Friday, 18 July 2014

The tale of a tail

I promised the other day to show you how the Yellow-tail moth got its name, and here I am doing. But you might have laughed at the antics I went through to come good on my pledge. For about five minutes this morning, there was a mighty duel between man and moth.

To my joy, I found a Yellow-tail sleeping under the transparent screen, a good position to spy the blob of orangey-yellow on its tail which is one of the most blatant advertisements for mating in the mothy world. The relief was all the greater because yesterday there were three Yellow-tails in the eggboxes, all of which flew away before I could sort out my camera.

The trouble is, unless you are a handsome male or beautiful femaleYellow-tail yourself, the moth has to be provoked into showing its full glory, which also acts as a 'surprise' form of deterrence, similar to the hidden wings of the Yellow Underwing or the 'eyes' of the Eyed Hawkmoth. Provoking a Yellowtail is very likely to lead to its scarpering; but not this morning.

By repeatedly nudging it with a finger, I got it to scamper round a table under the plastic canopy. Alas, as the results above show, the transparency of my nine-year-old Robinson apparatus is sadly scarred and scratched. Reluctantly, after that third, murky shot which shows the colour but only in a rather French Impressionist manner, I lifted the lid and did a final prod. Bingo! Showing its deterrent purpose in textbook fashion, the moth shot up its tail - wonderfully rapidly so that even I, who knew what to expect, got a bit of a shock. But I also got the photo at the top of this post.

Why yellow? The moth
as normally seen
The moth then flew off, no doubt muttering furiously. But as is the way in this world, after all this effort, my penultimate eggbox produced a second Yellow-tail which obligingly did the business, and stayed docilely put, at my very first tentative provocation. I needn't have gone through all that faff with the first one. But anyway, the idea was to explain why what normally appears to a demure white creature like a Vestal Virgin has this unexpected name. Quod erat demonstrandum (with a final picture taken immediately after the one at the top and showing how quickly the tail starts returning to base).

No comments: