Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to one and all, moths included

Hiya! Hope you've had a lovely Christmas and that fun is continuing through Christmas week; and all warmest wishes for the New Year. We've had the mildest weather for 14 years and although the trap is mothballed, I'm tempted to bring it out again just to see if any wonders are around.

I'm encouraged in this notion by the nightly presence beneath our porch light of Winter Moths including this one, above and below (twice with flash and once without), which perched on the wall, neatly positioning itself over the grout. You can link back via the previous post to Interesting Facts about the Winter Moth (and interesting indeed they are). More soon, maybe...

...and actually here's a little more sooner than I expected (it's now 29 December, almost the year's end. I'm even dozier than usual during this combination of festive holiday and the off-season for moths; but last night I got the Moth Bible down from the shelves, dusted it down and checked the pictures. And I think this may be a November Moth. I will check with Charlie Fletcher as one of my very first New Year resolutions, after the weekend. But any wise comments from passing experts would be appreciates, as always.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Wintertime winds

Winter has arrived in the UK, and with it the Winter Moth. I hadn't noticed this one which perched on our stairs and was luckily spotted by Penny before I trampled on it. When I deployed the camera, it fluttered off and ended up perching on the stair rail. As you can see, it folds its wings over its back, butterfly style.

I've written about the fascinations of the Winter Moth at some length on this blog in the past and am too tired after the annual Northern Journalists' Lunch, to repeat myself here. Check out this past entry for more info.

Merry Christmas in the meanwhile, and all warmest wishes for the New Year!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Time to wake up? No! Go back to sleep!

Hello! I have emerged from hibernation just to show you something else which has done the same: this Peacock butterfly which has been dozing in our dining room (for overseas readers, that is the only room in a house where English people never have meals).

I know exactly why it woke up. Penny and I have both been working in there and although we have a never-ending struggle over the thermostat (me warm, she cooler), the room eventually reached summer temperatures which deceived our secret guest.

Out it fluttered, beating vainly against the window for a time so that I almost cupped it in my hands and took it outside into the sunshine. I'm glad I didn't. Today has seen hurricanoes of King Lear proportions and it's also cold. Much better to curl up above the curtains or wherever, and go back to sleep.

Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells are famous hibernators, and account for the theatrical tradition that the appearance of a butterfly on the first night will bring a production luck. This is far from a rare event (although I admit to having written about it in the past as cause of excitement). Theatres are mostly big and have lots of curtains. Perfect Peacock territory.

Sorry the pics are a bit blurred. I had to reach across computers, tables, spaghettis of wire cabling etc to take them. It would all have been risky to move and I am too old to climb furniture.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Martin's mole

Look, it's a mini-series. The last post showed my friend Kate, her mobile 'phone and the largest moth in the world. Here's the hand of my niece Annie, her mobile and my mole.

It was a mole. For all its apparent perfection, it is actually an ex-mole. We found it on a lovely walk today to honour my sister Tessa's birthday, from Pateley Bridge to the Sportsman's Arms in Wath-in-Nidderdale (just the best pub) and back. There was no sign of the cause of death. Could it have been old age?

Here it is again with Tessa's dog Kipper. We were with various other members of our vast family, including my older sister Hilary who edits this interesting magazine. The last time that Hil, Tess and I saw a mole together was when I was about six and we were at a bus stop in Tinshill Road, Leeds. A mole appeared in the field alongside (now houses) and a woman at the bus stop told us it was a baby cow.

You remember such things. Here is an actual baby cow from Google Image. (thanks to

Monday, 14 November 2011

One big moth

Whoops, I'm at it again. Must be the warm weather - we're heading for the mildest November in 363 years. Fact. I'm not trapping, though, just passing on these fine pics from a friend of mine Kate Dundas, who is out in Borneo and - VERY lucky woman - saw this Great Atlas moth alive and snoozing. Here it is, plus a reflection of Kate in her mobile phone, neat eh?

This is the biggest moth in the world; and I have one! Yes. It is dead, I have to admit. My old primary school teacher Miss Cynthia, aka Cynthia Harvey of St Agnes school in Headingley, Leeds, brought it back from Malaya in the 1950s and gave it to me many years later when she realised that I was seriously interested in butterflies and moths.

