Saturday, 17 July 2010

Fag ash Lil

This is one of my favourite moths for the sheer weirdness of its colouring and shape. Rightly or wrongly, it always reminds me of a discarded cigarette butt, or maybe a cheroot. I can only guess that the bizarre shapes, patterns and colourings intimidate predators. I certainly wouldn't want to eat one (and I say that as a former muncher of caterpillars when I was a Quaker volunteer teacher in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, a lifetime ago.

Crisp and crunchy, lightly fried, not dissimilar to Walker's crisps). My faithful companions Messrs Waring, Townsend and Lewington (Field Guide to the Moths of GB and Ireland, British Wildlife Press) also suggest that the moth resembles a broken birch twig, so there's another theory. Here are several pics and, oh, its name which I've forgotten to tell you in all my metaphors and similes. It's the Buff Tip.

A big Hurrah for Jax of the Yorkshire branch of Butterfly Conservation. She has identified my mystery moth, several posts below and reproduced here again, as a Clouded Brindle. I doesn't look anything like the one in WTL, at least not to me, so I feel reassured that I am not going blind quite yet. Mind you, last month brought me my bus pass, reduced train fares, bowel cancer test kit and application form for winter fuel allowance, so it is only a matter of time.

Finally, enthusiasm for entomology is spreading among my friends, notably the family of Chris Thomond, the best newspaper photographer working in the UK today and, more important, the most helpful and cheerful companion you could wish for at work. His equally bright offspring are always chasing moths round their house, at least so he implies. Here's the latest, a Light Emerald which took refuge at Thomondville after getting drenched by our St Swithin's rain. It's a distinguished picture this, being a Thomond original, like the one I ran last year of a Common Blue butterfly seen and snapped by David Sillitoe when we were working together in Nottinghamshire.

My Anglesey cousin Jenny also Facebooked me (yes, aren't I modern?) about this caterpillar which she found roaming round her house. Lucky her. It will turn into an Emperor Moth, one of our largest and finest. Jenny was planning to hatch it, but a friend preferred to let it return to the wild, where it will probably be devoured by a bird or meet some other premature end. Attitudes to wildlife can be a bit sentimental in my opinion. But maybe I'm influenced by a fascinating account of Fordlandia (by Greg Grandin, Icon Books), a birthday present from my mother-in-law Dilys, which tells the story of Henry Ford's disastrous rubber plantation on the Amazon. I've just read the bit where workers spend a day catching 250,000 rubbertree-eating caterpillars, dump them in a pile soaked with kerosene and...
Those were not the days, and anyway it was all pointless. Nature, as always, won in the end.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Deceptively small

Don't be fooled by this tiny character, the Spindle Ermine micromoth. Titchy though it is, its caterpillars can cover vast areas with a sticky silken web. They do this to protect themselves from predators but clearly haven't heard about keeping things in proportion. Provided you have the right player, take a look at this BBC film which my entomologically industrious niece Jessie (she of the Borneo photos posted here earlier this summer) sent me:
We've never had anything on that scale here, but who knows what is going on inside that small moth head? There are a lot of micros around at the moment and I will try to give some more their tiny but honourable niche in posts to come. btw is that the ghost of a glass of rose in the background; maybe a portent of my coming summer holiday? But must go now...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Chequers and streaks

A small number of moths like pretending to be butterflies, both in the shape of their antennae (butterflies' are always slender and clubbed, moths' infinitely variable) and by folding their wings up when at rest, like the one above. This is a Bordered White which combines both forms of pretence, at least in females, which have thin antennae as well as the wing habit. In the background is a Mottled Beauty with a chunk taken out of its wing as a result of some encounter, either with a bird or a bramble. I was working at Hardwick Hall yesterday and thought of moths while examining a picture of Thomas Hobbes, tutor to the young Cavendishes and coiner of the opinion that man's life is nasty, brutish and short. This wasn't true in his case; the Cavendishes were wealthy and generous and he lived to be 91, but I suspect that brutish and short apply to the lives of most moths. Here's the Beauty in more detail above right, a classic Jane Eyre moth but with delicate patterning. Click on the pic to examine in more detail.
Two other arrivals: this pretty little Marbled Beauty (left) and below a Barred Yellow checking on its correct vitamin take from the eggbox. One of the sub-fascinations of a hobby such as mothing is linking the insects to their foodplants. Today's four suggest correctly that we have pines nearby, the Bordered White's favourite, wild roses which the Barred Yellow prefers, and lichen, the rather unusual food of the Marbled Beauty's caterpillars. The last's colouring is perfect camouflage for resting on lichen. Is that Darwinian or coincidence? The Mottled Beauty meanwhile is like me. Its caterpillars eat pretty much anything.

