Friday 12 July 2024

Film Star


We are lucky in Oxfordshire to have a large and lively population of Scarlet Tiger moths, the ultimate UK proof that the tribe are not all small, brown and boring. Vividly coloured and happy to fly by day, the species is even a major contributor to tourism, not here but on the Greek island of Rhodes where the Valley of the Butterflies is actually the Vally of Scarlet Tiger Moths.

I usually get my first inquiries of the year about them in the shape of their caterpillars which hungrily munch comfrey and agrimony in neighbours' gardens, leaving skeletal leaves as shameless proof of their appetite. The adult moths are striking when at rest, as above, with white or cream spots daubed on a gleaming backdrop of oily blackish green. When they take wing, their scarlet underwings are glorious. 

This very short film clip gives the idea, I hope, complete with my 'Oooh!' and below are stills extracted from it. The moth is interesting too in having mouthparts sufficiently developed for it to take nectar in large quantities from flowers. Perhaps this accounts for the species' long Summer season, along with the effectiveness of its warning colouration as a deterrent to birds.

I have sometimes dismissed the next moth as just yet another Large Yellow Underwing which shows how resistant to learning I am after all my years running a light trap. In fact it is the beautifully marked and highly distinctive Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing. I wish that I could show you the said underwings, but the moths are so shy of showing them except in brief flashes during flight, that I would have to kill one first, and those days are long gone.

Next comes an everyday but beautifully-marked Common Wainscot, an example of Nature's delicate painting with only the most modest palette. And after that a quartet of recent arrivals: a Common Rustic, Common Plume, Elephant Hawk moth and a micro whose ID I hope to sort out over morning tea.

Some butterflies to finish with: a Comma, showing the reason for its name. It startled me by flying past and settling with its glowing russet topwings fully spread but snapped them shut as I crept up to it. The camouflage of a ragged leaf is most effective. Then a couple of Small Skippers which have just replaced the wave of their Large brethren in the big field near our house which has very generous 'wild' edges. 

And a frog, surprised on our patio from which he or she leapt rapidly in an impressive series of hops.

Thursday 11 July 2024

Rosy Posy


My granddaughter's light trap keeps coming up trumps, last night with this glorious Rosy Footman. It is a moth on the shrinking list of UK species which I want to see but as yet never have. We both knew at once that something special was in the dark cylinder of the trap because of its almost fluorescent glow.

By chance, we had been checking out one of the modest number of eggboxes which she can fit below the actinic lamp and I was identifying a Flame Shoulder. She was scornful of its entitlement to such a dramatic name and pointed out the contrast with the moth - below - with the small, shining arrival deeper down in the bowl.

"That's more what I'd call a Flame Moth," she said.  And I saw to my delight that a Rosy Footman had at last come to see me, albeit at the grandchildrens' home rather than Penny's and mine. I gingerly lowered my iPhone into the gloom of the black plastic cylinder and got some blurry images, showing the glow but very poor on the delicately-etched detail. 

So we decided on the high risk strategy of tempting the moth on to the granddaughter's slender and extremely careful fingers and thank goodness, this worked. It posed briefly before fluttering away but only got as far as, first, my wrinkly hand and then my entomological grandson's pyjamas. There it stayed for a helpfully long photo session before gracefully vanishing into the protective gloom of a bush.

The granddaughter proposed renaming the moth the Fiery Bridge and the grandson chipped in with the Flamebuster. Good suggestions both but I also like Rosy Footman, even though the moth has no resemblance to the majority of its relatives in the Footman family, with their neat grey and yellow uniforms which reminded England's 18th century moth-namers of flunkeys in stately homes. Whichever name you choose, not forgetting Linnaeus' Miltochrista miniata, it is an interesting moth, mostly found in Southern coastal areas where its caterpillars feed on dog lichen.

It is described officially as 'locally common' but I get the impression that sightings are a bit rarer than that. The excellent UK Moths website, for example, uses a photo of one in the Dordogne in France in its series of pictures.

A Privet Hawk moth also paid a visit to the granddaughter's trap where she memorably found three on a single night a week ago. And there was a very good variety of other moths which I'm adding further down below in a quartet of composite photos.

