Thursday, 28 July 2016

Leading lights

As with humans, so with moths. Among the generality of the insects, there are certain families which stand out. Pre-eminently the Hawk moths which often feature here; likewise the Tigers, which have been represented on this blog by the Garden and Scarlet versions. To them, in the premier league, I would add the Prominents; regular visitors and not rare (apart from the White Prominent which I hope to see in its last toehold of Ireland before I go to the land of eternal, mothy bliss).

Two came on Monday night and both showed why I like them. What curious shapes. What a difference from your average dart-shaped moth. The first is the splendidly and accurately named Coxcomb Prominent. The second, the bizarre Pale Prominent which resembles a half-eaten Cadbury's chocolate flake.

A second group of the family is very different: sleek and crouching when at rest, like a big cat hunting or a sports car. Most sleeping moths look dead to the world. These Prominents give the impression that they have half an eye open. One eggbox in particular was rich in them - above. Two Pebble Prominents and a Lesser Swallow Prominent. Here they, closer too: 

The Lesser Swallow from the side, as per the illustration in the Moth Bible
And from above. A fine moth.
And here's the Pebble from the side. This one looks as though it is lecturing a small pupil on the facts of mothy life.

The night also brought me a Marbled Green (top above) and a Marbled Beauty (the one below), small but peerlessly patterned moths with slight, subtle distinctions which my photographs illustrate, I hope. These are prime candidates for use against those who erroneously hold that UK moths are brown and boring. Anything but.

Ditto the Peppered Moth, above, not just a beautiful creature but one with a terrific history which I have often rehearsed here - see this link for example. Finally, an interesting little micro Hypsopygia glaucinalis gave me another moth new to my records. Its caterpillars have unusual tastes, finding sustenance in decaying grasses in haystacks, birds' nests and thatched roofs such as the one which I have built for my granddaughter's tree house.

Hypsopygia in shade

And in the light of day
Ideal home for Hypsopygia larvae

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


Moths have many enemies - birds, rain, cold and bats. Here is one of the last, which somehow came to grief, possibly by a collision after some failing in its famous radar. We found it dead on the terrace outside our house. Perhaps it is a juvenile which tumbled on its maiden flight.

I have sent these pictures off to Bat Conservation both in Oxford and nationally and hope to find some answers, including which of the UK's various species it is. The feature of it which most intrigued me and Penny was the small nodule poking out of each ear, doubtless something to do with bats' incredible ability to hear. This supplements their radar and makes them deadly predators of moths - apart from the Large Yellow Underwing which has developed an extraordinary ability to counter bat radar signals. The ears of Long-eared Bats are apparently so sharp that they can hear a ladybird walking on a leaf. Or even an eggbox - see recent picture from the mothtrap, left.

It's always a matter for reflection when you encounter animals with abilities superior to our own,  in however limited a field. Moths' antennae come into this category, along with more familiar talents such as hawklike vision or the speed of a cheetah.  Back to practical matters: neither of us could be sure from online photos which type of bat this is, or was, but I'll pass on the news when it comes from the experts.

Meanwhile here is a common but beautiful micro moth, Pyrausta purpuralis. No prizes for guessing what purpuralis means. Why such a little nipper should have been given such noble raiment - purple being traditionally considered the king of the colours and duly worn by kings - I do not know but I have just started re-reading Professor Edmund Ford's classic book Moths to refresh my mind on such matters.

Having raised the issue of 'royal purple', I also felt an obligation to check why the colour has been considered so grand. Queen Elizabeth I, for example, banned its wearing by anyone who wasn't a member of the Royal family. Conversely, the Roman emperor Aurelian refused to allow his wife to buy a purple shawl because of the hit it would have inflicted on the family finances.

The answer lies in a Mediterranean mollusc called the Spiny Dye-murex whose secretions were used by dyers in ancient Tyre to make the colour. It required some 10,000 snails to make a gram of powder. Hence the price. We all wear it now thanks to the UK scientist William Henry Perkins who synthesised a chemical version in 1856 while experimenting with quinine, the famous anti-malaria drug. The name subsequently changed in fashion circles to Mauve, after the French term for the Mallow flower, one of hundreds in Nature which for centuries have flaunted their many varieties of purple in the face of the human race.

And lastly a somewhat dishevelled but still delicate beautiful Clouded Silver, one of the 'Laura Ashley' moths whose dainty grace reminds me of the nighties in which that company specialised when P and I were young marrieds. Purple just wouldn't have been the same.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Chicken moth - and friends

The Chicken Moths have arrived. Perhaps that is a bit rude of me, but I am constantly being reminded of poultry by the eggboxes in my trap and maybe you can see the resemblance in the moth below. It's not just the colour but that look of unjustified assurance which I associate with Henny Penny and other farmyard characters from my distant youth.

In fact the moth in my two first photos is a Canary-shouldered Thorn, perhaps the prettiest of a small tribe whose members also include the September Thorn below. I am fairly certain that I have got its identity right but highly enjoyable confusion reigns among the Thorns. The first to appear, often in July, is usually the September Thorn. Then along comes the August Thorn and the second generation of the Early Thorn. There is also a Purple Thorn, a Lunar Thorn, a Large Thorn and a Dusky Thorn. Their larvae tend to eat blackthorn, hawthorn and other thorns. Hence, I think, the name.

I was wondering if the next moth might be a Mottled Pug because of the delicate line of zig-zags at the base of its left hindwing; but they fly earlier in the year. An unsolved case, then. Update: Not any more. Peter Hall, one of the Inspector Morses on the Upper Thames Moths blog, IDs it as a Brown Scallop. I've had one here before but I'm hoping you will understand why I'd forgotten that. It isn't over-memorable. But the visitor after that is definitely a Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, one of the nicest of that big and prolific tribe. I've always been fond of the greeny band round its head, shown in my second photograph.

