Sunday, 17 June 2018

Scented spot

I put the trap under a large and fragrant mock orange last night, a shady spot where I seldom try to trap. The results were little different from recent catches in other parts of the garden: three Elephant Hawks which are very common at the moment, and a large assortment of Buff Ermines, Hearts and Darts, Small Magpies and other visitors.

One very small arrival caught my eye: the Lime-speck Pug, above. There were also two contrasting examples of the micro Udea olivalis. Looking at them, I think that the pair which I identified yesterday as L. utealis may be olivalis as well, so I am updating that. Both moths are common.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Bye fly

We've been busy today entertaining friends for an afternoon themed on the Blandford Fly, one of the few serpents in our paradise (if I may mix my species and metaphors). The nasty little pest has pretty much shot its bolt for this year, but we were happy nonetheless to plunge a breadknife into its image on one of my famed superlight Victoria Sponge cakes.

Our guests enjoyed the moth trap and took home three Elephant Hawk moths for local distribution. One of them asked me to identify a moth in a photo on his iPhone, a task which usually makes me quail because of my well-known inability to get challenging species right. This however was easy: a Lime Hawk, or actually two, happily mating on the garage doors of our friend's home in Oxford. Lime Hawks seem to be happy resting on walls during the day. When our older son was a student here, I remember him spotting one sunning itself on a wall in Jericho.

So to the moths and I reckon these two be: top row, Udea lutealis micro (Update: actually I think they are more likely L.olivalis - see next post), bottom left Large Nutmeg (I think), right, Turnip moth (I also think).  And below from top left clockwise: Shoulder-stripe Wainscot, Common Wainscot, Muslkin Footman (always looks blurry, even allowing for my camera ineptness) and Grass Rivulet, a nice delicate little moth.

Then in the same order, we have: Coronet, Clouded Silver, Willow Beauty (I think) and a micro, perhaps an Acleris, about which I feel unsure.

Finally, another micro which I have nailed: Celypha striana. Help with my ums and ers is always greatly appreciated.

Friday, 15 June 2018

lobster pot

The moth trap works on the same principal as a lobster pot or crayfish trap, with a funnel tapering inwards to its narrower end to admit the insects whose sense of direction has been disorientated by the powerful light. (Or so we think; the question of attraction and distraction is not yet fully resolved in spite of the great age of the saying 'like a moth to a flame').

Appropriately therefore, I caught a lobster yesterday morning - the fine moths shown below with its distinctive way of resting with its underwing petticoats peeping out on either side. 

Its grey is a little like an uncooked lobster's with that added flush of pink which might hint at the joys of a seafood dinner. But there the resemblance ends. Not so when it comes to the caterpillar, shown right. What an amazing feat of 'Keep Off!' camouflage - or whatever the opposite of camouflage is called, when the protection lies in the obvious but dangerous-looking and  and unappetising appearance.

A little greenery now: first a Green Oak Tortrix turning its tiny back on a Straw Dot, both pygmies but the first a micro and the second a macro, thanks to the arcane joys of moth classification.

And next what I am pretty sure is a Green Pug because of the delicate greenish shade, though pugs are notoriously alike and difficult to distinguish, for me at least. You may be amused to see what came up when I put 'green pug' into Goggle Images. Something to do with St Patrick's Day in the world of small dogs, apparently.

I also have the chance, courtesy of Wednesday's visitors, to show you the effects of age on moths - probably a difference only of a week or two but the top picture, below, shows a pretty freshly-hatched Marbled Minor. The second is of an older and somewhat careworn relative.

Finally, two favourites: the Buff Arches with its triangular resting habit very similar to that used by the Burnished Brass, plus the Arabic-looking squiggles on its wings - doubtless an example of confusion camouflage like the dazzle used on wartime ships. And the final picture shows a delicate Riband Wave, a moth which comes in two equally attractive forms; this one and a version where the space between the double lines is smoky beige.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Plumping up

Things are humming along in the Imperial Caterpillar Nursery, with my charges now adding green and gold to their initial black-n-spiky appearance. Their brothers and sisters are thought to be doing well in Headington, too, and further consignments are going off shortly to a neighbour's children, also in Oxford, and a stained glass artists and entomologist in Abingdon. Feeding them on hawthorn has been a blessing compared with the willow which I have used previously. It stays fresher longer and grows all over the place round here. Picking it reminds me of my mother's insistence that we could eat it ourselves, when hungry on walks, and her claim that country people valued it so much that they knew it as 'bread and cheese'. It tastes like neither.

Meanwhile, Penny and I have been down at the grandchildren's in London where the White Ermine Nursery is also flourishing, breeding the little creatures in the top picture of the composite above, from eggs laid by a female moth which my granddaughter (a tremendous fan of White Ermines) took home after her last visit here. The second picture, going clockwise, shows what these little creatures do to a dandelion leaf and the third is a mixture of caterpillar poos and the Mermaid's Jewels which are felt to be essential to the colony's well-being.

My only slight concern is over the way that the catties are clustering on their ceiling, rather than being absorbed in the delicious replacement dandelions which we collected yesterday. Still, they made hay with the previous crop, so I cannot see why they shouldn't get back to munching again. We will all monitor the situation.

Walthamstow where the grandchildren live is extremely urban but Londoners are very good with their gardens and parks and there is plenty of foliage for insects in scruffy and neglected corners. We are always spotting interesting things, the children especially with their fresh and hawk-like vision. Above for example is a Plume moth with its umbrella-furled wings, sunning itself on a parked car.

Finally, we spotted this interesting spider while playing in the garden. I will Google 'white spider' but if any passing arachnophile recognises the species, please let me know. Update: and very many thanks to ace entomologist and stained glass artist Vikki Rose for telling me that this is a Crab Spider. They are fascinating creatures which don't make webs (although they can produce silk) but lie in wait in foliage and ambush prey with their crab-like front legs. Their ability to scuttle sideways also accounts for their species name.  You can read more about them here - and many thanks again to Vikki.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Sharp customers

Two natty dressers arrived on Monday night before we headed south to do our duty with the grandchildren, one of them the lovely, almost pristine Pine Hawk shown above - topside - and below - underwings. This was a hawk moth I never saw in Leeds but one at least comes to the trap here every year.

They are often in a rather battered state because the Pine Hawk is much nervier than most of its fellows and flies fast and furiously. I should have remembered this when sorting my posed third shot with the Elephant and Eyed Hawks; by the time, I got organised, the Pine Hawk was whirring its wings in readiness for take-off. Very shortly after I took my blurry photo, it duly scarpered.

The Eyed Hawk was more accommodating as was the other natty visitor, the Grey Dagger shown below in the palm of my hand. To round off with, a couple of micros: one large and very distinctive and I think Donacaula forficella; the other familiar but awaiting ID when I turn in tonight with the Micro-moth Bible.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Incy Wincy

We had a succession of big spiders at our house in Leeds which used to come out on to the sitting-room carpet and watch the ten o'clock TV news with us. Eventually they seemed to be put off by too many appearances of Huw Edwards and their appearances grew less frequent.

Few were as big as this character, though, which scooted along our bedroom wall just as we were dropping off to sleep last night. Penny heroically grasped him or her in a jaycloth and flicked it out of the window, but not before sliding a two-pence piece into one of my photos for scale.

Meanwhile we had a happy weekend hosting my younger son and his partner who both took a great interest in the moths. His iPhone is far superior to my iPad and here are some of his pictures of the hawk moths which graced us with visits.