First we have four quite small Riband Waves which were all outside the trap, sheltering in nooks and crannies on the house.

And then a very nice Miller moth, which the grandson promptly renamed the Hang-glider - a good alternative, I feel, because of its shape and the small black markings - a Dark Arches, a Buff-tip and a very worn Brimstone.

Thirdly we have this trio: a Willow Beauty on one of the house windows, a Bright-line Brown-eye and a Fan-foot.

And finally a Common Rustic with well-defined markings, a Garden Carpet, rather dull on an overcast morning, a Spindle Ermine and to round things off rather appropriately, a Common Footman in the sober uniform referred to above.   Neat enough but what a contrast to its delicious relative at the head of this post!

Saturday 6 July 2024

Election Day

I was planning to run this post on 4 July when our General Election was under way and the BBC and other broadcasters were vigorously restrained from running anything political, even the colours yellow, red and blue. The lovely micro above, the Beautiful China-mark or Nymphula nitidulata, fits that bill if I am to consider myself a broadcaster. It is a terrific-looking insect but chastely black and white.

Seen here again in my second photo alongside a Burnished Brass, it is an interesting moth as well, with a caterpillar which seals itself in a reed and munches its surroundings before pupating, surviving occasional spells underwater in the process. Hence the Linnaean forename Nymphula meaning 'like a nymph', nymphs in the insect context being dragonfly larvae which live underwater.

Given the extremely welcome result of the election - we now do our regular commute to the grandchildren entirely through Lib Dem territory as shown above - I ought to be running pictures of yellow and orange moths.  The nearest I can manage from the latest visitors to the trap is this Lackey, seen from below and above with my viridian dressing gown as a backdrop.

I guess that the beautiful Swallowtail moth above also comes within the Lib Dem spectrum and its almost-perfect condition is perhaps symbolic of the party's revivals. Like the Lib Dems since the coalition days, Swallowtails can get a bit battered and torn.

My next moth is a very pretty variety of the Fan-footed Wave called Form fimbriolata, an attractive Latin word meaning 'little fringe' which refers to the equally attractive ribbon of patterning on the outer edge of the wings.

Completely different in tone is the Dark Umber, a slightly sinister moth which usually comes seldom but has been a regular here now for the past week. Note its upturned tail, a sure sign of the mating season.

The Single-dotted Wave is misnamed but a firm favourite with me and it's nice to have some scale in my second photo below in the shape of the Swallowtail again and a big fat male Drinker moth.

Oh and here we are back again in Liberal land with the perky Yellowtail, flashing the reason for its name.

Back to black and white with this tiny micro Eucosma campoliliana and a Marbled Minor, followed by a Dark Arches which strayed indoors during our post-election revelries.

And finally for today, a Large Twin-spot Carpet looking rather the worse for wear, like the Conservative party.

Wednesday 3 July 2024

Gleeful at the Green


A wonderful and unexpected way to start July: the trap's contents were plentiful but only of modest interest but everything changed when I got out the mower to tidy the garden for a big arrival of family this coming weekend.

My crashing about on the edge of the lawn where long grass and weeds had formed a thicket startled a vivid and large green moth which - presumably only half-woken - headed for refuge quickly in our Garrya bush rather than soaring away. I saw where it went,  crept over and managed to get these pictures, the top one taken after it had moved obligingly to a sunnier spot.

It is a Large Emerald, a beautiful moth which I have seen once in Leeds and once previously here, though my Google searching has yet to track down the posts in which I recorded those arrivals. I know, however, that I would have been ecstatic as it is one of my top moths. It is officially common but I have seen them very seldom. Satisfying indeed!

In the trap meanwhile, there was this delicate Small Fan-footed Wave and one of the smallest of all the UK's macro moths, the well-named Short-cloaked. After them, perched on an eggbox in its unmistakeable resting pose with the jagged browny wings folded over the back, is an Early Thorn. 