Monday, 12 July 2010


Let's have a break from the interesting but largely small and brown world of mid-July moths. The sun blazed yesterday and the butterflies were out. So was this glittering creature (above) which I tentatively identify as an Emerald Damselfly (No - see comments; it's the even better-sounding Banded Demoiselle). Nearby, a big blue hawker dragonfly was also whirring about, but too skittishly for me to get a picture. This applied generally, I suspect because of the wind, and even the humdrum Meadow Browns were too hard to capture. Every time one finally decided to settle and I crept up with the camera, off it went again. In the process, however, I managed to find these relatively calm visitors below: a Ringlet and a Large Skipper, both with the delicate white fringe which makes recently-hatched butterflies especially lovely. To be fair to the moths, both of these are brown, as indeed is the Meadow Brown (and the female Emerald Damselfly - brownish, anyway). But it will not be long before the Vanessids are here, the glorious Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells which are all that a butterfly (or moth) should be.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


This morning it was me that was dozy, not the moths. After a long trip to Northumberland, I got up late, but the catch was all sleeping too, possibly because the wind had got up in the night and it isn't a morning for fluttering around half-comatose on fragile wings. I have some new arrivals, which is increasingly unusual now that I am into my fifth year of using the light. On the yellow box is Single-dotted Wave, a lovely delicate creature although hopelessly misnamed: it is covered with dots. On the black background (the trap bowl) we have appropriately a Blackneck, described as 'local' - ie not so common - by my Waring, Townsend and Lewington pals. Finally, if any of my much-appreciated expert readers can identify the browny moth below, with the black pattern which looks like something for riddling an Aga, I'd be very grateful. It's probably a routine species with a slightly different patterning from the norm (there's a version of the Common Rustic which looks similiar), but my muddled brain has so far failed to nail it. The only forensic assistance I can offer is the end of my thumb, to indicate size, although the relatively sharp rake of the wings' trailing edge at rest may help too.
Afterthought: is it that forlornly-named moth, the Dingy Shears? If so, it completes a trio of newcomers and is also, according to my 2003 edition of WT&L, local. But it may not be dingy enough.
Latest thought from a mothy friend: a Grey or Dark Dagger, maybe the rosea form of the DD. The mystery continues...

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Crinkly bottom

I mentioned the Small Angle Shades the other day, and the fact that its habit of folding or crinkling its wings when at rest seems to be the only thing it has in common with the larger Angle Shades. My photograph didn't really show this, alas, but luckily a very handsome Small Angle Shades arrived last night and obligingly posed to illustrate the point (above). The blue in the other picture is also satisfactorily fine. It is incredibly warm at the moment and some of the moths are extra comatose. I wonder if anyone has studied the relative sleepiness of species. Yellow underwings and Emeralds seem to belong to the moth equivalent of the Wide Awake Club which my children watched on TV years ago. They are only too keen to fly away when I start checking the egg boxes. Peppered Moths and the Hawks (a long-surviving Poplar today) are by contrast almost impossible to wake. All different, just like human beings. I'm an early morning person. Penny, emphatically not.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The green and the grey

The title of this post is the same as a chapter heading in True North, my take on the North of England, which tries to explain the attraction of those parts of the 'industrial' North where the mills and towns are surrounded, and often penetrated, by lovely countryside. They have an appeal which almost matches our five star areas, such as the Lake District, which are finer but infinitely more-visited and therefore without that 'secret' appeal which can be so beguiling. If you pay a call on this blog's sister (click on my profile and then on True North), you can see an outstanding example: Castle Carr above Luddenden Foot in the Calder valley. The fountain there is one of Yorkshire's great hidden gems.

Moths, now. The Green here is my old favourite the Green Arches, which teamed up last night with a pair of its friends the Grey Arches whose different conditions give you a chance to see how the ups and downs of life take their toll. They were the stars of a very large troop in the trap; at least 60 yellow underwings of the various types, ten Light Emeralds, a Beautiful Golden Y, three Burnished Brasses, four Marbled Minors, assorted Waves, a Mottled Beauty, a game old Poplar Hawk getting a bit tatty now and a whole speckle of micros. Busy times, and the warm weather continues. The big job at this time of the year is hiding the comatose moths from the birds, although I've yet to suffer the feature of previous years when a particular predator, usually a blackbird, wises up to the potentially enormous breakfast buffet. Hiding places today included our barbecue slotted spoon, here seen sheltering the better-preserved of the Grey Arches.

I'm just self-indulgently adding this close-up of the Green Arches' wings because i like the colour combination so much. I'm sorry not to have got the camera down to super-micro scale but as soon as one of my sons pays us a visit, I hope to have a refresher course on how to do this.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Modestly appealing

Nothing of any great note this morning, although by coincidence Penny spotted a Dark Arches - like the one in yesterday's post - on our bedroom table this morning, forlornly lying upside down with its legs in the air and long dead. Once moths get into the house, they don't seem to live long, especially in this very warm weather. It must have crept in before we went down to London and expired while we were away.

