Saturday, 3 October 2009

Currant fun

Two posts in one day, goodness! Unprecedented but also valedictory, nearly. I'm shutting up shop for the year any minute now but just wanted to squeeze in a contribution from an excellent Guardian colleague, Sally Burtt-Jones. She flawlessly organised a readers' walk which we did in Richmond (Yorks) earlier this year. In fact, if you have time on your hands you can read a little more about it, and about suicidal Peacock butterfly caterpillars, in the posts below. She emailed me in response to a question I had for her earlier this week, saying that she wouldn't reply until I identified this moth, which she had photographed (very well; young people have no problem with camera tremble...), in her parents' bathroom in Wales. No doubt she then ushered it safely out of the house, as in Which? magazine's instructions (see next post, below).
Well, it's a Magpie Moth, Sally, not uncommon but very interesting. It's poisonous to birds, immune to spider venom and plays dead when caught. It has also played a part in genetics experiments, described at length in his autobiography by Sir Geoffrey Keynes, the surgeon and brother of Lord Keynes, who was a great butterfly and moth expert. He and friends helped to provide black and redcurrant bushes for mass breeding of Magpie Moths to get as many variations as possible. If I can, I shall pillage the internet in a mo for some examples. The standard pattern can turn into all sorts of things, many looking like a Damien Hirst left out in the rain. The point was to relate butterfly gene transitions to human ones, a practice which has scored some notable medical triumphs, especially in the case of swallowtail butterflies bred by another famous doc, Sir Cyril Clarke, who therby cracked the rhesus negative blood problem of 'blue babies.'

Here we are. Not from the Internet but from good old Waring, Townsend and Lewington. There are plenty more variations within the range.


sarah meredith said...

Hey Martin, I guess a sign that fall is really here is that you are closing up shop. A pity on two counts. I am less of a fan of the cooler seasons than of the warmer ones and I shall miss my daily dose of moth arcana and marvelous writing! I had the most vivid moth dream last night in which I was bound and determined to get photographs of some extraordinarily colorful and wierdly winged moths which were sitting in the window of my childhood bedroom. But I think perhaps the meaning of the dream had less to do with moths than with Rio stealing our Olympic thunder because in addition to the moths in the window and greatly eclipsing them in size and drama, there was a vivid (red, yellow and blue) eagle! Anyway, thanks for another great summer's blog. xxs

MartinWainwright said...

Hi there - commiserations about Chicago although I have to be honest, in order to go to Heaven, and say that I was rooting for Rio. I don't think S America has ever had the games have they, unless you count Mex City, shortly to be the home of Tom and Abi, and the US has had Atlanta and LA even inmy lifetime. But the Os put up a good fight and I'm sorry, but glad that your radiant eagle swooped down to make up. There will be a tiny bit more blog but then silence falls. It's lovely to know that you're over there reading and P sends much love too. x to all M