Sunday, 23 April 2017

Chocolate treat

Some very cheerful moths this morning, starting off with a favourite of my granddaughter's: the Chocolate-tip. No need to ask why she is attracted to the bright little Spring arrival, although fortunately she hasn't tried to nibble one.

One of the things which I have learned gradually about moths over the years is that many have parts of the garden which they prefer. Ever since I saw a Chocolate-tip recorded on the ever-excellent Upper Thames Moths blog a couple of weeks ago, I have been meaning to move my trap to a corner where I have found Chocolate-tips before. Last night I did and Bingo!

Why they favour that patch, a corner shaded by hawthorn, magnolia and another ornamental tree whose ID I have yet to pin down, I am uncertain. The moth is only locally common, with an isolated population in parts of Scotland which is thought to have made it across from mainland Europe independently of its English relatrives. 

The Pale Prominent, another new arrival for 2017, is one of the most peculiar-looking of UK moths and it is a shame that the 18th century's usually highly inventive coiners of English names for insects suffered a lack of confidence with this one. Paleness is the least of its characteristics; something like the False Twig (for what marvellous camouflage it has) or the Jagged Dolphin (see the snout and serrated wing edge) would have been more memorable.

Finally, the Muslin moth has arrived which suggests that its relatives, the beautiful White and Buff Ermines, will not be long in coming. The male Muslin is a decorous Jane Eyre of a moth, superficially dull but a lovely, soft colour with neat black buttons when you have the chance to look more closely. The female, which does not come to light-traps but paradoxically enjoys flying by day, is white or pale cream.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Numbers rising

Another nice, showy arrival this morning in the distinctive shape of two Pebble Prominents, their stylish wings marked with the eponymous pebble shape and their stance the crouch which is shared by all the Prominent family. This is the second of the tribe to make its presence known to me this year, after the Swallow Prominent which came the other night.

The Carpet moths, too, are increasing in both number and species. Two which are new for the year were in the eggboxes this morning: a Red twin-spot and a Green .

In the world of micro-moths, a delicate Plume was asleep on the inside of the trap's black bowl, a background which ruins photography, at least in my hands. Unusually, it allowed itself to be enticed on to a scrap of aggbox for better quality pictures which show it above, from below and from on top. I do not know which Plume it is, I'm afraid, but suspect that it is this blog's old friend the Common one, Emmelina monodactyla.

This little chap led me a contrasting dance, scurrying about before allowing me to get this one picture which is more or less in focus. I am not sure of his or her identity, in spite of the distinctive markings, but I do know that the tiddler below is Epiphyas postvittana, the Light Brown Apple moth.

Finally, in the last eggbox which I examined, here's one of those big tabby cats, a Brindle Beauty.  A good night's tally, all in all, and a sign that - although colder weather is forecast - the moth year is getting into its stride.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Familiar faces

A routine guest list in the trap last night, but very agreeable for all that. The Lunar Marbled Brown, above, appears to be taking stock of the 8am world hereabouts, while the Nut-tree Tussock, just below, is still largely in Dreamland.

Then in Tinyworld, we have a completely comatose V-pug close to the golden gleam of my wedding ring and, finally, what I believe to be an Oak-tree Pug although people as visually challenged as myself cannot really tell the difference between these and Brindled Pugs. Whichever, it is most welcome.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Good Housekeeping 2017, Part 1

We're coming up to St George's Day, Shakespeare's birthday etc and I've a little bit of spare time, so here is my tally for the year so far. I've put the trap out only intermittently and there've been some nice visitors and 36 species overall, so many thanks to the world of moths for progress so far (micros in italics, new for my garden list in red):

Agonopterix heracliana/ciliella
Brindled Beauty
Brindled Pug
Chinese Character
Depressaria chaerophylii
Diurnea fagella
Dotted Border
Double-striped Pug
Early Grey
Early Thorn
Emmelina monodactylla
Flame Shoulder
Hebrew Character
Clouded Drab
Common Quaker
Lunar Marbled Brown
March Moth
Nut-tree Tussock
Oak Beauty
Oak-tree Pug
Pale Brindled Beauty
Pale Pinion
Powdered Quaker
Purple Thorn
Red Chestnut
Red-green Carpet
Small Quaker
Spring Usher
Swallow Prominent
Twin-spotted Quaker

plus one still-to-be ID-ed micro

Monday, 17 April 2017


After yesterday's excitements, I must return to the more humdrum daily round and record a trio of unsensational but welcome visitors to the trap. At last we had a little rain last night, very welcome to the amateur vegetable gardener and allotmenteer. The ground has been cracking recently like the Arizona desert.

