Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Beauty's beast

May is such a lovely month that it seems perverse that its name is given to this weird-looking creature, the 'May bug' or cockchafer whose crazed, accelerator-pedal flight with minimal navigation skills can cause consternation if it hurtles indoors.

Entirely harmless, it has been equipped with shields, potential weapons and a strip of dazzle camouflage which suggest that it must be the insect equivalent of a security van, carrying valuable items between moths' homes.

It is actually a beetle and one loaded with legend and lore, ranging from being put on trial in a court in Avignon in mediaeval times (and sentenced to stay within certain limits because of the damage it did to crops), to being harnessed to a small flying machine by the inventor Nicola Tesla - whose name is returning to fame via the electric car firm. He used four of them, apparently successfully, for his little aeroplane when he was a boy.

There have also been four Royal Navy gunboats called HMS Cockchafer, a name which doubtless led to saucy humour among the tars. (Other nicknames for the beetle include Spang, Kittywitch and Midsummer Dot). But the widespread notion that they only live for one day is wrong. It comes from confusion with the Mayfly which is indeed very short-lived. I have watched them emerge by a stream in swarms, only to be mown down by voracious birds like a squadron of Blitz bombers at the mercy of Spitfires.  Quite apart from that, they cannot eat and their digestive systems are filled with air. One female was recorded as dying a natural death after five minutes.

But I diverge.  Also in the trap on this beautiful May morning were Muslin moths, Common Swifts, a late Brindled Beauty (above) and a small carpet warehouse of Green Carpets, some shown below:

Footnote: my researches into mayflies this morning have had the bonus of discovering what the little aquatic creature was, which the granddaughter discovered in the river last week - below. A Mayfly nymph. Hooray!

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