Saturday, 13 August 2016


I am regularly asked, when the conversation turns to moths, how long they and butterflies live. The answer, inevitably, is complicated. Although my general reply is 'Not long, on the whole' (given their frailty and the number of predators hunting them), there are some sturdy exceptions to this rule.

I was reading about the Brimstone butterfly yesterday, for example, and discovering that it is one of the longest-lived of UK species, with examples on record of a lifespan of 11 months. The much more robust-looking Emperor moth, by contrast, lasts only a few weeks even if it leads an entirely uneventful life. This is because it does not eat.

I Googled 'longest-lived moth' just now and came up with the likelihood that hawk moths have the best chances of prolonged survival, not surprisingly because of their size. We are still talking only of a matter of a few months, mind you; although the full life-cycle of the Arctic Woolly Bear moth, Gynaephora groenlandica, can take a startling 14 years. This is because each Arctic summer has only a very short period when it is warm enough for the caterpillar to develop, which it therefore does in annual stages, with long and comatose deep-freeze periods in between.

I am burbling on like this because today's moths are chosen for their battered condition - a run of visitors recently have shown every sign of having had a hard life. Most interesting for me is the Poplar Hawk in the first four pictures; I wonder from the traces of colour on its body and, to a lesser extent, wings, whether if it might be the uncommon buff-coloured form which I have never seen.

Here, below, are examples of fading in two regular visitors, the Green Carpet and the Flame Shoulder, the top one in each case having lost the sheen of youth:

Next, a Herald which has survived quite well but which I include because I love the distinctive shape and attractive colouring of the species and can seldom bring myself to deny them room. The same applies to the very small Carpet moth which follows; I think a Red Twin-spot although I am often wrong.

Here, too, are a couple of examples of the hazards a law-abiding moth can face. I put the trap close to our heavily-protected strawberries and Brussels Sprouts (I fight a daily war with Large and Small White butterflies over the latter), and here are a Canary-shouldered Thorn and a Brimstone moth pondering how to escape from the mesh.

Finally, two pictures which combine age and youth: a smart-looking Single-dotted Wave beside a very worn Straw Dot, and a neat, youngish Riband Wave examining a tattered Mother-of-Pearl micro through the (even more battered) transparent moth trap cowl.

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