Sunday, 6 November 2022

Throwing them into confusion

I spied the word 'moth' in a letter the other week to the Economist, the means by which Penny and I keep in touch with the world, along with Private Eye and the BBC website. It was in response to an article about bat radar, and described the clever counter-measures taken by a small number of moths.

I've come across this with our common-as-muck yellow underwings which have the remarkable ability to deflect and mislead the signals cleverly pinged out by eternally hungry bats. In 2006 for instance, research at Bristol University suggested that yellow underwings can tune their ears - extremely simple organs in moths - to hear the calls of an approaching bat more precisely. Scales on their wings were also found to absorb echo-location signals from the predators. The Bristolians see all manner of exciting developments potentially coming from this, including ultra lightweight sound-absorbing wallpaper.

I hadn't however heard of Druce's Moth, Melese laodamia, which mimics the bats' pulses and thus confuses the hunter long enough to dodge away. That's maybe because it flies only in Central and South America where it was discovered by one Herbert Druce in 1884. Less excusably, I had no idea until I read the letter in the Economist that the moth was the symbol of the Royal Air Force's electronic counter-measures squadron, No 306. A knowledgable airman must have suggested it along with the excellent Latin motto Confundemus, which translates as 'We will throw them into confusion'. RAF squadron pennants are a rich source of natural history- the RAF regiment 58 squadron, for example, has a spider and the motto 'Come who dares'. 

The importance of electronic warfare is sadly obvious in the current tragedy taking place in Ukraine, and it is encouraging to be reminded how much practical and useful knowledge can come from our humble hobby, apart from endless delight in the colour, patterns and behaviour of moths. Undoubtedly fresh discoveries lie in store and scientists like the ones in Bristol are busy looking for them.

Closer to home, my use of the trap is intermittent now because of the weather. Temperatures remain high and we even have a third generation delphinium about to flower, as well as plentiful Morning Glories and nasturtiums, but it is blessedly wet after the dry Summer. We still have a hosepipe ban in force, mind you. It takes an age for the exhausted aquifers to refill. 

A steady supply of moths keeps coming when the light is on, including some very fine Winter and November ones - I get hopelessly muddled by their slight differences. Here is a lovely example, followed by some more ordinary brethren.





And finally, a selection of other residents in the eggboxes: Meal moth micro, Pyralis farinalis (keep an eye on your packets of Corn Flakes), Common Plume micro, Emmelina monodactyla, Vestal, Blair's Shoulder-knot, Large Marbled Carpet and Red-green Carpet.

Saturday, 5 November 2022

A long season

 


The Clifden Nonpareil, whose regular appearance here in the last four years has been the most exciting event of my moth trapping, is enjoying another excellent season. This one was tucked away in the eggboxes on Monday 17 October, much the latest date in my experience. I had a look at my records to compare notes with other enthusiasts on the Upper Thames Moths blog and here they are: 

2019 One on 19 September (my first ever)

2020 Three on 3 September followed by seven more, the last on 2 October. Annus mirabilis - the year March Botham entertained six in one evening.

2021 Three on 20 September

2022 One on 5 September and now this one.

My post prompted others to comment with Dave Wilton, the vastly-experienced blogmeister, saying that the whole CN season in Oxfordshire appeared to be later this year. To back him up, another trapper recorded one on October 26.

I took a short film of the marvellous visitor warming up before it took off to the safety of an oak tree. I haven't put the lamp out much since then, but who knows, another may still be around,.


The Nonpareil came with an interesting set of companions, yet another Box Tree moth - shudder if you have box hedges - and a fine Feathered Thorn, the first of this Autumn. Meanwhile in the world of the grandchildren, a Pale Tussock caterpillar has been captured and obligingly formed a nice cocoon inside an insect collecting box borrowed from a schoolfriend. 



The Pale Tussock has an interesting history, especially in the hop-growing world which by chance we visited last week. The excellent Hop Trail at Scotney Castle took us through the only hop farm owned by the National Trust, with the usual excellent info about the poles, the former owners' initials on the oast house vanes and the crude little corrugated iron hamlet in the woods where the pickers from London's East End used to spend the season. It was a sort of holiday, albeit back-breaking work for the grown-ups who included stiltwalkers to cut the top of the hop binds which curl 20 feet up the poles.




The place of the Pale Tussock in this was its role as a hazard. The caterpillar's fuzzy spines can give people a nasty rash and hops are its favourite food plant. The species were nick-named 'Hop Dogs' and they were as unpopular as the local farming children who ambushed the pickers at night in the woods as  they came back from the pub, pretending to be ghosts.  This tradition was ably upheld by the National Trust for Hallowe'en at Scotney, whose visiting little witches, ghosts and pumpkins were met with skeletons, spiders and a fountain dyed red to resemble blood into which they could (and did with relish) throw 'eyeballs' the size of tennis balls.




Here's a Pale Tussock which Penny and I found in an Open Garden back in March 2018 when I mused on the hop connection, including a link to an excellent hoppy website.

Visiting the grandchildren also gave Penny and me - and them - the chance of some excellent sightings of a Jay and a Cormorant holding its wings in that characteristic posture which is almost certainly a way of drying its wings:


Friday, 14 October 2022

Points and specks



Five years ago at this time of the year I caused a very modest stir among Upper Thames moths enthusiasts by attracting a White Speck to my lamp. Today's arrival is a White Spot, somewhat similar but more common. They share a provenance as Autumn migrants blown here from the Continent. The White Speck made landfall in my garden rather than the Isles of Scilly or Cornwall, its usual landfalls on the rare occasions when it visits the UK, because of the force of Hurricane Ophelia.


Neither Speck nor Spot is a terribly exciting moth so far as size, colour or patterning goes - how superficial am I? - but the trap continues to provide colour as the season nears its end. In my last post, I showed a richly green female Red Green Carpet as an example. Now here is its male counterpart, above, distinguishable by the white markings.


My greatest pleasure this week, however, was the arrival of the teeny tiny scrap of colour above. Micro moths normally leave me unmoved but the sheer Lilliputianism of this one was beguiling. Its larger companion with its House of Lords ermine robe, is also a micro and very small - a Light Brown Apple moth or Epiphyas postvittana. They come in between seven and 12mm long and this one was about halfway on that scale. So you can see how titchy the smaller one is. Its name is grandiose for such a scrap: Caloptilia stigmatella, and its patterning is a miniature delight.


A sure sign of the end of the season is the appearance of the plain grey Autumnal, November and Winter moths and the next picture shows my first of those for 2022. They are too similar for me to tell apart. And finally we have an interesting example of moth behaviour - and waterproofing.


Here below is a Green-brindled Crescent form capuccino, a delicious moth whose camouflage worked well on the lichen of an old wall. The first picture was taken after a dry night at about 8.30am.  The rain morning brought rain, not heavy but lasting at least two hours. We were out for lunch but when we got back the moth was still there - below - rain shrugged off and the moth none the worse for it.

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Indian Summer

 


Let's start with a blaze of late Autumn colour - a somewhat battered but impressively hardy Small Copper was feasting on this marigold at the allotments yesterday, enjoying the sun of our Indian Summer. Nearby, the old well provided evidence for why we still have a hosepipe ban here in spite of recent rain. Th groundwater has a long way to go to catch up.



One of my top moths has meanwhile made its debut for 2022, the beautiful Merveille du Jour which despite its name flies only by night. It is usually the last real excitement of the moth enthusiast's year in the UK although its seasonal companions are worthy enough too.


Here are some of them: a Red-green Carpet (named for its lovely colouring and pattern; its larvae are not interested in carpets or Cashmere sweaters); the capuccino form of the Green-brindled Crescent; a Sallow in the sweetcorn; a vivid Barred Sallow and two pictures of a Large Ranculus, so-named because its caterpillars munch buttercups. We have an ample supply of those and their runners spread them like fun.







These have all been of great interest to the grandchildren who are now combining their enjoyment of moths with malacology or the study of snails.




As well as these smaller creatures, we are currently enjoying the presence in the garden of a young stag which is almost tame. In the long run we will have to keep him out but at the moment there's nothing much for him to devour - touch wood. And like us, he sensibly supports membership of the EU which our home and garden maintains. 




Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Orange drops


It's turned suddenly parky so it's nice to have some warming colours in the trap. The Sallows are good and faithful providers of these at this time of the year - here's a Centre-barred Sallow (Update: sorry just Barred; thanks to Conehead in comments) and a straightforward Sallow - the scrambled egg moth - above.  The Beaded Chestnut is brown but also has a lovely orangey glow. Here are three of them on the lightbulb holder.


There are plenty of matching micros about as well, like these two which I think are both Epiphyas postvittana, the Light Brown Apple Moth. I have also made a collage of some of the moths' wings closer-up to show the variety and charm of the current visitors.



And here are a couple more composites of recent arrivals, firstly from the top left clockwise: Gold Triangle (Hypsopygia costalis), Burnished Brass, Red-green Carpet, Snout, Black Rustic with its glinting golden 'eyes' and Common Marbled Carpet:


Then a quartet of much the most common arrival, the Lunar Underwing which comes in three colourways: light grey, dark grey and light brown. The one at the bottom left was scrambling along a pavement near my grandchildren's nest, unable or unwilling to fly.


The Willow Beauty is a frequent visitor still, the Brindled Green is a very welcome, handsome newcomer for the year and the Large Yellow Underwing is lasting well into early Autumn - all below: 






Finally, I think that this next moth is a Small Dusty Wave but the other three need someone more expert to sort them out. I shall haste me to the Upper Thames Moths blog. Update: UTM and Conehead in Comments kindly ID the last one as a Deep Brown Dart and Dave Wilton on UTM nails the other two as Square-spot Rustics. He thinks my wave is a Riband while another UTM member suggests Small Fan-footed. I will puzzle over pictures of all three.





Thanks to Conehead the Commentor, however, I know that this basking dragonfly in today's last picture is a Common Darter.


Friday, 23 September 2022

Fresh and new

 

The year advances but these sunny September days are excellent for butterflies, many of them freshly hatched, the second generation of 2022. The male Common Blue, above, is an example and here's the underside of one of its relatives, below, also on our Michaelmas Daisies which are a terrific bee and butterfly magnet. 

Ditto this Red Admiral which was nectaring so happily on flowering ivy that it was easy to creep up and get a close-in photo. After a while, it skimmed off and did a bit of posing for the the people who look after our canal.


But here's a contrast in Commas: a fresh one from the new generation and then a battered old veteran from the year's first hatching. I know how the latter must sometimes feel...



The Brimstone, meanwhile, which is usually the earliest butterfly to emerge in the UK (hence, some say, the origin of the word'butterfly' from the 'butter-coloured fly'), is into a third or possibly even fourth generation.  This one, below, was pristine - as were the Large and Small White which follow. As someone who grows Purple Sprouting, I do not rejoice at the presence of the last two.




Lastly among today's butterflies, here is a Speckled Wood which finds our gravel drive of absorbing interest. Plus some recent moths; from the top left clockwise: Vine's Rustic (I think), Garden Rose Tortrix, Frosted Orange, Red-Green Carpet, Autumnal Rustic and Lunar Underwing. 




Finally, we often wonder what creatures make little holes in our apples which have to be gouged out before we can crunch. Here is one answer: a greedy woodlouse, caught in the act.