Thursday, 31 July 2008

Seeing the light

Here is the trap being used last night. I've been trying to find out why moths are attracted to light and the answer seems to be that we don't yet know. This applies to a lot of things, don't you find? This Tuesday, I chaired a discussion of my colleague Alison Benjamin's excellent book A World Without Bees and we seemed to conclude there that bees' homing instinct remains a mystery. One day, maybe, they'll be able to tell us. My own limited observations suggest to me that moths are not attracted by light but thrown into confusion by it. There are two interesting passages in Prof Edmund Ford's masterly Moths (Collins New Naturalist series) and he knows masses about perception wavelengths and the like. He also carried out an experiment which I would much like to have joined. Together with Prof A C Hardy and with the help of the Royal Air Force, he made several balloon ascents at night to assess the effect of the moon on moths. Needless to say the weather didn't co-operate, but the intrepiud profs recorded three moths flying at 1000ft above the ground. Ford thought they didn't try to go all the way to the moon because of pressure in their ear drums. Like tiny divers but in reverse.



Lots more moth arrivals meanwhile, including three rather battered old Poplar Hawks. Also this Purple Thorn, with its toenail markings and 'butterfly' habit of folding its wings up above its back. And a Lesser Swallow Prominent, lean, keen-looking moths which remind me of racing cars. Admire my finger.

6 comments:

Gwyn said...

Incredible variety you've found! Had already spotted some amazing moths - at least I think they're moths - down south too this last week, is this a particularlymoth-friendly year? ... one very dark blue one with a white stripe on each wing (making a V-shape), sound familiar? Will try to post a pic next time.

MartinWainwright said...

Please send pic Gwyn and I will do my best. don't know if this year's exceptional, but certainly this sudden spell of proper warm weather is bringing them out. I found moths in five of our rooms last night (though this may be cos they sometimes cling to my pyjamas when I inspect the trap in the morning...)

Elizabeth said...

I seem to remember that Dr Doolittle flew to the moon on a giant moth. They took supplies of oxygen stored in lilies, which they used as a kind of aqualung. That was in the books; I don't know what the film made of it.

MartinWainwright said...

How interesting! Thanks very much for that. I shall find out more. It's amazing how one moth leads to another, though I suppose that applies to everything. The bit in the Ford book is quite entertaining, because they clearly did feel it necessary to try to establish if moths hope ultimately to get to the moon. Mind you, although they tried to find out, I think we are no nearer the answer.

sarah meredith said...

There is no more perfect vehicle (apart from the Guardian, of course) for your unbelievable combination of wonderful writing and indefatigable curiosity than a blog. I have actually always rather fancied moths (and we, here in Delaware County have some very choice examples). but now I am totally hooked. . .and I am linking to you, if that is OK.

MartinWainwright said...

Hi Sarah - thanks v much - and please rush me a photo of a Delaware County moth, or even better one of your lovely paintings of one. I'm going to link to you too.