Wednesday, 17 September 2008

On the qui-vive

Victorian gents used to talk about a fine pair of whiskers. Here's a fine pair of antennae, on a Dusky Thorn moth. Antennae are one of the glories of British moths - hugely varied, unlike our butterflies' versions which are always club-shaped. They act as a sort of radar, helping steer flight, and also detecting members of the opposite sex with admirable accuracy. I was reading the other day about a pheromone trap, a rather mean way of catching moths which involves imprisoning a female in a muslin bag at a time when she is 'calling', the moth version of going out clubbing in a miniskirt and full warpaint. Her pheromones, a bundle of chemicals intoxicating for male moths, drift downwind, and antennae such as these are so sensitive that they will pick up a single molecule of this 'scent'. The Thorn family, incidentally, provide us with the August Thorn (very rare) and the September Thorn. Later in the year we may encounter the November Moth and the December Moth. But there is nothing for October. If anyone discovers a new British species (which still happens occasionally, even in our crowded world), maybe they would like to fill this gap. Below is the rest of the moth plus, as ever, an interesting close-up of an eggbox.

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