Saturday, 10 December 2016

Up and away

Christmas is only two weeks away but we still have Morning Glories flowering in the greenhouse and yesterday morning, after a very mild night, the trap boasted a new moth for the year. The reason I have illustrated it with my photo of the heroic window-cleaner at the top of Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower, which P and I much enjoyed visiting two weeks ago, is that it has an equally daring caterpillar.

The moth is the Mottled Umber, by no means rare - indeed the excellent Garden Safari website notes dryly: 'Where there are trees, there will be Mottled Umbers' - but interesting, not only for the carefree variation of its markings, which would make it hard to identify (certainly for me!) were its flight period not limited to the Winter months when not a lot else is on the wing. Mine (above) is a very standard version. Some have virtually no lines or speckles at all.

So why is the caterpillar daring? Because when alarmed while feeding on a leaf - basically all that caterpillars ever do normally - it jumps over the side and dangles from a long, spider-like spool of thread. When it perceives the danger to be over, it swarms back up again and gets on with its breakfast, lunch or tea.

The other curiosity about the Mottled Umber is the sadly flightless state of its females - thanks to for the picture, left. Just as a caterpillar's life is concerned entirely with food, so is that of a female moth with producing young. In her severest mood, Nature has decided that this need not involve the power to fly. Breeding in Mottled Umbers is not a romantic affair. The only compensation is that the female is a little more attractive than some of her flightless compadres among UK moths. But not much.

Otherwise, the moths marked my granddaughter's birthday with one Winter Moth, above, and two December Moths in their fur coats. Not bad, so late in the year. Many thanks, moths.

Today's pics have a warmish tone because we had to make an early start and it was too dark outside to take photographs. As I pottered off, there was a cry from P: "Aren't you going to clear away your flies?"  Puzzled, I pottered back and found this scene of devastation on the kitchen sideboard where I had upended an eggbox. Moths may be scarce at this time of year, but there are loads of smaller flying creatures about.

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