Monday, 13 January 2020

Early bird

I was going to say that my second night with the moth trap this year saw the guest-list increase by 100 percent, but some warning bell sounded from 1966 when I scraped through maths O level with grade 6, the lowest which still constituted a pass. A hundred percent of nil is nil, it reminded me. So the fact that I got one moth last night was an increase of a different order.

The moth is a Pale Brindled Beauty, a traditionally early flyer with a reassuring amount of fur coat to help to keep it warm. It wasn't actually in the eggboxes but perched on a section of the bulbholder which was gently warmed by the nearby light. In the hope of photographing its underwings, I gave it a little tickle with a twig and it obligingly fluttered down to the grass and revealed all. That includes - picture below - the slightly pinkish tone of its body colouring, the sign of a freshly-hatched specimen.

Here it is again, below, on a scrap of eggbox, showing the fine antennae which almost always mark a moth out as male, because of their role in detecting the pheremones given off by females. Actually, you don't need to see these to know the gender of the moth. Take a look at my final picture of the Pale Brindled Beauty's poor old flightless female, who is in fact an example of evolutionary success. She sits contentedly on a tree trunk, safe from the dramas of night flight, and waits for a male to arrive and do the business, before laying her eggs and starting the cycle off again.

I have been catching up at last with my records going back to our move here from Leeds in the Spring of 2013. So I can tell you that previous debuts by the PBB have been: 3 Feb in 2014, 1 March in 2016, 17 Feb in 2017 and 2 Jan last year. I only trapped for a couple of nights before April in 2015 and had no bulb until April in 2018.  It has been the first moth to arrive every year except 2016 and now 2020 when it has had to be content with the silver medal.

Sunday, 12 January 2020


The weather has been very capricious but mild enough, on and off, for me to be tempted to turn on the lamp. The lawn is growing - eek! - and as you can see here, cyclamen and Honesty or Silver Dollar are in early flower.

Over on the excellent Upper Thames Moths blog, the moth supremo Dave Wilton has made a beeline for sheltered woodland - "The place to be for moths at this time of year" in his words - and filled his trap with more than 200 visitors.

How many did I get last night? None. Until around teatime today, I was resigned to writing a short post about the merit of proving a negative and suchlike.

But I reckoned without eagle-eyed P. "There's a moth," she said, as we planted out some refugee perennials from pots which had got a bit straggly and unhappy. Sure enough, a little Common Plume had helicoptered out of the leaves of one of them. The moths seem to have excellent vision, because whenever I got near enough to take a picture, he whirred into life and was off on another jinking attempt to find a safe haven..

The Common Plume's Linnaean name is a nice combination - Emmelina monodactyla, or Emmeline the Monoplane. It sounds like a character from a children's book, and indeed an imaginative author might make that a reality. The moths have reasonably-sized wings, on their Lilliputian scale, but furl them up as tightly as a City gent's umbrellas when at rest.

Here you can see the wider part of the wing, exposed because the moth is about to take off. Encouraged by this find, I have put the trap out again tonight in the nearest equivalent our garden offers to sheltered woodland.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year - both generally and specifically for all involved in the world of moths. 2019 was pretty dire in the wider sense, but in Mothland it's hard to see how I am going to surpass the Clifden Nonpareil's arrival in the next 12 months. Or indeed beyond.

I was surprised to click on this page for the first time in a while, just now, to see how long it is since I last posted. Life's been busy, with Christmas and the death at the mighty age of 101 of my mother-in-law a couple of weeks before. She always took a kindly if rather puzzled interest in my hobby and gave me many, much-appreciated, moth-related cards and other items over all the 40-plus years since P and I met.

I have put the trap out a couple of times, with little more than a few December and Winter Moths and - last night as shown in my top picture - small and usually uninteresting (to me) flies. On a regular morning's inspection, these escape my notice altogether. But with nothing else in the trap apart from the sad remains of a handful of previous visitors attacked by spiders (third picture), I thought you might like to see them.  The helpful arrow below shows how tiddly one is in the context of its eggbox home.

There were of course other distractions last night, in the usually dark world inhabited by moths.  Here's a small selection, below, of what they missed.  Once again meanwhile, a very happy New Year to you and yours.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Feathery friends

The chance of new arrivals to the moth trap may be minimal now but there are still some excellent sights to be seen. Here for example are some of the fine antennae displayed by male December moths and a Feathered Thorn which defied the murk the night before last.

The Feathered Thorn  - in the four pictures below - actually gets its name from this feature. Antennae are wonderfully complex and apparently still work even after minor damage as in the example immediately below. As I've remarked before, they are one of the few things moths have which we humans don't, and one of which I am jealous.

Quite apart from the light trap, Winter and November moths have been coming to other lights in good numbers - one at the kitchen window, below, and another snoozing by the lamp over our front door.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

That's the lot

The final moth of the year arrived last night, undeterred by the chilly weather. Appropriately-named, the December moth is a fine and well-clad creature to round off the annual tally. It much resembles the sort of elderly lady wrapped in furs who was a commoner sight when I was young.

It came in force; there were nine in the eggboxes, along with the cappucino form of the Green-brindled Crescent and the Feathered Thorn below - both the latter getting to the end of their flight season just as the December moths begin theirs.

The lid of the trap meanwhile hosted a couple of Sprawlers directly opposite one another - can you see them in the first picture below? Like the December moth, the Sprawler is well-clad and furred for these chilly times.

We were behaving like moths ourselves last night, attracted by Oxford's outstanding annual light displays in the run-up to Christmas.  Here's a small selection of what we enjoyed:

Our favourites were the tricycle projectors which drove children ecstatic with images on streets and walls like the platypus above. They also did a butterfly but, as you can see from my final picture, it attracted so many kids that getting a clear photograph wasn't easy.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Nearly there

Nothing is certain in this life and that includes the world of UK moths - consider, for example, trhe wonderful return of the Clifden Nonpareil, even unto Thrupp this year. But I'm pretty safe to say that only one species, out of my annual regulars, remains to pay a visit before Christmas: the December moth.

In spite of their name, they are already about, just as the November moth regularly appears in October. Until last night, there was a second guest expected, the tweed-coated Sprawler. This morning there were two of these in the eggboxes. Pics above. The first is in tip-top condition, the second has clearly had a bad time in the recent wet weather. There is an olivey-brown form of the species called Fusca which was first found as recently as 1953, but although it has spread in Oxfordshire according to the Moth Bible, it has yet to call here.

They weren't sprawling; the name comes from an apparent habit of the caterpillar, but they rather resemble elderly folk in heavy overcoats who might well sprawl once back at home with their slippers in front of the fire. Why they fly at this time of the year, goodness knows, but their size and furriness are appropriate wear. As the Scandinavians famously say: "There is no such thing as bad weather; just inadequate clothing".

Last night's other visitors amounted to only two moths, a Black Rustic and a Beaded Chestnut, and three Caddis flies. So I will be lighting the lamp less frequently from now on. The weather is a deterrent too. I brought it in early two nights ago and founded only the Mottled Umber, above, clinging to the moist, transparent lid.

Other moths from the last week are below:

Red-green Carpet
Yellow-line Quaker
Beaded Chestnut
and again
Black Rustic
Beaded Chestnut in darker colourway
Um... (the same moth from below)
A very nice, big Large Wainscot
Seen here in a slightly wider context. Lovely moth!