Saturday, 22 October 2011

Goodnight, sweet prince (and princess, and everyone)

I said yesterday that the trap's solitary Yellow-line Quaker might have a special distinction, but I am afraid that it hasn't. What I had in mind was that for all its modesty, it looked like being the Last Moth On the Blog This Year.

Nope. It got warmer last night and was clearly going to be dry and so I lit the lamp once again and Lo!, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, or at any rate the moths, turned out in force. Loveliest among them was the Feathered Thorn, above, closely followed by a Blair's Shoulder-knot, below, and these two little carpets, Red-green and Spruce I am fairly sure, on the left.

But that is it, for now. See you next year (although, as in 2009-10, I may have the occasional sesh in the winter months). Thanks for all the comments, wisdom and many, many corrections. I do this for my own weird pleasure, but this year I discovered Blogspot's 'Stats' and was astonished and delighted at the range of countries from which people have fluttered on to this site: Mongolia, Argentina, South Korea, Ukraine, Iran. Truly the world-wide web, and if we can all unite in a common interest in moths, hooray. Here's another pic of the Feathered Thorn to help that process on.

Talking of which, I will leave you with a Thought about Why moths rather than butterflies, whose beauty is obvious and irresistible and comes without the worries about hairiness, night-flying and crawling into ears which wrongly attach to moths. Thanks to Penny's recent laundry of our nice, bright Sri Lankan napkins, I herewith present it in picture form.

First, here is how people see butterflies:

Second, here is how most people see moths:

Third, here is how moths really are, when you take the time and trouble to get to know them:

Subtle, pastel shades worthy of Laura Ashley, eh? Or the paintings of my talented American pal, Sarah Meredith.

Farewell for now, then. Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Eid and everything else, and see you in April.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Frosty reception

We've had the first frost of autumn and guess how many moths there were in the trap? 'None' was Penny's first stab, followed by 'Three?' The answer lies between. There was just one, this demure little Yellow-line Quaker which had a dozen or more eggboxes all to itself. It reminded me of an episode long ago when I decided to take a late autumn break and found myself the only person on a package tour of Iceland.

For all its modesty, reflected in its name, the Yellow-line Quaker is an interesting moth. Apart from over-wintering as an egg on a tree branch, which I've mentioned before, it follows a very gruelling way of life in its earlier stages. When fully-sized, the caterpillar drops from on high into ground foliage like a parachutist whose equipment has failed. I wonder how many die of their injuries. Survivors then dig a small hole, no easy task for a caterpillar, lie in it for several weeks after covering themselves with a mantle of earth or brush, and only then pupate.

They miss the British summer, such as it is, and emerge just as the weather is getting dodgy, to fly until November and lay their eggs for the whole arduous cycle to start again. What is the reason and purpose behind all this? Scientists will have very little idea, I suspect. So much knowledge remains to be revealed.

This particular moth may have another minor distinction which I will reveal tomorrow, if it proves to be the case.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

News from elsewhere

Dark mornings and the colder weather discourage me from trapping, even though reports continue of unusual migrant moths coming to the UK. Quite why they choose the fag-end of October baffles me, but at least two have had the sense to come north, to Yorkshire.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that these new species had just been added to the county list, and here they are: small but prettily patterned and certainly a good excuse to raise the Yorkshire flag - above, borrowed from the website of Simon Cooke, a Conservative councillor from Cullingworth in the Pennines. The first was caught by my endlessly patient moth-identifier Charlie Fletcher, a GP near Ripon and our West Yorkshire county moth recorder; the second by the light trap at Spurn Point, that curious, crooked finger of land at the mouth of the Humber.

Neither has an English name, unfortunately, so Charlie's (above) is known as Etiella zinckenella, named as long ago as 1832 but first recorded in the UK only in 1989. Its normal habitat stretches from southern Europe to the tropics, so the climate change people may be twitching their antennae.

The arrival at Spurn, which joins a long list of interesting migrants making landfall in the area (where the future King Henry IV also launched his successful invasion of Richard II's kingdom in 1399), is Spoladea recurvalis, named by Fabricius in 1775 but reluctant to visit the UK. The first came in 1951 and about a dozen have been recorded since (one in Scotland, so although the moth is also a mainly tropical one, it has an adventurous streak). Many thanks for both species' pix to the ever-excellent website UK Moths.

I will probably have a final go at the weekend, and study the eggboxes carefully for tiddlers such as these. Who knows? If rarities have arrived at the traps of knowledgable monitors such as Charlie and the Spurn recorders, there must be more around.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A nocturnal negative

I've proved negatives with the trap on chilly nights before, and I thought this morning that I'd done it again. I put the light out in the same place as on Friday night but much later, at around 11.30pm after a night out. This morning, I thought a slumbering caddis-fly was the only occupant.

Even the very last eggbox seemed to be empty, but as I up-ended it, I saw this sweet little sight. Two forelegs securing a small brown moth to the very tip of one of the cones. Our visitors yesterday were asking me why moths like eggboxes, and this is the reason.