This next little beauty is another of the 'Laura Ashley' moths, so reminiscent of the floaty white milkmaid clothes which Penny and other delightful young women used to wear when we were all young. This is a heavily-patterned Single-dotted Wave, rather a misnomer compared to 'Short-cloaked' but an even prettier visitor.

Next comes when of the Elephant Hawks which are currently abundant followed by a partial view of another one's angled wing like a jet plane's, sheltering a third delightful milky white and grey moth, the Chinese Character (or in my argot, Bird Poo moth, in honour of its exceptionally original camouflage).

And finally, I am uncertain about this duller but still appealing Laura Ashley also-ran. Might it be a rather worn Small Dusty Wave?  I will try to find out and let you know.

Monday 1 July 2024

June harvest

Farewell to June, an excellent month this year, at least in its mid- to later stages when the sun came out and blazed fiercely and the number of moths went gratifyingly up. I've started above with a rather unspectacular looking one but it is unfamiliar to me: the Small Dotted Buff. The name is very much like the literal ones which my grandchildren gave or give to various toys - Greeny Owl, Black and Whitey Bear and the like. The moth is indeed small, dotted and buff.  I have had it here before but not since 2015 and to be honest, I had forgotten.

The Peach Blossom above is one of my all-time favourites and I can remember when I first saw one, oddly considering my amnesia about the Small Dotted Buff, but our older memories are often said to be more tenacious. When I was about ten, I had a tiny garden at school consisting of a few nasturtiums and a beautifully-scented pink rose bush. One morning, to my amazed delight, a Peach Blossom was sleeping underneath one of the rose's leaves.

This handsome and Velvety Dark Umber is another moth which calls here only infrequently, unlike the Common Emeralds shown in the two photos below. Emerald colours do vary and also fade very quickly during the moth's short life but the contrast between these two is largely down to my iPhone's digital camera which searches endlessly for light, especially when moths choose to settle on the trap's black bowl.

We have a nice Light Arches next and an even nicer Buff Arches with its forewing scribble with what looks like Arabic calligraphy. Then comes that bright spot of colour a warning because it is poisonous to birds - of the Cinnabar.

I think that this very Farrow and Ball below is a Foxglove Pug and the micro below it is a pretty micro, the Ringed China-mark or Parapoynx stratiotata. Then comes the wonderful, Bear-like Drinker moth whose handsome caterpillars with their dark blue velvet coats we collected at school, easy to find because they climb stems of grass to drink the dew. Below him is a male Ghost Moth apparently a prayer, perhaps for the soul of the nearby pug which I will try to identify later.

Below is a Yarrow Plume, a change from the White and Common Plumes which are my usual visitors from this distinctive family of micros which curl their wings when at rest like umbrellas. It is also know more imposingly as Gillmeria pallidactyla. After that, we have a Fan-foot and then a trio of Scalloped Hazel, Large Elephant Hawk and - I think - a White-point, a relatively recent immigrant which has spread well.

And so on to some collages to cope with the sheer number and variety of the moths. The first from top left to bottom right brings together a dainty Small Fan-footed Wave, a Figure of 80,  a White Satin, a Scarlet Tiger - lovely dayflyers when their bright red underwing 'skirts' show - a Spindle Ermine (responsible for vast cocoon webs which sometimes engulf whole trees) and a Swallowtail.

Two Burnished Brasses now, with the narrow line of metallic green connecting the two larger bands, which shows that it is form tutti as opposed to aurea where there is no such link. Debate continues about whether to reclassify these as two distinct species.

And finally - but rather a lot of finality: a Clouded Silver, a well-named Brimstone Moth, a Small Rivulet, a Lackey, a Poplar Grey, a Common Emerald with a Small Magpie micro, a Buff Ermine, a second Clouded Silver and a Yelllow Shell.

And in the second collection: a Brown Rustic, a second, slightly darker Yellow Shell disturbed in foliage by day, a Heart and Dart with unusually opened wings, a Brown-line Bright-eye, a Dot Moth (what else could you call it?), a Buff Arches, a Common Swift right way up and then upside down and a Small Magpie again.

And finally a reminder to me to look around the trap as well as inside. Hiding in plain sight, another White Satin was perched on our garden wall.