Here it is from a past blogpost in 2008, the debut year of this long and winding journal. I would have compared it to a London bus but didn't have one - just this souvenir from New York. Now I will return to hibernation (although I will be back soon with more Americana: the Invasion of the Terrible Black Ladybirds).

Monday, 7 November 2011

The village of Moth

Hello again - I have emerged briefly from my hibernation (or what in the case of water voles, I have discovered is called 'torpor'), initially with a completely selfish aim in mind. This is to plug the latest product from Wainwright publications - 'The English Village', which has been very tastefully produced by Michael O'Mara (publishers of all those famous Lady Di exposes). It makes an ideal Christmas present, hem hem.

To disguise this blatant self-promotion, I typed 'moth' and 'village' into Google and, lo and behold!, as happens in this interconnected world, up came a Load of Interesting Facts. Pre-eminent among them is a Wikipedia page on a village actually called Moth (see interesting 3D map below from this website but do so in the context of Wikipedia's map which unfortunately doesn't wholly drag across). Do click on the link as it written charmingly in what you might call Indian English and includes the following memorable juxtaposition.

The author writes enthusiastically about the food of Moth, a name created by us Brits via our customary hopeless attempts to pronounce the real, local word, and ends by saying: In summer the speciality is Kulfi of Moth made by Milkiram; it is the tastiest kulfi that you can get for two rupees anywhere in the world In its customary deadpan way, Wikipedia adds: Citation needed.

I shall make it my business to visit Moth before I die, and email Wikipedia with the proof, if I find it.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Goodnight, sweet prince (and princess, and everyone)

I said yesterday that the trap's solitary Yellow-line Quaker might have a special distinction, but I am afraid that it hasn't. What I had in mind was that for all its modesty, it looked like being the Last Moth On the Blog This Year.

Nope. It got warmer last night and was clearly going to be dry and so I lit the lamp once again and Lo!, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, or at any rate the moths, turned out in force. Loveliest among them was the Feathered Thorn, above, closely followed by a Blair's Shoulder-knot, below, and these two little carpets, Red-green and Spruce I am fairly sure, on the left.

But that is it, for now. See you next year (although, as in 2009-10, I may have the occasional sesh in the winter months). Thanks for all the comments, wisdom and many, many corrections. I do this for my own weird pleasure, but this year I discovered Blogspot's 'Stats' and was astonished and delighted at the range of countries from which people have fluttered on to this site: Mongolia, Argentina, South Korea, Ukraine, Iran. Truly the world-wide web, and if we can all unite in a common interest in moths, hooray. Here's another pic of the Feathered Thorn to help that process on.

Talking of which, I will leave you with a Thought about Why moths rather than butterflies, whose beauty is obvious and irresistible and comes without the worries about hairiness, night-flying and crawling into ears which wrongly attach to moths. Thanks to Penny's recent laundry of our nice, bright Sri Lankan napkins, I herewith present it in picture form.

First, here is how people see butterflies:

Second, here is how most people see moths:

Third, here is how moths really are, when you take the time and trouble to get to know them:

Subtle, pastel shades worthy of Laura Ashley, eh? Or the paintings of my talented American pal, Sarah Meredith.

Farewell for now, then. Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Eid and everything else, and see you in April.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Frosty reception

We've had the first frost of autumn and guess how many moths there were in the trap? 'None' was Penny's first stab, followed by 'Three?' The answer lies between. There was just one, this demure little Yellow-line Quaker which had a dozen or more eggboxes all to itself. It reminded me of an episode long ago when I decided to take a late autumn break and found myself the only person on a package tour of Iceland.

For all its modesty, reflected in its name, the Yellow-line Quaker is an interesting moth. Apart from over-wintering as an egg on a tree branch, which I've mentioned before, it follows a very gruelling way of life in its earlier stages. When fully-sized, the caterpillar drops from on high into ground foliage like a parachutist whose equipment has failed. I wonder how many die of their injuries. Survivors then dig a small hole, no easy task for a caterpillar, lie in it for several weeks after covering themselves with a mantle of earth or brush, and only then pupate.

They miss the British summer, such as it is, and emerge just as the weather is getting dodgy, to fly until November and lay their eggs for the whole arduous cycle to start again. What is the reason and purpose behind all this? Scientists will have very little idea, I suspect. So much knowledge remains to be revealed.

