Tuesday, 18 October 2016

And now the darker side

You can get a bit blase when you've blogged about the same subject for years, but there's also a sort of reassurance in the predictability of most arrivals in the trap. That is the case today - and yesterday. First the beautiful Green-brindled Crescent flew in, a regular glory of this darkening time of the year. And then, on its heels, comes today's cappuchino version of the same species; with the green replaced by assorted browns.

It isn't as beautiful but it outdoes the standard green form for interest, because this is a form found only in the UK.  In the current climate post-referendum that may please the more rabid 'Leavers', but the rest of us shouldn't allow that to deny us our own pleasure in such a peculiarity.  Like most darker forms of moths, most famously the virtually black Peppereds, it used to be found more in industrial areas than elsewhere, but its distribution appears to be coming more general.

Also staying last night: a Beaded Chestnut, a moth which likes dots and dashes more or less equally.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Autumn colours

Russet, amber and yellow are the colours of Autumn in our landscape. For today's main moth, the season's colour is green.

Here it is: the lovely Green-brindled Crescent whose vivid splash of metallic wing scales, using both the reflection and refraction of light to achieve their effect are shown below and a little closer-up, above.

It is a lovely creature at this largely sober time of the year. In certain lights (and to some extent, with certain cameras), it also has a purplish tone on the outer part of its wings. It is very well-behaved when it calls on me; usually deeply asleep and happy to be photographed many times.

Quite a few moths continue to call, among them the visitors below, all duly captioned below the pictures.  We've just had rain but I think that tonight will be dry, and do the recording of these intriguing creatures goes on.

Setaceous (or 'bristly') Hebrew Character
Garden Pebble micro, aka Evergestis forficalis
Red-line Quaker, with its look of a mouse
Autumnal moth
Lunar Underwing; not had one of those for a week to ten days

Sunday, 16 October 2016


Rain last night and rain again this morning; conditions could hardly be less encouraging for moths (and the people who study them).  And yet, hardy little beasts that they are, they still wing in. Here are today's dozing inhabitants of the rather sodden eggboxes, kicking off with the handsome Autumnal moth above.

Here are the rest, duly captioned. The sun has come out now and the forecast is for a better night. So provided the eggboxes dry successfully, the lamp will be lit once again as darkness falls ce soir.

A shy Red-line Quaker
An aged Snout, time-battered almost to the point of transparency
Male Light Brown Apple moth, or Epiphyas postvittana as it likes to be known
And here's the female which always reminds me of an ermine-collared member of the House of Lords

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Not as grey as it looks

After my last post's giddy procession of moths, I have only one for you today. But it is a diverting species. This is the Autumnal Rustic which comes along faithfully at the appropriate time of year and has always struck me as rather smart.

The Moth Bible described the colour of the standard form, which mine is above, as 'cold, whiteish grey' and that is spot on. It always reminds me of a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War (when we look aghast at Trump, let's remember that US politics historically haven't ever been a smooth ride for freedom and good sense).

Curiously, in spite of its virtual monotone, grey is also a very fashionable colour in contemporary home decoration. Penny has just been on a day's wood-painting workshop and come back with a set of shelves coloured nattily in a tone called 'Paris Grey', although it looks like plain old grey to me. Young people meanwhile spend ages agonising over different versions of the colour for their kitchen walls.

But the interesting thing about the Autumnal Rustic is that it isn't always cold, whiteish grey by any means. That is the only form that I have ever seen here and in Leeds, but in the West of the UK the moth can be pale orangey-brown tinged with pink while in Shetland it turns as black as the local peaty soil.

Whether this variation is related to camouflage, temperature or other reasons appears to be unresolved. Any young reader looking for a thesis topic? Here is one.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

All sorts

I was rung yesterday by Sky TV to see if I was free to talk about a big increase in moths, which normally I would have been happy to do. Specially as Butterfly Conservation issued rather gloomy news about butterflies the day before and this sounded like a chance for ray of my unquenchable (if sometimes annoying) optimism.

Luckily, I was in a meeting all morning, having lunch with a cousin and then hopping on a train from York back down South which I could not miss, so I had to say No.  And I'm glad that I did because - as I should perhaps have guessed - was not really about moths, in the sense of the delightful species described and illustrated here (and I'll come to the pics above and below in a moment), but about just one moth: Tinea bisselliella, the much feared and despised 'Clothes Moth'.

I am hostile to this as anyone else' It is simply a pest and a very uninteresting moth in appearance, to boot. But it should not be treated as a type for all the wondrous other inhabitants of the mothy world. When authoritative texts such as the Bible or William Shakespeare speak of 'moth and rust' and the like, they should really have inserted the word 'clothes' before 'moth'.

"It's a bit late for that now," you may say, and I have to agree. Any attempt to bowdlerise either text in the past has ended unsatisfactorily. So I shall pass on to the other point which I would like to make today: that although it is getting late in the year, there is a great diversity of moths still around.

From the top, we have today a Straw Dot in a nice little eggbox pod with a porthole, a Green-brindled Crescent (I think) beautifully camouflaged on a table top, a Red-green Carpet doing its perky display and then seen from above, a Red Underwing goaded by myself into showing its petticoat and, below, the year's first November or Pale November Moth, right, accompanied by a Snout.

Other visitors in the past two nights have included Blair's Shoulder-knot and the three slightly different-looking Red-line Quakers below:

Then we have a couple of Garden Carpets and the very worn relic below them which was once something rather nice.A Common or Dark Marbled Carpet, maybe?

A couple of micros, now, which I hold to be a somewhat gloom-shrouded Carnation Tortrix, Cacoecimorpha pronubana, an austerely grey Acleris sparsana and a more cheerful-looking Light Brown Apple moth, Epiphyas postvittana, all long-standing regulars.

