Saturday, 7 August 2010

Night and Day

Back in Paxos - which still has a stash of pictures and encounters with insects to come - here's an unusual duo: a moth flying by day (the two pics above) and a butterfly by night (see below). Strictly, this particular moth's appearance wasn't a surprise. It's one of a handful of dayflyers also found in the UK, including the red and green Burnet and Cinnabar moths - the latter the adult of the yellow and black caterpillars often found on Ragwort, looking like Wolves players in years gone by. They are an important argument for defending ragwort's summery blaze of yellow against those who call the plant a 'noxious weed' and say that it will poison all Britain's horses.

But I am rambling. This is a Hummingbird Hawk moth, fascinating to watch but tricky to photograph as it almost never comes to rest. I saw it do so just once - see rather blurred small pic of it just about to take off again - and it is remarkable to think how much energy its life must involve. In between hovering industriously over blooms with its long tongue busy (and just look at those wings whirring away in the second photo, above), it zooms around at high speed searching for new dining areas of geranium or plumbago. As I say, we do get it here and by coincidence a friend emailed just before Penny and I left for Paxos to say that she had seen one in Hebden Bridge. That is, of course, an exotic town; but the fantastically thorough records of Yorkshire Butterfly Conservation (see second-to-top link above) show that there were 40 or so sightings in the county last year, and tallies of between 14 and 375 in the last decade.

Now for the butterfly, whose appearance by night is much more unusual. It flew wildly over our heads while we were having supper outside, stopping occasionally in a daze. It is another species familiar in the UK, the Painted Lady, and here is one behaving more normally the following morning. There was a famous mass immigration of Painted Ladies into Britain last year, and many will be familiar with the butterfly. It is a very fast and capable flyer, but our night-time visitor had lost all that skill. I am sure it was dazed by the large outside light above our table, the nearest thing we had to a moth trap. A rare event. Yes, but then it is equally rare for us to have supper outside in Leeds, especially after dark and under a large lamp. If we did, this sort of thing might become the norm.

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