Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The very startled caterpillar

I have just had to write something for the Guardian about clothes moths, which are on a roll in the UK at the moment because of the warm early Spring, and I tried to make it clear that it is (a) the larvae and (b) a very small number of species that do the damage. Alas, all moths get a bad name from the malefactors, just as the Flame Shoulder's habit of heading for ears is wrongly assumed by some to apply to moths generally.

Anyway, on cue, into the blog crawls that relative rarity, a caterpillar, albeit vastly bigger than a clothes moth one. We put out some bunting at the weekend to welcome our in-laws for a visit, and when we brought it back in, the cattie had hitched a ride. Penny spotted it and managed to field it from creeping into the desolate world beneath our fire surround where it would have found nothing to eat (not even bits of my various sweaters). A brief photo session and then we bobbed it back outside.

Does anyone know what it is? (YES! See **below...) I'm slowly working my way through moth books, but haven't traced it yet. In retrospect, we should have kept it in a box to pupate and discover the answer when the adult emerged. But life is so busy that I would worry about keeping up the food supply and remembering to check on its well-being. You don't want to be cruel to caterpillars, even though they get a bad press.

The illustrious Bard himself refers to the corrupt courtiers Bushy, Bagot and Green in Richard II as 'caterpillars of the Commonwealth', munching the kingdom's dosh. Here's a nice picture as a change from moths, of said king going out to meet rebels who wanted these caterpillars fumigating.

**UPDATE on 2 June: Charlie Fletcher, noblest county ofmoth recorders, thinks that the cattie will turn into a Twin-spot Quaker, a chaste but attractive moth which regularly overnights in the trap later in the year. So maybe we'll meet it again, as an adult. But we will never know for sure.


worm said...

do you know the poem Tapestry Moths, Martin? It's by Peter Redgrove and is my favourite poem about the weirdness of moths - here's a section:

It was the tapestry moths that ate the colours like the light
Limping over the hangings, voracious cameras,
And reproduced across their wings the great scenes they consumed
Carrying the conceptions of artists away to hang in the woods
Or carried off never to be joined again or packed into microscopic eggs
Or to flutter like fragments of old arguments through the unused kitchens
Settling on pans and wishing they could eat the glowing copper

The lamb-faced moth with shining amber wool dust-dabbing the pane
Flocks of them shirted with tiny fleece and picture wings
The same humble mask flaming in the candle or on the glass bulb
Scorched unwinking, dust-puff, disassembled; a sudden flash among the hangings
Like a window catching the sun, it is a flock of moths golden from eating
The gold braid of the dress uniforms, it is the rank of the family’s admirals
Taking wing, they rise
Out of horny amphorae, pliable maggots, wingless they champ
The meadows of fresh salad, the green glowing pilasters
Set with flowing pipes and lines like circuits in green jelly
Later they set in blind moulds all whelked and horny
While the moth-soup inside makes itself lamb-faced in
The inner theatre with its fringed curtains, the long-dressed
Moth with new blank wings struggling over tapestry, drenched with its own birth juice

Incidentally, we'd love to have another M.Wainwright guest post over on the dabbler!

MartinWainwright said...

Lovely, thanks very much - I haven't come across that before

I like the notion of moths turning gold after eating braid

I think we should all (temporarily) turn the colour of our food

Thanks for Dabbler encouragement and will have a think

all warmest wishes as ever