Monday, 23 July 2012

Don't sneeze at this moth

The bigger the moth, the sleepier they are in the morning. Little Carpets and fragile Light Emeralds flutter away if you move the trap or its lid at all clumsily. Their fat-bodied friends slumber on.

Hence the ease in persuading a handsome character such as this Peppered Moth to pose on a suitable perch. I don't normally keep our pot of black peppercorns in the trap, but the moth had no objection to staggering on to it for a brief photographic session before I tucked it safely away beneath a rhododendron bush.

The Peppered is one of our most famous UK moths because of its role in Darwinian theory. The rise and fall of the melanistic version has had a marked correlation with the level of pollution which made melanistic moths safer, in terms of camouflage, when our world was sootier.

The doctor and entomologist Sir Cyril Clarke plotted a similar graph linking the increase in human longevity (he counted the number of centenarians' telegrams from Buckingham Palace) with the rise of the standard Peppered Moth like the one in the picture.  Its camouflage, breaking up its shape in the manner of dazzle warships, is more suited to our cleaner world. I haven't had a melanistic Peppered here for three years.

Here's another peppery-coloured moth, a micro which seems to have crash-landed on its eggbox last night, and which I'll try to identify at leisure.  It scooted off safely just after this picture was taken. Update: my best guess at the moment is Eudonia mercurella.


Phil said...

Hi Martin, We once had a brood of magpie moths on our gooseberries that included some melanic caterpillars. I wish I'd kept them and hatched them now, to see what the emerging moth would have looked like....

Many thanks for your kind words in The Northerner comments last week.

all good wishes,


MartinWainwright said...

How interesting, Phil! hen I retire I think I may do a bit of caterpillar breeding. I used to love it as a boy, Catching the emergence of an adult insect is entrancing, isn't it?

Through sheer good fortune, I was once able to show a Leeds primary school class two Swallowtails emerging (from chrysalises found in France). They were amazed. So too, I expect, was anyone knowledgable who glimpsed the butterflies, which flew away in the direction of Otley.

All v best as ever