Friday, 2 June 2017

Big boy

The biggest of my regular visitors called last night for the first time this year, and while I photographed it, I had the pleasure of hearing my first cuckoo of 2017. There has been publicity recently about the numbers of this fascinating bird falling in the UK, so it is reassuring to have one in full song on our doorstep.

The moth was not alone, as you can see. Far too many to count this morning
Not such good news for small birds of other species, perhaps. But the cuckoo's lazy and ruthless habit of laying its egg in other birds' nests has provided the human race with endless fascination and rich metaphor. Moths have their share of the latter too, with 'moths to a flame' and the Biblical reference to moths and rust afflicting Earthly treasures. I have always wondered, and must find out, whether 'moth' in the Bible comes from an ancient text or was the invention as a metaphor by William Tyndale.

Anyway, my jumbo moth is a Privet Hawk,  actually a common moth but not one which makes many appearances other than at moth traps or lighted windows on a warm Summer night. It has a fine sleekly black 'head', the body of a vast pink wasp and the only legs which I've experienced of a UK moth which can give you an (unintentional) nip.

Its fine green, stripey and horned caterpillars like privet, hence the name, but also enjoy lilac - I'm glad to say, because we planted one this Spring. They eat voraciously - and they need to. One of the remarkable talents of this species is that the larvae can dig down up to 30cms to make a little chamber for their chrysalisation.

The moth is our largest permanent resident although smaller by some distance than those distinguished immigrants, the Convolvulus and Death's Head Hawks. Neither of the latter has come here, yet, but eagle-eye Penny spotted a Convolvulus at a cousin's wedding in Cornwall and I memorably went to inspect a Death's Head hatched from a caterpillar found on potatoes at Kirtlington, just a couple of miles from here. It made a run for it but wasn't quite quick enough, and two more pupae were found shortly afterwards in the lucky discoverer's spud patch.

No comments: