Thursday, 20 June 2013

Seven at one go

Five of the visitors. The other two took off while I fumbled about

The valiant little tailor in the fairy tale slew seven flies with one blow. I have now got seven Elephant Hawkmoths at one go, plus a tattered but still airworthy Poplar Hawk keeping them company in the eggbox.

This is more than double any tally I had in the trap in Leeds and takes me back to the early 1960s when my interest in wildlife was hugely encouraged by a marvellous mentor, John Armitage, who was curator of natural history at the city museum.

He had an unlimited sense of wonder at the natural world and infinite curiosity about it which he passed on to readers of his 'Hunting with a Camera' column in northern editions of the Daily Mirror. His empathy with children - his wife Mabel was one of our primary teachers and she had it too - was another virtue, and also handy in a practical way; he used us as collectors for the museum. One notable example was when he discovered that we were going on holiday near Tenby, the last foothold of a rare snail which had so far eluded him. We swam and sunbathed but also returned with a bag full of the snails. Five years ago when the museum collection was in storage and I  was writing a piece for the Guardian about it, I met them again, neatly labelled in collecting boxes.

One final note on John: he was an excellent artist and in retirement enjoyed 'forging' postage stamps - reproducing them with meticulous accuracy on envelopes and then posting these to himself and Mabel. They always got through.

This one was still sleepy enough to let me show the underwing. moths are coy about displaying these when at rest

John encouraged my brother and me to search the lower leaves of Rosebay Willowherb on the Leeds ring road in Adel for Elephant Hawk caterpillars in August - a risky suggestion because children can be greatly disappointed by failure, but he knew his subject. We found half-a-dozen, reared them and hatched the stunning moths. Even that haul, however, didn't match last night's.

Initially green, the mature grey colour and shape of the caterpillar explain the Elephant Hawk's name (though alcoholic references to pink eleephants might also apply to the adult)

By coincidence, the grandchildren of our Privet Hawkmoth neighbour (see three posts back) had a similar experience some years ago which their Mum recounted to me in a post-Privet email earlier this week. Their mentor, Dawn, got them to photograph this Elephant Hawk cattie which they found in similar circumstances. Note that, like their Grandad but unlike sloppy me, they and Dawn also used a helpful ruler.

The trap was full of other riches which I will describe later. For now, we're getting ready to welcome my 94-year-old mum-in-law who's coming to live with us. Will she too become a moths enthusiast..?


Charlotte Davis said...

Oh oh oh! I am so jealous of all your Elephant hawk moths! I need to have a go at building a trap, I'd love to see one of these. The colours are so ridiculous.

Banished To A Pompous Land said...

Astonishing haul Martin! Clearly moving down south has had some compensations. The moths seem to know you retired and need to be fully occupied LOL. Check out a couple of moth caterpillars at my place. One you won't beleive!

MartinWainwright said...

Hi there both!

Charlotte, the colours are amazing and indeed ridiculous, considering that the moth flies in the dark. But maybe pink looks different to other creatures. It played an interesting part in wartime 'dazzle' camouflage when the UK Admiralty somewhat reluctantly agreed to battleships being painted in pink and pale blue stripes (as well as zebra black and white) because it broke up their shape, visually,

Do make or get a trap, The key thing is a mercury vapour or similar powerful light. There's loads of advice online and the outstanding UK supplier is Watkins & Doncaster -‎ Mine is a rather classy Robinson trap, a birthday present from Penny in 2008. I like it specially because it was designed by Mr AND Mrs Robinson and women historically have played a lesser role in entomology although that is changing, thank goodness, as in all other spheres.

Banished, Hi! The moths have been great here. And I shall head your way to see the catties. I may do some vague catty-hunting in August though I lack the necessary patience

all warmest


MartinWainwright said...

PS when I mentioned 'other creatures', I was thinking specially of bats which wing around here at dusk. Moths have many ways of evading them including false 'radar' signals, as emitted by some of the Yellow Underwings. M

Banished To A Pompous Land said...

Oddly enough, when I got home last night after posting the comment I found a huge fat Luna Moth Caterpillar floating in the pool! Successfully rescued and taken indoors it wrapped itself in leaves and silk overnight and now I'm feverishly searching for a time-line on emergance and somewhere I can maybe get some decent pictures of the big event. That would be even more fun than the Black Swallowtails. I'll post his/her/its post-rescue pic over the weekend.

On the subject of colour in nocturnal creatures I wonder about it as you do. I'm sure the lack of blues in moths is something to do with the same process. Perhaps its a IR/UV thing? I must take the time to read up one day, but when your not retires and have a 6 year old thats easier said than done.