So, here we have the year's first Flame Shoulder, a nicely distinctive moth. Actually my picture shows the year's first two Flame Shoulders, along with that grubby but useful instrument of measurement/comparison, my thumb.  Secondly, I believe the moth below to be an Oak Tree Pug.

My final picture is of a teeny micro-moth on whose ID I am still working. If any passing micro expert can save me the trouble, I will be extremely grateful, as always.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

An Assembly of Emperors

This has been a very happy Easter for me because I have realised a long-held wish: to organise and then witness an 'assembly' of male Emperor moths attracted by the pheremone scents given off by an unmated female.

Loyal and tireless followers of this blog may recall at least a dozen posts over the last three years which have recounted the saga of a dynasty of Emperors established by the magnificent female used above on the blog's web page.  I have repeated her photo at the top of this post, because she and her offspring have brought me so much pleasure since she spent a night in the moth trap in early May 2014.

She left me a gift: this clutch of 25 eggs which hatched into caterpillars, at first small and black, then bigger and banded and finally huge and glorious in green with gay patterns of lines and dots. I described the ensuing saga two posts ago, ending with my hope of using my latest hatching - the lovely female below - to get male suitors to assemble.

I placed her gently in a muslin bag for the whole of last Thursday, took her to the grandchildren and repeated the experiment on Friday and then tried putting her out as mate-bait in the garden here on Saturday. Nothing happened, so towards mid-afternoon on Saturday, I transferred her to the outside of our shed/summerhouse where she sat in the sunshine, free to fly off but as uninterested in escape as she had been when in her muslin prison.

I was planting spuds and doing other garden chores with Penny and we both kept an eye on the moth, but neither of us noticed any arrivals. I know from others' reports and articles online that males do not always come and assemble, and so I was resigned to failure when I took my spade and rake back into the shed at teatime.

As soon as I went in, I heard a terrific fluttering and there was a male Emperor, beating his wings against one of the windows in obvious frustration. When he stopped, the fluttering carried on, and I found a second would-be suitor at a different window, My eye was then caught by a third. An assembly! But one thing puzzled me, and still does.

The moth literature credits the female Emperor's pheremones with attracting males from over a mile away. Their antenna - and look what majestic ones they have in the two pictures immediately above - guide them across country (and if necessary, town) to the 'calling' beloved. She moves the last segment of her body in and out, emitting what are clearly fantastic aphrodisiacs. Unfortunately, the human sense of small cannot detect them.

But while my female was on the outside of the shed, her three suitors had all flown in and although the door and two windows were open, they could not get out (I think on the lobster-pot or indeed moth-trap principle, that prey find going in through an opening much more easily than getting out).  What explains this bungle at the end of such an outstanding piece of navigation?  My best bet, drawn from descriptions of assembling males moving in on a female in a series of erratic circles (much as teenagers or young lovers may do), led them to fly into the shed and then get trapped.

Anyway, all was well as I captured them all and put them briefly into an ice cream carton where an orgy which would not have disappointed the sleazier sort of Roman emperor took place, as shown immediately above.  All three males did their best, crawling all over the impressively unfazed female, but only one managed to lock on - an appropriate phrase as when I took the lovers outside to the safety and comfort of a hawthorn hedge, they tumbled down several branches without coming unstuck in the vital place.

I always like it when young people can witness scenes from the natural world such as this (even if usually a little less hectic), and it was great that two of our neighbours' grandchildren were visiting for Easter. Especially as one of them was wearing a shirt whose motto summed up the apparent philosophy of male Emperor moths:

All four moths are now at large in the neighbourhood and I hope that the female will lay another brood of eggs to continue the story of this remarkable dynasty. Sadly, her generation will only have a couple of weeks left to play their part in this, as adult Emperor moths do not feed and therefore live only a short time.

