Friday, 5 June 2015

Can a mother's tender care?

I'm tremendously grateful to the commentor on my previous post for introducing me to the strange an wonderful world of the family of micro-moths known as 'bagworms'.

They have this rather unappealing title because of the curious bags or larval sacs in which the caterpillars live after their equally remarkable birth through parthenogenesis - the process which requires only a mother. Dads have no role.

Mother bagworms go to extraordinary lengths to preserve their children, if deductions from scientific experiments are correct. One was prompted by a study of the largest of the UK's 20 species, which go under the typically catchy micro-moth names of Pachythelia villosella and Acanthopsyche atra, whose wingless adult females resemble maggots.

The micro-moth Bible suggests that this appearance is actually designed to attract a bird or reptile predator - the exact opposite of all the clever moth defences from camouflage to the jamming of bats' radar signals which have often been described on this blog. Why on earth so? The Bible describes experiments which have shown how bagworm larvae have thrived after being passed in bird and reptile poo, "suggesting that predators could be one way of helping the wingless female to disperse her offspring".

Dispersal is important for fresh generations, but this is an extraordinary phenomenon if true. I am surprised that generations of feminists have not used it as an analogy of the sacrifices made by women for others through history. If one such is reading this, please pass it to a wider world.

Bagworm cases are also fascinating, often adorned with bits of plant, soil or dead insect and thus assuming the weird appearance of the object which my granddaughter spotted on her kitchen ceiling, forming the subject of the last post. I am still awaiting the views of the micro-moth experts on the saintly Upper Thames Moths blog on whether the commentor's diagnosis of the mystery object is correct. But its role in revealing bagworms to me has been marvellous. Renewed thanks.

Well, that's the longest wait you've had in the history of this blog for the first picture. It's a very common butterfly, the Small White, but interesting to me because I am sure that it was the victim of a traffic accident. You seldom find dead butterflies or moths in the wild (as opposed to among cobwebs in attics) and this one was slap in the middle of my cycle path to Kidlington.  Shortly afterwards, I nearly disposed of a Peacock and an Orange Tip with my whirring spokes. The common cause of the fatality and the near misses was, I am sure, the blazing sunshine. Warm tarmac makes a lovely insect snoozing place.

Back home there was a Brimstone- above - in the garden and Holly Blues, Speckled Woods and Tortoiseshells are all abundant among our butterflies. The moth trap, too, enjoyed its best night of the year last night and here are some of its inhabitants, the first three of them very welcome annual highlights which I have been expecting for the last few weeks

Elephant Hawk


Small Magpie (above a lurking micro)

Loads of annoying brown and grey jobbies, including...

...this one (Update with MANY thanks to Trent in Comments: this is a Brown Rustic) and...

...this one...(Update, which thanks to Trent again, is a Middle-barred Minor whose prominent middle bar I should have clocked)

...and a couple of pugs. But which? (Update: possibly Grey Pug says Trent. I have the mighty webmaster of the Upper Thames Moths blog, Dave Wilton, coming to collect a book on Tuesday, so I will check it with him) Further update: He says that it's a Mottled Pug, recognisable among the confusing puggish crew by the lighter 'stripes'.  No shortage of Mottleds here, then. But he found the one below too worn to ID with certainty.

Plus these very attractively-patterned moths of the nutmeggy type.  (Update, Trent reckons and I agree that they are all Large Nutmegs)  IDs soon, I hope - either from friendly expert passers-by, or through my own, somewhat slower, research. Further update: and,  Hooray!, Ben diagnoses Pale-shouldered Brocade, a new one for me, which Dave Wilton confirms.


Anonymous said...

Hi Martin,
We have magpie moth caterpillars. They inch because they are in the geometrid family. I am feeding them hawthorn and blackthorn.

I like your blog "Martin's Moths."

Aidan (5)

Martin Wainwright said...

Hi Aidan

Your household sounds like a very lively and interesting one. I remember writing about the Magpie moth some years ago on the blog - the post is here:

The experiments carried out by Sir Geoffrey Keynes were fascinating in that they produced so many differently patterned examples of the same moth.

My visitor is actually the Small Magpie, a micro-moth which has a passing resemblance to your Magpie but is not related to it.

Hope you are getting some interesting moths - and I'm very glad you enjoy reading my ramblings

all warm wishes and as ever to your secretary


Trent Duval said...

Hi Martin ... Brown Rustic, Middle-barred Minor, Mottled Pug, then possibly a Grey Pug but not sure from the pic, and the rest look like Large Nutmeg. Cheers, love the blog BTW.

Martin Wainwright said...

Thanks ever so, Trent, that's hugely useful and much appreciated. I am keeping pace with IDs thanks to help like yours, apart from some work to do on pugs...

Glad you enjoy the ramblings which are hugely improved by comments such as yours

all warm wishes


Bennyboymothman said...

I think the 3rd from bottom is a Pale-shouldered Brocade, one we don't get but it is hard from that angle.

Martin Wainwright said...

That's great Ben and Dave Wilton agrees, so all is joy

A new one for me

Much obliged as ever