This particular moth may have another minor distinction which I will reveal tomorrow, if it proves to be the case.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

News from elsewhere

Dark mornings and the colder weather discourage me from trapping, even though reports continue of unusual migrant moths coming to the UK. Quite why they choose the fag-end of October baffles me, but at least two have had the sense to come north, to Yorkshire.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that these new species had just been added to the county list, and here they are: small but prettily patterned and certainly a good excuse to raise the Yorkshire flag - above, borrowed from the website of Simon Cooke, a Conservative councillor from Cullingworth in the Pennines. The first was caught by my endlessly patient moth-identifier Charlie Fletcher, a GP near Ripon and our West Yorkshire county moth recorder; the second by the light trap at Spurn Point, that curious, crooked finger of land at the mouth of the Humber.

Neither has an English name, unfortunately, so Charlie's (above) is known as Etiella zinckenella, named as long ago as 1832 but first recorded in the UK only in 1989. Its normal habitat stretches from southern Europe to the tropics, so the climate change people may be twitching their antennae.

The arrival at Spurn, which joins a long list of interesting migrants making landfall in the area (where the future King Henry IV also launched his successful invasion of Richard II's kingdom in 1399), is Spoladea recurvalis, named by Fabricius in 1775 but reluctant to visit the UK. The first came in 1951 and about a dozen have been recorded since (one in Scotland, so although the moth is also a mainly tropical one, it has an adventurous streak). Many thanks for both species' pix to the ever-excellent website UK Moths.

I will probably have a final go at the weekend, and study the eggboxes carefully for tiddlers such as these. Who knows? If rarities have arrived at the traps of knowledgable monitors such as Charlie and the Spurn recorders, there must be more around.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A nocturnal negative

I've proved negatives with the trap on chilly nights before, and I thought this morning that I'd done it again. I put the light out in the same place as on Friday night but much later, at around 11.30pm after a night out. This morning, I thought a slumbering caddis-fly was the only occupant.

Even the very last eggbox seemed to be empty, but as I up-ended it, I saw this sweet little sight. Two forelegs securing a small brown moth to the very tip of one of the cones. Our visitors yesterday were asking me why moths like eggboxes, and this is the reason.

It would be nice if the moth were a Brick, a common Autumn flyer, as it landed on a brick, upside down, when I decanted it from the box. I am completely un-nerved by my constant failure to identify arrivals correctly (thanks again to all experts who put me right), but I think that it's actually a Chestnut, although it isn't holding its wings as tightly as the one shown in Waring, Townsend and Lewington.

The Chestnut is a doughty little moth, flying from September through to May. Here it is again, showing the merits of its camouflage, an advantage common to so many moths.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Touch of the blues

The year presses on but the weather is kind and reports of rare migrant moths still abound. So the light still shines in the garden here, and snoozers in the dawn continue to be varied and interesting.

Last night, a lot of them went for blue backgrounds - although in the case of the Red-line Quaker above that is proof that the camera lies. The moth was actually sitting on the outside of the clear (albeit a bit grubby) plastic cowl, while the trap bowl, at the bottom, is actually black.

The Shuttle-shaped Dart, above, went for a genuinely blue eggbox as did the Blair's Shoulder Knot below (Update: Uh-oh - see Comments). Further update: Ah-ha! I'm sure it's a Dark Sword-grass, so I have got a migrant after all. It's one of the UK's most frequent arrivals from overseas and I remember now that our county moth recorder Charlie Fletcher identified one for me last year. Hooray! We had my distinguished colleague Simon Jenkins to stay last night, along with another old friend, Maggie Bone, whose husband Ron was a marvellous painter. So I'm glad the trap gave me something to show them.

There were some comments on the lines of 'Why are they all brown?', it has to be said; but the wonders of digital close-up won them over. I think.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Handsome latecomers

I rushed to the trap this morning after learning that the current wave of migrant moths has brought two new species to Yorkshire (details when I learn more), but no sign of such excitements here. There were three very handsome moths in residence, however, including this Feathered Thorn.

I'm inordinately pleased with the photo above, because it shows one of the beautifully feathered antenna which I hadn't noticed with my ailing eyes. This means that the moth is a male. I'm not surprised. As in the picture below, I thought it had a somewhat proud and peacocky masculine look. Its misty pal in the top picture is an Autumnal Moth.

