Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Oooh, such goings-on

A vivid splash of scarlet lit up our stroll along the canal at teatime yesterday. Actually, I was deep in contemplation of a narrowboat, so it was Penny, aka Eagle-eye Junior-spy the Ace Mothspotter, who noticed it and followed its erratic progress to a clump of comfrey in one of the canalside cottages' gardens.

It was a male Scarlet Tiger, behaving exactly as described in the Moth Bible: "The male patrols wildly in late afternoon and early evening."  Just so, and his intentions were manifest. He zoned in on two apparently dormant Tigers on a comfrey leaf (with a third nearby) and began paying them vigorous, amorous attention.  The first one flew off, slightly less erratically as you might expect of the gentler sex. The second submitted to his attentions without stirring.

He squirmed into position by a deft bit of manoeuvring under her wings and, hey presto, there he was clasped securely tail-to-tail. A new generation of Scarlet Tigers is in prospect. Not to dwell on these intimate subjects, but the claspers used by moths for mating are the main means by which otherwise almost identical species can be told apart. However, this involves killing/dissecting or freezing/magnification and I do not have the stomach for either. Add my lamentable ID skills into the bargain, and a fair number of the moths which come to trap will, I am afraid, never be firmly identified.

Left in peace; the snoozing Tiger on its own

The Scarlet Tiger is only locally common but when it does appear, it is often to be found in numbers, as was the case with us. This reminds me of our holiday in Turkey nine years ago when we found swarms, literally, of the closely-related Jersey Tiger by a waterfall (rather blurry pic, sorry, left). Jerseys are also the main stars of the misnamed 'Valley of the Butterflies' on the Greek island of Rhodes. Typical butterflies; always trying to snatch the limelight from moths.

Both species are also interesting as primarily day-fliers, a habit found in only 50 or so of the UK's 2,600-odd moth species. Their vivid warning colouration and a toxin in the bodies of both adult and caterpillar give them the protection which is afforded to most other moths by the dark.

Many thanks for the photographs to our friend and neighbour Richard Hancock, whose excellent children's book Quick and Vickers about a lively duo who move to live near a canal can (and should) be bought here. My camera is on the blink and Penny didn't have her iPhone so Richard came to the rescue. Very soon, we were joined by visiting narrowboaters so the amorous moths may end up on many a mantlepiece, digital screen or Facebook page.

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