Meanwhile, I have two cocoons left which have not yet hatched. Four years' slumber is not unknown, says Dave Wilton. So you may not have heard the last of this.  A very happy Easter to you meanwhile.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Moony moth

The word 'lunar' was much-beloved of the 18th and 19th century entomologists who gave such a rich and interesting variety of names to the UK's moths. There are seven species with 'Lunar' in their name, in each case referring to a crescent-shaped mark similar to that which earns the Comma butterfly its more workaday title.

One of them came calling last night, the Lunar Marbled Brown, which is a sturdy-looking member of our fur coat brigade of moths, well-equipped to cope with the colder nights of April's unpredictable weather.  It has lovely colouring and patterning and excellent antennae. A very welcome newcomer for 2017.

'Lunar' had another meaning for the old entomologists. The 'Lunar Men' were savants of Birmingham and the West Midlands in the 18th century, who held their monthly meetings on the night of the full moon. This was not because they were wizards or worshippers of the Moon goddess. They just wanted maximum light on their way home, to reduce the risk of being mugged. The very good book shown above tells their story.

Thursday, 13 April 2017


Great satisfaction here today, with the hatching of yet another Emperor Moth from the brood of 25 caterpillars which I reared from eggs laid in my moth trap THREE years ago. She is the latest child of the beautiful creature which I use as the main picture of this blog, above.  She came to my lamp on the seventh of May 2014.  After I had released her, and was luckily checking the eggboxes more carefully than usual, I saw the neat little clutch of eggs which she had left me as an early birthday present (The Day, if you would like to send me greetings, presents etc, is 18 May).

Here are those very eggs, above, and below are some of the plump and healthy caterpillars which hatched from them. They all pupated later that summer and the following Spring, five hatched here and a number of others in the homes or gardens of fellow-ethusiasts to whom I had given them.  I thought that my remaining five cocoons were dead but luckily Dave Wilton, the mastermind of the illustrious and invaluable Upper Thames Moths blog, counselled me to be patient. Emperors have been known to stay in their cocoons for four years, he said.

Sure enough, another moth hatched last year and I hunkered down to see what happened this time round. Actually, to tell the whole truth, I then forgot about the little, lidless box in my shed, but luckily Dave mentioned hatching an Emperor a week or so back on the UTM blog.  I brought the box inside and last night, whoopee, this year's moth emerged.

I have temporarily put her, perfectly docile and uncomplaining, in a muslin bag suspended from an apple tree in the hope that she will release the pheromones which can bring lusty males from distances of up to a mile. Emperors have peculiar lives, very different from those of their human namesakes. The adult does not feed and lives only to breed and then die; a poor reward, it seems to me, for such a long period of preparation.  Still, they seemed to enjoy life as caterpillars and pupating is presumably just like a very, very long sleep after all the effort of munching bramble and hawthorn.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Quickening pace

Many a good thing is arriving in the trap now that April is a third gone, with wonderful sunny weather over the weekend doing similar things for our local butterflies. How lovely to see Brimstones and Orange Tips wafting about in great abundance, with the occasional Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell winging its way more powerfully by.

I've yet to persuade a male Orange Tip - the sex with the actual orange - or a Brimstone to stop long enough for a photograph. But my top four pictures show a Peacock - one of the UK's very finest butterflies even though common - and a female Orange Tip.  As for the moths, here are four delightful newcomers for the year:

Chinese Character

Purple Thorn

Swallow Prominent

I've played host to a trio of pug moths, little scrappy mites but often with complex and interesting wing patterns. I asked for help on the superlative Upper Thames Moths blog, and here are the IDs:

V-pug (from the arrowhead on its wings)

Oak-tree Pug (the trap was under an oak)

Double-striped Pug

Finally, the UTB gurus also helped me out with this overnighter, another new-for-the-year. It's a very nice Powdered Quaker - a paradoxically-named moth as Quakers historically, generally didn't go in for make-up.