Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Razzle dazzle

Two of my favourite moths came last night, a pair of Elephant Hawks and five Burnished Brasses, two of them above. Both species have featured in recent posts so what follows is pure self-indulgence. They are so lovely, that I just like taking photographs of them.

Why is the Elephant Hawk pink? I intend to find out, but suspect that it may have something to do with the colour's ability to soften harsh shapes, such as the moth's steeply angled 'jet-plane' wings. I am repeating myself again, but even their staid Lordships of the British Admiralty accepted pink paint on some of their warships in the First World War on exactly this camouflage principle.  (Update: check out Phil Gates' fascinating comment below and also follow his truly wonderful link. All Phil's blogs are outstanding and make me want to visit Durham and around at every possible opportunity).

The other thing to say about the Elephant Hawk, and its close relative the Small Elephant Hawk which has not yet visited us in Oxfordshire though it did in Leeds, is that both are a fine introduction to newcomers to the world of moths. In the UK in late August, it is always worth checking out the lower leaves of Rosebay Willow Herb in late afternoon, for the distinctive caterpillars of both species.

Disguised earlier on in the season by green colouring, very much the same as the leaves, they become much easier to spot as they near pupation because they change to elephant grey, hence the name. Good hunting!

M for Martin?

Or W for Wainwright?

And here's a reminder of what the whole moth looks like, after all those bitty pics.


Phil said...

Interesting how the pink of the moth is such a good match for the pink of Rose Bay willow herb, isn't it Martin? Although RBWH wasn't a common plant in Britain until after WW1 so I don't suppose there's anything more than coincidence in this.....

We use to have a pond with bog bean in it and we once found elephant hawk-moth caterpillars feeding in the leaves, marooned by the surrounding water.

Have you ever prodded the EH-M caterpillar and watched its countenance change?

MartinWainwright said...

Hi Phil!

What an interesting point - should have occurred to me. I wonder if there's ever colour transmission between foodpalnt and insect - we are what we eat, as they say...

I guess that you are the one to ask!

Thanks so much for the link too - wonderful pics (and of course text incl the ref to evening in the Willow Herb name; I'm always trying to decipher Linnaean names)). Interesting to read that EH catties will eat fuchsia, which has so many pinks; and I guess the bogbean is a little pinky. If I find one in August, I will try it on beetroot.

all warmest wishes


Ray Walton said...

Hi Martin
I have not contributed much of late to your blog, due to more pressing matters on a business level, but always read them nightly, and just had to find the time to compliment you on the 'warmly shape' to your postings.
Portugal beckons tomorrow, but I will still find the time to 'look your blog up'
Ray (Stokelymort)

MartinWainwright said...

Thanks ever so, Ray, and have a lovely time in Portugal. I remember catching magnificent Argynnis pandora fritillaries on buddleia in Guimaraes as a boy - not long after reading Prof E B Ford's account of the one caught in the UK, in the Collins New Naturalist 'Butterflies'. Hope you see some great things, as well as having a good break.

All warm wishes,


Ray Walton said...

I actually have a 1st Ed copy of E. B. Ford's New Naturalist 'Butterflies'. It is a personal presentation copy signed by the editor James Fisher who was a friend of my favourite author John Moore (1907 - 1967) who's own butterfly collection was donated to the Gloucester Museum by his wife Lucile after his untimely death.
Sorry to extoll my book passion on your blog, but it does have Lepidoptera at its base!
Ray (Stokelymort)