Sunday, 4 March 2012

Boredom and beauty

What a boring object, and yet what a miracle takes place in every chrysalis.

This is the one, above, which Penny and I found during our greenhouse-cleaning yesterday. Anyone who has lost their sense of wonder, I hope only for a while, might regain it by studying these extraordinary objects and the wider moth and butterfly life cycle. Small wonder that the Greek word for butterfly, psyche, doubled as 'spirit' and gave us all those branches of science which begin with 'psych'.

Here is another boring object. Boring-looking, that is. In fact it is that icon of simple design, the Robinson Moth Trap Rain Shield. Two stalks and a circular disc of plasticky stuff which dimples from the heat of the bulb below but stays solid - I bet this was Mrs Robinson's practical-minded contribution; most unusually for the 1950s, the Rs were a husband and wife entomological team. It rained last night but the moths stayed dry and, every bit as important considering how much it cost, so did the vital mercury vapour bulb.

Just a bit of wet gets in occasionally, mind, as this Satellite shows. Possibly it stationed itself on the damp/dry divide of the eggbox so that it could suck up a little of the moisture, and the mineral salts which the damp might release from the cardboard. Note that its markings are much paler than the yellowy ones of the Satellite I featured yesterday. There is a vast amount of variety in the colour and patterning of individual moth species' wings.

There was this other Satellite this morning too, nestling by the barcode, a phenomenon I've often seen and remarked on before. It raises the question of whether the brindled background is more appealing to the moth as better camouflage than the uniform colour of the rest of the eggbox. I keep meaning to Google to see whether anyone knowledgable has studied this.

And talking of brindling, here is a Pale Brindled Beauty - the sort of arrival in the trap which has me - as this morning - saying out loud 'Oooh, here's a nice moth'. And it is. Not uncommon but very lovely; and I'm not sure that I've had one here before, largely because they start early in the year and I don't.

For women readers, I am afraid that the PBB shares the characteristic of yesterday's March moth of having a flightless female with the body shape of a middle-aged man too fond of his beer. Here she is. courtesy of the excellent Czech website BioLib; but remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; and actually her patternings aren't without charm.

btw, to cover myself cos of my notorious inability to identify brown and grey moths, ie the majority: this could be a straightforward Brindled Beauty, rather than a Pale one. If so, I can count on Ben or one of my other learned pals to put me right. Also if so, female BBs do have wings, hooray.


sarah meredith said...

Hi Martin - what a nice surprise to see you back after the winter hiatus! I really didn't expect you for another month or so, but I am delighted that spring seems to be coming early to Leeds as it is here. In fact, we really haven't had much of a winter at all. No snow to speak of, only a handful of bitterly cold days and now some of the daffodils are already out in Central Park! Happy for the mild weather, but a little disconcerted.
Interesting about "psyche" - maybe if we all paid a little more attention to the wonders of butterflies and moths we would need the psyche-practioners a little less!
Love to you both


Cyren said...

Hi Martin

are you planning to keep the pupa and see what it will eventually hatch into? I'm interested to find out!


MartinWainwright said...

Hi both! How nice to hear from Meredith land, Sarah. We often think about you all. Yep, that's completely my view about psych matters. If only it was easier to distract people from themselves, and the natural world is one of the most accessible ways. I offer my medical views with all due modesty, but at least two GPs to whom I'm related by blood or marriage agree with my catch-all prescription: go for a good walk.

Cyren, yes I will do that. The only problem is keeping an eye on the chrysalis cos indoors they often hatch much more speedily due to the warmth. I doubt it's anything very exciting but you never know. Actually, you often get a clue that hatching is near, because in quite a few chrysalises the casing becomes a little more transparent and you can see some of the adult insect's patterning. I've seen this with Red Admirals and Tortoiseshells, as well as a couple of Swallowtail chrysalises which I brought back from France years ago. They were about to hatch so I nipped up to the boys' primary school with them and the butterflies emerged in front of the whole of Year Whateveritwas. An unforgettable sight (although I don't expect they've all remembered...)

All warm wishes as ever