Next, some sort of junior Maybug? Any beetlish experts around? And after him (or her) a rather shot-up July Highflyer, a beautifully patterned moth in the miniature way characteristic of Carpets and their like.

Talking of that fluttery group, here comes, I think, a rather faded Dark Marbled Carpet followed by one of the grey/brown Noctuid tribe whose separate IDs cause me endless woe.

Next a neat little micro which I think is Cochylis atricapitana and my favourite 'loveheart' micro, which once appeared on Penny's birthday to general rejoicing, Acleris forsskaleana.

And the tailend Charlie? Another pug. But which, I cannot tell you. Sorry.

Monday, 25 July 2016

The moths just keep coming

Now is the moths' high noon, or high night rather, and I could publish three or four posts every day, were it not for my concern about boring the world with too much on the subject. They just keep flying in. Here, for example, is a lovely Poplar Kitten, one of the 'cat' family of moths whose name derives from the small ear-like objects on the heads of their caterpillars when young, which make them resemble kittens and cats. What lovely colouring and delicate patterns this moth has!  Yum!

The one in my top two pictures came on Friday night; this morning I found the one below which is much smaller in the trap.

Next comes a pretty, small moth with an attractive name: the Small Rivulet, which I take to derive from the bubbling stream-like band of white across its chocolate-coloured wings. I have to add that it may be a standard Rivulet which is extremely similar but a bit bigger.  I will opt, however, for the Small version on the basis of Richard Lewington's brilliant paintings from the Moth Bible, left. As you can see from my red ticks, I am a bit of a trainspotter (like most amateur moth enthusiasts, I think). Both species have visited me.

I was glad to see this one looking docile among the eggboxes because one of its relatives led me a merry dance last week. It fluttered off as soon as I moved its eggbox and I thought that I had lost it. But I watched it as far as a gooseberry bush and spotted where it had hidden. I was rather proud of this achievement and luckily there were no gooseberry thorns positioned to prevent me getting the photo below. I can tell precisely whether it is a Rivulet or Small Rivulet, but the size and detail of the 'stream' again suggest the latter.

When I saw the next moth in the trap, I had that immediate: "Ooh, something different" feeling and I think that its dark band makes it form conversaria of the Mottled Beauty which I don't recall seeing before, either here or in Leeds. Update: this is age at work, however. Checking back,  I found that one arrived in July two years ago, duly baffled me and was then kindly identified by Peter Hall on the Upper Thames Moths blog. It was noticeably darker so this one may just be a browner version of the standard type. Further (dramatic) update: The same kindly expert has had a look at this one and reveals that it isn't a Mottled Beauty at all. Oh dearie me, I am slipping. It is a Phoenix.The Beauties are woodland moths, quite large but also dainty with slim bodies and a gracefully languid flight. The Phoenix ditto, if slightly less languid.

I apologised for my failure to get a picture the other day of a Yellwtail's yellow tail. I wasn't quick enough before it skittered away. Now I have one, below, not sticking up in the most photogenic position used by the moth, k but visible nonetheless beneath the demure folds of white wing. The second picture is of a female yellowtail. The male does not have the little trio of brown marks.

On we go, and here is a lovely moth which is related to - and considerably more beautiful than, the Silver Ys which recently infested the Euro 16 Cup Final.  Ironically, its name undersells it on exactly this score. Laughably, it is called a Plain Golden Y, to separate from the Beautiful Golden Y. The latter has a slightly more complex pattern but few other advantages to land my visitor, shown below, with the adjective 'plain'.

The Common and Lesser Common Rustics, indistinguishable without genital examination which isn't my thing, have often come in for stick here. In contrast to this fussy anatomical difference, they show wild abandon when it comes to background colour on their wings.  The Moth Bible shows six different forms for the Common Rustic alone and accurately calls the moth 'extremely variable'.  Here are some examples from the trap below:

Snuggling up to a Dark Arches
Making friends with a Scalloped Oak Update: except that, as per yesterday's correction, this one is not a Common Rustic but a well-named Dot Moth. Further update: Sorry, I have been too hasty with my self-correcting As my kindly commentor says. This one IS a Lesser/Common Rustic. It was only yesterday's Dot Moth that I got wrong. 
Lesser/Common Rustic brothers beneath the wing - sorry the top one is blurred
Hawk moths are meanwhile coming in reasonable numbers; here are two Poplar Hawks and below them a nice Elephant Hawk:

Now for a nice Carpet moth, I think the Large Twin-spot, and below that with a Mother of Pearl moth (super-abundant just now) what I think is a Spruce Carpet, though I am not sure.

Talking of Mother of Pearls - one of the largest of the UK's 'micro' moths and considerably larger than many 'macros' - here is one showing how the wings owe something of their pearliness to being translucent, in this case allowing a little of the eggbox's orange to shimmer through.

Phew!  I will now content myself with simple captions and go and start to sort out another load of backlog moths...


The year's first Dun-bar, which I suspect will feature in many mornings to come
Common Emerald
Nut-tree Tussock
The Bird-cherry Ermine, Yponomeuta econymella, a tiny micro whose pupating webs can envelop whole trees causing 'Moth doom' headlines in the media

I need a bit more time to sort this micro; may do it over early morning tea  Update: thanks to a handy reference by Dave Morris on the Upper Thames Moths blog, I am pretty sure that it is Epiblema foenella.

Female Ghost Moth with Heart and Dart

Scarce Footman

And lastly, yet another of the moths which baffle mw, though it may just be some sort of Marbled Minor