Thursday, 19 August 2010

X-ray specs

"Where is the moth?" you cry, as you scan what seem to be unusual photo of a policeman's helmet. And I reply: "Look more closely..." Yes, that curious object on the left is a Spectacle moth, a past hero of this blog but one of which I never tire. I didn't notice it sitting quietly under the lamp-holder at first; then I saw the curious little 'face', with the giglamps (actually more like skiing goggles) caused by the patterning above the real eyes. To complete the Spectacle's odd appearance, its forewings each have a pronounced black eyelash shape on them, when at rest. Others have compared this to a Frenchman's oiled moustache, divided in two. I have a picture of it on a post way back which I'll try to find and add here later.

Here we are.

Meanwhile, the life of butterflies may be colourful but it is often short. I was reminded of that when I came through the garden gate from work last night and saw this melancholy eye peering up at me. It is the remains of a Peacock, I suspect after bird attack, although it may have blundered into a spider's web. Without being callous, we do have an abundance of Peacocks this year. I saw more than 20 on one bush at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on Monday, a sight which inspired me so much that I Tweeted about it. Another one skipped out of a hydrangea just as I was pondering the remains of its dead companion. Life goes on.


Phil said...

Hi Martin, I was fascinated by your piece on Churchill's butterflies in the Guardian today. A while ago I picked up a copy of L. Hugh Newman's Butterfly Farmer, published by the Scientific Book Club in 1954 (I think)- well worth looking out for if you haven't got a copy. He describes his dealings with Churchill in some detail ("Let me have your plans soon... and let it be a plan of action!"). Apparently Churchill was somewhat concerned that Black-veined whites would become a pest of his fruit trees and needed some persuading, as for a long time imports of this potentially economiocally damaging species were banned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, until they conceeded that hawthorn was its preferred food plant. The book has some interesting pictures - of the author teaching his son to use a butterfly net (interesting in relation to the recent environment blog in the Guardian0 and also of camberwell beauties imported in bark loads of timber from Scandinavia - but perhaps most interesting of all is the account of running his butterfly farm (with price lists for his father's business in 1910 - swallowtail eggs 1/6 per dozen;elephant hawk moth eggs 5d. per dozen and for his own butterfly farm in 1954, with a collection of one dozen named "living Hawk Moth and other showy moth pupae" retailing at 10/6d postage 6d. (if bedstraw hawk required add 10/6d. extra).

MartinWainwright said...

Hi Phil - and sorry for the delay. I've been busy with A level pupils. Thank goodness ours are well past that. The competition is hotter than ever, and they all seem to be so bright.
I'm really glad you saw the Guardian piece online. It's a shame it wasn't in the paper, but that's terribly formulaic these days and they already had a natural history story - that terrifying prehistoric bird - and they don't seem to run two for fear of spoiling 'the mix.' Anyway, when I was researching it, I thought I had that book but discovered that the Newman one I've got is a straightforward butterfly guide. But I knew I'd read it and seen the pictures you describe; and then I realised that I'd borrowed it from Leeds Library while writing the linking pieces for A Gleaming Landscape, the collection of 100 years of Guardian Country Diaries (such as your excellent ones). I checked, and I did actually use that wonderful, and so Churchillian, "plan of action" quote.
I'm very interested in the point about the BVWs and fruit trees. It would be nice if they could come back, in spite of all the scientific hesitations. I'm now going to copy and paste this as a Comment on your blog as I realise I'm a bit hopeless about corresponding properly in that way.
All warmest wishes