Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Upper House

The beautiful ermine moths whose livery resembles the collars of peers' robes are among a host of new arrivals at the moment. Our lovely sunny days are being followed by warm nights and this is moth heaven, and paradise too for those of us who pursue them.

Here in the first picture are the two main ermines side by side, the White and the Buff, similar-looking but with somewhat different habits. While the White Ermine dines helpfully for the gardener on nettles and docks, the Buff is prepared to tackle honeysuckle, birch and hop. Perhaps that is why, on average, they are a little bigger.

Mmmm...honeysuckle with wild plum - scrumptious! I think I'll have a nap

The dots and dashes on ermines vary in number and size and there is a very rare White Ermine variety which is mostly black, like the bad fairy in a children's tale. This variation in moth patterning is a well-known headache for those enthusiasts who struggle with making identifications. Regular visitors will know very well that these include me.

Another family which is starting to visit the trap shows the same like of consistency: the Swift moths. The first to come has been the Common Swift, whose distinctive wing markings vary strikingly, as in the next three photographs. All three moths are the same species, the plain, Jane Eyre-like one being a female.

She is a little reminiscent of the elegant grey Muslin moth which has been around for over a month now and is still visiting. Swifts are marginally less appealing to the hard-working gardeners; their caterpillars dine off the roots of the herbaceous plants which we struggle so hard to tend.

A final point of interest about the White Ermines: they have taken over from the Brimstone moth as the most common species to be found snoozing near the trap rather than in it, tucked up on a leaf or in a crack between wall stones. I have been pondering similarities between them, of which the most obvious is their shared light colour. In other ways they are very different, the Ermine's having plump bodies and sleeping very soundly, while the Brimstones are slender and comparatively flighty.

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