common but very beautiful moth arrived this morning, appropriately at a time when various politicians defeated in the General Election are receiving offers of peerages as a consolation. (To their credit, four of the leading and much-missed Liberal Democrats have turned this down.) It is the White Ermine, whose patterning much resembles the ermine lining sewn on to the red robes worn by members of the House of Lords.

The moth gets darker as you travel north in the UK and in Scotland its forewings can sometimes actually be brown. But here in Oxfordshire it is either pure white or sometimes white with a creamy tinge, as in the goldtop milk which our granddaughter consumes happily, to my great envy.

This one struck an apparently relaxed, cchaise-longuish attitude when I tapped it out of the eggbox in which it was nestling. But when I prodded it to turn it over, it scuttled into a crack in the garden wall which defied my efforts at focussing the new camera. (I have discovered buttons which turn pictures sepia and the like, but what I really want is sharper focus).

That would enhance the next two pictures of a Shuttle-shape Dart couple, the male lighter-coloured and female the darker, rather Puritanical-looking one. Obvious differences between the sexes are common in moths and often prompt me to wonder whether animals can distinguish between men and women by sight, should they want to. I would guess that it's harder and that sound and others senses may play a laregr part (assuming always that animals have any reason for carrying our this exercise. Could it have any part in the survival of the fittest? Are women more inclined to scatter breadcrumbs, for instance, or give in to purred requests for catfood?

Finally, we have a handsome moth of the 'kidney mark' variety whose identity I hope establish before night comes.

Friday, 15 May 2015

A very old friend

It rained all day yesterday, in a slow, steady manner which as children we used to call 'Venusian' after reading some pseudo-scientific book which suggested that the weather was always like that on Venus. But at dusk it stopped and I was hoping for interesting visitors in the trap overnight.

In the event, apart from a Spectacle moth, half-a-dozen Flame Shoulders and five Maybugs, there was only this, a Heart and Dart. Common enough, but I have a soft spot for it because it featured in my 12th-ever post on this blog, back in June 2008.  Here's the picture I took then which shows the 'heart' part better than my one this morning.

And this is what I wrote then:

Rain last night, so no trapping. Instead here's a language lesson and another competition. Chatting with Cheryl about 'psyche' the dual classical Greek word for 'spirit/soul' and 'butterfly' (see Comment on immediately previous post) got me thinking about Indonesian. The Indonesia for butterfly is kupu-kupu. The Indonesian for moth is kupu-kupu malam. But kupu-kupu malam literally means 'butterfly of the night' and is also slang for prostitute. I know this because I once collected moths in Sulawesi (formerly Celebes). Oh, how knowledge-packed blogging can be. Now the competition: look at the wing patterns of this moth (currently a nightly visitor in Leeds) and guess its name. I'll help with the clue that it's called the Blank-and-Blank and the two Blanks rhyme.

Guesses included the excellent 'nail and pail', 'blot and dot' and 'wings and things' and I also had a comment from the owner of a New York soap shop called... Heart and Dart.  I'm not sure if it's still running, but hope so. There's an online reference to it here.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Happy nights are here again

Hooray! A second warmish night has brought lots of good things to the trap which was also positioned in idyllic circumstances. It's our wedding anniversary today and, in exchange for a dew-fresh posy of everything I could find early this morning including purple-sprouting broccoli flowers, Penny gave me a lovely card entitled 'Through honey-scented thickets'.

A honey-scented thicket was the home of the lamp, a little pool of fresh grass surrounded by lacy cow-parsley which in the evening especially gives off a marvellous scent. Here are some of the night visitors attracted by that and by the lamp (although the issue of whether they are really attracted by the latter, or rather distracted, is one which has been much debated here and remains unresolved).

The top picture, which reminds me of the solitary Spitfire in the Battle of Britain flight deployed at the VE Day celebrations (they once flew over our house when we lived in London, sounding like 1000 badly-tuned lawnmowers) is that excellent creature the Lime-speck pug. It could as well be named the Bird-dropping.

The sceond picture shows one of a couple of that handsome moth, the Common Swift, and the third is a Bright-line, Brown-eye - not to be confused with the Brown-line, Bright-eye which flies later in the Summer. Then we have a Treble-bar and - below - two sections which will be familiar to regular reads: (a) two macro-moths yet to be identified by yours truly though I realise the second one is one of the many and baffling Pug tribe, and (b) three micromoths ditto.

Finally, here are a couple of photos to conceal from the eyes of anyone even mildly insectphobic. The first is of a couple of other visitors to the eggboxes last night: a slumbering wasp and a Maybug - the latter harmless in spite of its fearsome appearance)...

...and the second an extraordinary picture taken two days ago in London's Homerton by my niece Annie. As her Mum enquires in an email: what happened next..?