Monday, 1 August 2016

Fire and Brimstone

While I was checking the eggboxes the other day and photographing the Brimstone moth below, Penny came across a Brimstone butterfly which had fluttered indoors, passed un-noticed and, sadly, given up the ghost - above. To add to the coincidence, I was re-reading the section in the late Professor E B Ford's classic work 'Moths' on the colouring of the insects' wings. Admitting - back in 1955 - that far too little was known about the subject, he concluded: "Such an investigation would be a delightful task."

A lot of work has been done since then, and most recently and interestingly, scientists in Australia and at Liverpool University have found that the black in Peppered moths (a camouflage defence) and yellow in tropical Heliconia butterflies (a defensive mimicry of poisonous or foul-tasting species) are genetically controlled. You can read more here. Perhaps in due course the reasons for the Brimstone moth's unusually bright colouring, in spite of the fact that it flies by night, will become clearer.

I have often bemoaned the lack of another colour - my favourite, blue - in moths. But although it is scarcely to be found in UK species, one startling example of it comes on the horn of the Lime Hawk Moth's caterpillar. Friends who visited Kirtlington Park near here last week found one of these on their picnic rug. They emailed asking me to ID it - a brave request as regular readers will know from my many blunders - and helpfully told me that they were under a lime tree at the time. The pic is a bit blurred, like many of my own, but I hope that you can make out the blue.

I was hoping for good moths to mark my younger son's birthday at the weekend. They have  habit of obliging, most memorably with my first-ever Large Emerald some six years ago. This time, there were plenty of visitors and although there was nothing actually new, combinations like this Ruby Tiger snuggling up to a Poplar Hawk moth left me more than satisfied. There a couple of other nice pairings too - the Pebble Prominent with a Common Footman and the Scalloped Oak with the teeny weeny micro, shown below.

I've enlarged the micro here for my bedtime reading when I will try to work out what it is from my Micro-moths Bible.

Finally, I was stumped by the boldly-marked moth shown to the right of the Ruby Tiger and Common Rustic in my first picture below. There was a second one in the trap which I photographed from both sides before heading off to look at all my various cribs. No luck, so I resorted at once to the Upper Thames Moths blog and learned within the hour that it is a Straw Underwing. A handsome moth.

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