Finally, a very worn Shuttle-shape Dart, a Brown-spot Pinion and a  Vine's Rustic. At least, those are my best guesses for these browny-greyey types.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Marvellous indeed

One of the stars of my moth year has arrived, dead on cue: the beautifully-named Merveille du Jour which is also a delightfully coloured and patterned moth.  I spotted two of them clinging to eggbox cones when I went to get the trap; the third was tucked in another eggbox lower down. I never had them in Leeds, although a friend played host to them regularly in Scarborough. But here in Oxfordshire they have come every year, always in early mid-October.

I too some initial pictures which were enlivened by an ichneumon wasp, whose pose with one of the Merveilles resembled, in may mind at least, a couple of the negotiators of the UK's shambolic 'brexit' (an ugly word for an act of wondrous stupidity; let's hope that realities bring enough people to their senses to prevent it happening).

The ichneumon wasp was particularly appropriate. They are horrid creatures, at least to the kindly human eye, because they lay eggs in caterpillars which hatch into larvae which eat their host alive. Even as a boy, I nursed a great dislike of them and I remember that when a butterfly commentatot called L.Hugh Newman seemed to be omnipresent and frequently off-beam in his observations, my father and I renamed him 'Ich-Newman'.

Anyway, back to the happier subject of the Merveilles.  During the phoyo session, I noticed that the leaf colours of a nearby lungwort, or pulmonaria, were very similar to the moths. Hoping that the trio would be sleepy enough not to object, I decanted them on to a couple of leaves. The result is the picture at the top of the post.

My other source of happiness at the moment is the number of Red Admiral butterflies about - can you see all four in the picture of ivy surrounding an upturned wheelbarrow?  There was a rather gloomy item about butterfly numbers in 2016 on Radio 4's Today programme yesterday, but the expert did at least acknowledge that Red Admirals are currently flying and basking on walls and plants in good numbers. I hope that you get to see some too.

Saturday, 8 October 2016


One of our churchwardens contacted me this week to say that he had found two creatures in the church tower which he thought might be moths. He was right. This intimate pair are Heralds, moths of great distinction because they adorn the spine of the UK moth Bible on which I depend for my - often still shaky - identifications. 

The churchwarden in question is a great devotee of Hoovering and had recently borrowed a huge industrial machine to suck all the detritus acquired since the early 19th century out of the building. I am glad that I was able to save these two innocent and interesting moths from his zeal for a temple with totally polished corners.

Meanwhile, I have treated myself to these seeds - Nicotiana or Tobacco Plants, after a string of accounts on the Upper Thames Moths blog from people who grew these plants this year and as a result, attracted Convolvulus Hawk moths.  The species' fondness for the plants, and its apparent ability to detect their presence from considerable distances (like the lusty male Emperor moths which I have written about here before) is one of the remarkable features of the mothy world.

I hope that the result of my investment will mirror the name of the variety - Sensation. Meanwhile, here is another feature of the Convolvulus Hawk, courtesy of the Alamy picture agency: the tongue or proboscis which enables it to extract nectar from Tobacco plants is so long that it has its own casing in the pupa.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Wing and a Prayer

Today's moth is just one of dozens of Black Rustics which are flitting about the garden at this time of year, but as you can see, it is one with a difference. Something - a bird or bat attack or collision with twigs or brambles - has removed large sections of wing scales.

The incident doesn't, however, appear to have damaged the actual wing 'fabric' which shows clearly through on the picture, foggily translucent like the paper we used to stick on to our balsa wood kit planes long ago. It also didn't affect the airworthiness of the moth which flew away after our photographic session, as powerfully as any of its fellows in better condition.

The episode reminded me of pictures of battered wartime 'planes whose ability to survive serious damage led to the writing of the famous song 'Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer'. It's worth spending a moment reading the background to this here, on an excellent web-page from which my other photographs are taken, including the relevant squadron's subsequent emblem. below. Only shame is, the artist didn't use a moth.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The future (past and present) are ALL orange

Autumn's continuing blaze of orange and yellow, courtesy of the Sallow family of moths, reminds me of a spectacular event in Worcester in the winter of 2013/14, based on...MOTHS!

The county and city councils' noble and imaginative museum service had the brilliant idea of using the insects to create a spectacular story for parades and tableaux in the city's streets, designed to widen interest in the rich collections (including of moths, but very many other things besides). 

It subtly used the word 'MOTH' as its acronym, short for Museums on the High Street, and you can see from my pictures, taken from an excellent commemorative booklet, that the High Street was a pretty amazing place to be.  The parades and associated events were woven round the story of a Victorian woman entomologist (quite a numerous breed in real life, with characters like Margaret Fountaine and Mary de la Beche Nicholl) and her adventures with giant moths. Lady and moth are shown inset, left.

Back in my garden, the lovely Barred Sallow shown at the top of this post and just below was joined by the other that species two colour forms, by a Pink-Barred Sallow and a different variety of the plain Sallow from the one which came two nights ago. You may be wondering about the apparent misnomer 'sallow' which in humans denotes an unhealthy appearance. The Sallow moths look anything but unhealthy; the name refers to the food plant which most of them enjoy.

The trap also produced this year's first Green-brindled Crescents, a lovely early Autumn moth with vivid flecks of metallic green among its otherwise sober (but intriguingly patterned) wing scales.

Also snoozing peacefully: an Angle Shades, a Deep-brown Dart (the companion moth to all the Black Rustics about at the moment) and a Beaded Chestnut (I think, though this sort of moth invariably muddles me). Update: as it has this time. The final moth is a Brown-spot Pinion. Many thanks to Richard in Comments.