Who doesn't like the Angle Shades, hands up? No-one, good. I'd have sent you to the back of the class. Two perfect specimens were sleeping away, each with that rakish look which makes them distinct from any other UK species.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Tough cookies

You can see from these first two pictures that the autumn weather is sorting out the men from the boys. Yellow-line Quaker moths like these have got to be tough; they spent last winter as an egg exposed on a tree branch just as their potential offspring will do in the coming months. Then, once mature as a caterpillar, they scrape out a little cavern underground and lie there contemplating for a while before spinning a cocoon and in due course turning into a moth.

This second one is rather more battered but game enough to spend yet another night of drizzle on the lid of the moth trap, finding one of the few dry patches left by overhanging plants. This nice Feathered Thorn, below, had also found a relatively dry spot in an eggbox inside the trap, although you can see from the darker colouring that the rain got into there as well.

It is another species which spends the winter as a tiny but robust egg. I have never gone in for hunting moths's eggs but there are bound to be people who do.

Some moths at last

This blog is in danger of breaching the Trades Descriptions Act - my fascination with locusts and allied grasshoppers, not to mention jellyfish, means that a moth hasn't appeared here for nearly two weeks.

Sorry. My cupboard is almost empty, although I ran the trap last night and hope to find a few inhabitants there when it gets light enough to use the camera. Roll on the end of British Summer Time.

Anyway, here is a moth - a sad one because it got caught in a spider's web in our kitchen where Penny saw it dangling like a grisly victim of an execution. Another example of Nature's unsentimental world.

Also on moths, the Guardian has had one of its occasional fits of excitement and asked me to write a comment piece on a recent spate of interesting immigrant species, including the lovely Crimson Speckled which I saw in France and featured on the blog back in August. Here are my bon mots, along with a startling and entertaining thread of readers' views.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


On and on it drizzles and the mornings are far too dark for taking photographs. So here are some final, noisy, Spanish companions and the solitary butterfly I managed to photograph over there.

I don't know if this first large beast is a solitary locust. Anyone brought up on the Bible finds it hard to imagine them in anything other than swarms. In Exodus' words: 'They covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.' That does sound a bit like parts of the Costas.

Meanwhile, this more compact grasshopper lived on a hibiscus outside our window and serenaded us every night.

Butterflies were few indeed. I stalked a solitary Clouded Yellow without success and something middle-sized and brown flew past while I did so. But this Long-tailed Blue - rather blurry I fear - was one of a handful which fluttered around the villas, nervously resting for only brief moments before skittering off again.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The owners of those eyes

Here as promised are the rest of the creatures eyed-up in yesterday's post, primeval-looking beasts which inhabit the patches of wasteland that survive between the self-contained developments of flats and villas along the southern Spanish coast. These look in October as though someone has poured weedkiller over them; only a few scrubby bits of juniper show green.

Nonetheless they are home to at least two sorts of smallish dragonfly, one green and the other red but neither over-willing to pose for photographs. Looking closer reveals a quite impressive range of grasshoppers, crickets and/or locusts which make mighty leaps when disturbed. If you look closely at this one, on a broken flowerpot which was one of innumerable pieces of interesting litter, you'll discover that it had a little friend nearby (as well as the tiny snail, one of millions somehow surviving in the scrub).

Here's an overview of the habitat, with another green dragonfly if you look closely. If anyone can help me with identification, I will as ever be very grateful, but meanwhile will Google. Rapid update: I think they are female and male Red-veined Darters. I'd also be interested to know why the wealth of bougainvillea, plumbago and hibiscus in the flats' gardens seems to hold little attraction for insects. Mind you, because a lot of people are in residence only rarely, and the developments have strict rules about tidiness, all plants are continuously and vigorously pruned.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The eyes have it

We've been gadding off again, this time for a debut visit to the Spanish Costas, where the human life is every bit as enjoyable to watch as Mother Nature's. Here for example are some grandes beigneuses who would have had Cezanne in raptures.

They are bathing in mud, which Penny also did but I emphatically didn't. When you'd finished, you were supposed to complete the health-giving process by leaping into the cooler sea on the other side of a forlorn, East Anglian-style spit. But since you were greeted by hundreds of these, below, I didn't do that either.

As for the insects of Spain, there were these eyes. Look at this collection here. Tomorrow I will put up pics of the rest of their owners. Be afraid...

Be very afraid!

Beware, be scared, Hallowe'en is coming...

Be there!