Sunday, 10 April 2011

Early bird, on time

This is an eminent moth, given its Latin name by Johan Christian Fabricius, the pupil of Linnaeus who helped the great man classify the world's insects. It's called Selenia dentaria, which suggests a toothy - or toothsome? - version of the Greek moon goddess. One of its relatives, the Lunar Thorn, is Selenia lunularia which is the sort of combination of Greek and Latin which delights etymologists, pedants and curiosity-seekers such as myself. It effectively means the 'Moony moony', just as Pendle Hill not far from us uses three languages, Cumbric, Anglo Saxon and modern English, to call itself 'Hill hill hill.' Mind you, it does stick up very obviously from the surrounding plain. In the same way, the little moon-shaped mark on the Early Thorn's underwing stands out.

The Early Thorn is also unusual for a British moth in the way it always folds its wings over its back, like a butterfly. Other moths do this some of the time but the ET is the only absolutely consistent one. It overwinters as a pupae in a cocoon, which in this case, this year, has somehow withstood our recent vicious temperatures. I would like to be able to pupate, or at least hibernate, during the British winter. I like its feathery, TV-receiver antennae which are kept neatly folded backwards when at rest. You can study them in these two close-ups, provided you are the sort of person who doesn't mind the hairy bristliness of moths when close up and personal.

We British indirectly did for Fabricius, by the way. A Dane, he was so upset by news of the British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 that he rushed home from Paris, caught a fever and died. I haven't yet Googled to remind myself why we were bombarding Copenhagen but apologies anyway. I suspect it was something to do with Napoleon and, from memory, may have cost Lord Nelson his eye.

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