Actually, I shouldn't just credit his iPhone as he is an ace photographer himself and has a book on that curious country - and very newsworthy just now - North Korea coming out this week.  You can read more here and if it's not too pricey, maybe invest.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Big features

Here's a meeting between two small moths with large endowments: the Snout with its Pinocchio 'nose' - actually palps which play a wider role by bringing other senses into play - and one of the vastly-antennae-ed Longhorn micros, scientifically known as Adelidae. Longhorn is much the apter name as you can see (Adelidae comes from the Greek for hidden, apparently because the caterpillars of these species are so good at hiding. That is a talent shared by most caterpillars but the Longhorns' have a distinctive habit of making a tiny case shaped like a violin into which they tuck themselves while feeding on leaf litter). What a small but interesting creature! Small wonder that the other colloquial name for them is Fairy moths.

Here they are again with a nice bright Cinnabar snoozing nearby. I didn't pose them; unlike big, sleepy hawk moths, small ones are almost impossible to entice on to fingers or scraps of foliage. They wake immediately and scarper. Anyway, there's something very satisfying about Big Nose meeting Big Ears, at least to me. 

Next up is that beautiful scrap the White Plume, obligingly perching on the trap's cowl so that I could photograph it from below as well as above. This is a common micro which you have a very good chance of seeing during the day if you push your way through cow parsley, long grass and (if like me you enjoy the post-sting tingle on your legs, nettles). 

It was a good night for moths altogether because here is another excellent species, the Figure of Eighty. Not too much imagination is required to complete the 8 and wonder what Nature was thinking about at the time. Camouflage, as always, but what makes the squiggles helpful to concealment?

There was a time, and not long ago, when the next moth would have headed this post. But I have grown blase about the wonderful abundance of hawk moths here and the Privet is no exception. That said, it always thrills me as the biggest UK moth most of us are likely to see. Only the Convolvulus and Death's Head hawks are larger.

My final composite shows why the joy which I get from moths is tempered with irritation at those which I find impossible to identify. Over the years many kind people have put me right on this blog and I apologise that your help is still needed. I do try but I cannot say with certainty whether the top two moths are a Wiullow Beauty or conceivably a Square-spot (left) and an Engrailed (right). Bit those are my guesses. Likewise, I think I have two Marbled Minors (centre and right) for all that they look very different; possibly the one on the right has wing damage. I am sure, however, that the moth on the left in the back row is, for obvious reasons, a Heart and Dart

Saturday, 9 June 2018


After five years here on the edge of Oxford, I have got used to the abundance of hawk moths at this time of the year. But nine on one hand - and there was a tenth which did not stay to be photographed - is a record. As Steve Trigg commented on the Upper Thames Moths blog, I will be able to regale the grandchildren about how I once held nine Elephants with one hand. Alas, they have already learned not to accept everything Grandpa tells them as gospel.

Here's the shy one before making its escape, along with an interesting coincidence: the arrival in the same night of that stylish moth the Angle Shades and its superficially less glamorous relative the Small Angle Shades. Here they are again together, below, with the Angle Shades warming up for take-off.

The Small Angle Shades has a place in my heart because it is one of the few moths sporting a bit of blue, very discreet but there, just above the top pale marking on each wing. Both moths are common and reasonably often found by day. The Angle Shades features prominently among What's This queries which I get via Twitter etc. One other thing: its caterpillars have a practical habit of using soft or crumbly mortar to house their cocoons; another human-friendly moth, like the Small Dusty Wave which I mentioned the other day a propos its liking for window boxes. 

I took my next picture, above, to show yet another form of that immensely varied moth, the Marbled Minor, snuggled up next to a furry male Pale Tussock. Overall, the trap is very busy and here below are some of the other arrivals over the last two days:

From top left, clockwise: Clouded Silver, Flame, Peppered and Pebble prominent go to work on an egg, Coronet

Ditto: Dark Arches, White Ermine and Setaceous Hebrew Character, whoops repeat of earlier picture, Sycamore, I think

A varied immigrant which also breeds here and is often seen flying by day, nectaring at plants: three Silver Ys

Clockwise again: Small Magpie micro, mmm not sure but suspect a big micro, Clouded Border, Snout
There was also a Beautiful Hook-tip, a very nice moth, but it flew away.