Saturday, 8 June 2013


It was breezy and a bit chilly this morning, not at all the sort of weather in which I'd expect to find the most satisfying moth of our time in Oxfordshire so far. Nor were the circumstances of the discovery normal. In fact, I almost trod on it on my way back to take Penny the morning tea.

It was like this. The trap was fuller than I expected, with some interesting arrivals who will have to wait their turn in view of what happened next. After photographing them, then sneaking them under shrubs to avoid a thrush which was busy de-worming our veg patch, and finally packing up the egg boxes, I headed back indoors.

One way of measuring. My matchless Moth Bible notes the Puss Moth's habit of not entering light traps but settling nearby, as happened with me

And there on the lawn was this vast - as it seemed - moth-shaped object. Normally these are leaves which resemble moths but in this case, Bingo! It was a Puss Moth, a species I have wanted to see since I was a boy.

A better way, maybe. The moth was exactly 4cms long which is BIG for the UK

Others may scoff, because it is not uncommon, but I have never met one and they are the stuff of legend. This is partly because of their size, in the second rank only to the hawk moths and on a par with the big underwings, the Emperor and some of the Eggars, partly because of their beautiful dazzle camouflage and mostly because of their quite extraordinary caterpillars.

Would you risk eating this if you were a bird? Thanks for the pic to the Natural History Museum

I still have yet to see one of these and next year I will be examining local poplars and willows closely for signs of the voracious leaf-eating which marks their presence. Small but fearsome-looking, they and their smaller relatives the kitten moth larvae are equipped with a double tail-whip to flick at parasites whose aim is to eat them alive.

The Puss Moth is still slumbering in an eggbox and I plan to take it to show Penny in a moment with her tea. One final thing to point out: the camouflage is enhanced by the translucent nature of the wingtips which I've tried to illustrate with this picture of the metal end of my tape measure. Apologies for my vegetable gardener's thumbnails.


RappinRach said...

Wow, I get puss moths but didn't realise they had such a spectacular caterpillar. I shall be on the lookout now but I seldom find caterpillars, not sure if there's a secret to it.

MartinWainwright said...

They are amazing aren't they?

Moth caterpillars are terrific but, as you say, seldom seen. Some of the Tussock ones are really beautiful and I was always very fond of the Drinker catties we found as schoolchildren when they crept up stems of grass to get at moisture droplets after early evening dew.

All warm wishes


Anonymous said...

I just found my first Puss Moth too (in Dorset) - like you, outside the trap; I heard it rather than saw it. Gorgeous moth!