Monday, 31 August 2015

Jungle beasts

I thought that today was bound to be an anticlimax after yesterday's excitements over the Convolvulus Hawk moth. I suppose it is, but less so than if I only had my recent arrival the Dark Swordgrass to show you. Although this is an interesting creature, as a sturdily-built immigrant which arrives from Europe all the year round in modest numbers, it has the brown, grey and black livery which is so common but hardly eye-catching among moths.

Not so the unexpected gift to the blog from my talented artist niece Rosie, described in a magazine review of her year's graduation show at Glasgow School of Art as a 'visual powerhouse.' She has Tweeted me the picture above of an exotic passenger on the Colonsay ferry, which she took back to the mainland a week after Penny and I had travelled the same way.

It is a Garden Tiger, one of three moths honoured by appearing on the cover of the Moth Bible and a favourite for illustrations in children's books because of its bright colours. Interestingly, its pattern of blotches varies as much between individuals as our human fingerprints, to the extent that no two are exactly alike.

I am glad that it is a customer of CalMac ferries because since the 1980s its numbers have decreased nationwide, possibly because of crop-spraying (its famous 'Woolly Bear' caterpillars favour weeds) or more likely because the UK seems to be in a weather cycle of wet Januarys followed by cold Februarys.

The  Woolly Bear is also familiar to doctors. One of my very nice uncles was a dermatologist who had a wide knowledge of plants and animals because of their role as skin irritants. He would set the minds of patients at rest, when they came to him with frightening rashes, by teasing out recent encounters with, for example, Giant Hogweed, or indeed Woolly Bears.

The Dark Swordgrass, by contrast, continues to flourish thanks to its pioneering enthusiasm for flying as far and as far as it can. Migrants usually do well in all animal species, as the ones with the get-up-and-go. This one is helped by its rakish appearance, long and powerful wings which are held tightly folded when the moth is at rest, in the manner of a missile rather than a jet. Not too its little black dagger mark which, to me, adds a sense of purpose.

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