In the trap there was a Small Angle Shades, so I can now fulfill my promise to show you a picture of one (above), made in the post about its older brother the Angle Shades a little further down the blog. As I mentioned then, they look more like half-brothers and they have completely different Linnean names. The only connection really seems to be that both crease their wings when resting. Note too that the Small AS has a patch of restrained but unmistakable BLUE. Hooray! Would that this colour was more common in British moths, which almost completely boycott it for reasons which I intend to discover before I die.

Also around were these two, which share small light spots. The chunkier one is a Knot Grass, pleasantly patterned, but I don't know about the other. I thought it would be easy, because of the spots, but they don't conform to any of my pictures and I think they may be scars or aberrant marks. It's one of the Beauties or possibly an Engrailed. Definite news when I have it. (And we have - Dean has come to the rescue; see comments). Meanwhile we'll leave it to read the eggbox instructions, upside down.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Through an arch, darkly

I've been in London at my second son Olly's graduation - his second, too, but I think that's it now for student days, and fees. He's done very well in his architecture MA at the Royal College of Art, and to mark this fact, an architectural moth duly appeared on the scene. I hadn't been expecting to post today, but Penny and I called at the London Building Centre and in the temporarily-grassed half-moon of land outside, there was this Dark Arches zooming about. Some actors were rehearsing Othello on a temporary stage in the sunshine, very loudly, and I think that had woken it up. It definitely had no plans to go back to sleep, so apologies for the rather rushed pic.

Nice to find a moth in the very heart of London, just off Tottenham Court Road. Good, too, to see the temporary installation and preparations for the play. Olly guided us to a fair number of other such 'Meanwhiles', or interim uses of space, including a little orchard by the railway arches in Union Street, Southwark, where some friends of his built an equally temporary lido pool last year. We have our own Dark Arches in Leeds, incidentally (pic right courtesy of excellent Leodis history site), the atmospheric space beneath the railway station where the river Aire rolls through in the dark and a murder victim was once immersed in a vat of alkali so powerful that the crime was only discovered via his undissolved shoe soles. Brrrrr, eeek! Heading North again now towards that very station, in blazing sun.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Heavily armed

I seem to be going through a bit of a wing close-up phase at the moment, but that's hard to resist when you find a moth like the Grey Dagger in the trap. It's as festooned with poignards and swordblades as a mediaeval condottiere. If it wasn't too cruel, I would suggest exhibiting one in the Hall of Steel at the Royal Armouries here in Leeds where they have a similar fearsome collection of weaponry. The pattern is yet another example of moths' ingenious camouflage, helping to break up the overall greyness in the manner of dazzle-painted ships in the First World War. It is also very effective in concealing the moth on tree bark although not, clearly, against the bland backdrop of an eggbox. Unlike Peppered Moths, whose tendency to seek out the boxes' advertising text or barcode which matches their black-and-white livery, Grey Daggers seem to perch anywhere to go into their mercury vapour-induced sleep. Thanks to royal_armouries.htm for the picture of the Hall of Steel. Oh, and look at the Grey Dagger's modest showing of a nicely-patterned bit of leg, like a tiny zebra crossing.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Habitat moth

Here's the Angle Shades, another friend to this blog because it's so distinctive. The name makes me think of shopping expeditions to Habitat and John Lewis in early married days (Penny is a great expert on subtle house lighting, whereas I am - or rather was - a single-bulb-without-a-shade sort of person). I remember commenting previously on this moth's tendency to rest in a tilted position which looks as if it has just made an emergency stop and here (above) it is again in that classic pose. I've also had a call from its near-namesake the Small Angle Shades which looks surprisingly different but my pic of it isn't very good so I think I'll wait before introducing it to the limelight. Interestingly for those who study animal camouflage, the Angle Shades shares the military patterning, and wing shape, with the Lime Hawk. Indeed, the latter would be a better candidate than the Small Angle Shades as a brother moth, albeit an older and beefier one.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Shining brightly

Eeek, they're here! The UK's most successful moth, the various Yellow Underwings. Like brambles, they thrive. Like Chinese armies in history and myth, they advance in unstoppable waves. There isn't actually a plain and simple Yellow Underwing, rather Large YUs, Broad-bordered, Narrow-bordered and so on. But whatever their names, and whatever else is happening to our environment, they have the secret of success.

Me, I took refuge in photographing this Burnished Brass, one of 15 in the eggboxes (yes, it's abundance time all round, and not surprisingly with the nights as warm as a bath). I've tried daylight, a headtorch (luckily no-one was looking) and flash and here are the results. Interesting that flash from one angle - the last picture - avoids the scales' reflection/refraction altogether and turns a jewel into paste. There is a lot of literature on moths and butterflies' 'metallic' scales if you Google. The fact that remains in my junk-box mind is that commercial hunters of the Amazon's irridescent Morpho butterflies, whose wings are made into jewellery and souvenirs, use glittery sweetpapers on fishing lines to lure the beautiful creatures down from the canopy and within reach of their nets.