It would be nice if the moth were a Brick, a common Autumn flyer, as it landed on a brick, upside down, when I decanted it from the box. I am completely un-nerved by my constant failure to identify arrivals correctly (thanks again to all experts who put me right), but I think that it's actually a Chestnut, although it isn't holding its wings as tightly as the one shown in Waring, Townsend and Lewington.

The Chestnut is a doughty little moth, flying from September through to May. Here it is again, showing the merits of its camouflage, an advantage common to so many moths.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Touch of the blues

The year presses on but the weather is kind and reports of rare migrant moths still abound. So the light still shines in the garden here, and snoozers in the dawn continue to be varied and interesting.

Last night, a lot of them went for blue backgrounds - although in the case of the Red-line Quaker above that is proof that the camera lies. The moth was actually sitting on the outside of the clear (albeit a bit grubby) plastic cowl, while the trap bowl, at the bottom, is actually black.

The Shuttle-shaped Dart, above, went for a genuinely blue eggbox as did the Blair's Shoulder Knot below (Update: Uh-oh - see Comments). Further update: Ah-ha! I'm sure it's a Dark Sword-grass, so I have got a migrant after all. It's one of the UK's most frequent arrivals from overseas and I remember now that our county moth recorder Charlie Fletcher identified one for me last year. Hooray! We had my distinguished colleague Simon Jenkins to stay last night, along with another old friend, Maggie Bone, whose husband Ron was a marvellous painter. So I'm glad the trap gave me something to show them.

There were some comments on the lines of 'Why are they all brown?', it has to be said; but the wonders of digital close-up won them over. I think.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Handsome latecomers

I rushed to the trap this morning after learning that the current wave of migrant moths has brought two new species to Yorkshire (details when I learn more), but no sign of such excitements here. There were three very handsome moths in residence, however, including this Feathered Thorn.

I'm inordinately pleased with the photo above, because it shows one of the beautifully feathered antenna which I hadn't noticed with my ailing eyes. This means that the moth is a male. I'm not surprised. As in the picture below, I thought it had a somewhat proud and peacocky masculine look. Its misty pal in the top picture is an Autumnal Moth.

Who doesn't like the Angle Shades, hands up? No-one, good. I'd have sent you to the back of the class. Two perfect specimens were sleeping away, each with that rakish look which makes them distinct from any other UK species.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Tough cookies

You can see from these first two pictures that the autumn weather is sorting out the men from the boys. Yellow-line Quaker moths like these have got to be tough; they spent last winter as an egg exposed on a tree branch just as their potential offspring will do in the coming months. Then, once mature as a caterpillar, they scrape out a little cavern underground and lie there contemplating for a while before spinning a cocoon and in due course turning into a moth.

This second one is rather more battered but game enough to spend yet another night of drizzle on the lid of the moth trap, finding one of the few dry patches left by overhanging plants. This nice Feathered Thorn, below, had also found a relatively dry spot in an eggbox inside the trap, although you can see from the darker colouring that the rain got into there as well.

It is another species which spends the winter as a tiny but robust egg. I have never gone in for hunting moths's eggs but there are bound to be people who do.

Some moths at last

This blog is in danger of breaching the Trades Descriptions Act - my fascination with locusts and allied grasshoppers, not to mention jellyfish, means that a moth hasn't appeared here for nearly two weeks.

Sorry. My cupboard is almost empty, although I ran the trap last night and hope to find a few inhabitants there when it gets light enough to use the camera. Roll on the end of British Summer Time.

Anyway, here is a moth - a sad one because it got caught in a spider's web in our kitchen where Penny saw it dangling like a grisly victim of an execution. Another example of Nature's unsentimental world.

Also on moths, the Guardian has had one of its occasional fits of excitement and asked me to write a comment piece on a recent spate of interesting immigrant species, including the lovely Crimson Speckled which I saw in France and featured on the blog back in August. Here are my bon mots, along with a startling and entertaining thread of readers' views.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


On and on it drizzles and the mornings are far too dark for taking photographs. So here are some final, noisy, Spanish companions and the solitary butterfly I managed to photograph over there.

I don't know if this first large beast is a solitary locust. Anyone brought up on the Bible finds it hard to imagine them in anything other than swarms. In Exodus' words: 'They covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.' That does sound a bit like parts of the Costas.

Meanwhile, this more compact grasshopper lived on a hibiscus outside our window and serenaded us every night.

Butterflies were few indeed. I stalked a solitary Clouded Yellow without success and something middle-sized and brown flew past while I did so. But this Long-tailed Blue - rather blurry I fear - was one of a handful which fluttered around the villas, nervously resting for only brief moments before skittering off again.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The owners of those eyes

Here as promised are the rest of the creatures eyed-up in yesterday's post, primeval-looking beasts which inhabit the patches of wasteland that survive between the self-contained developments of flats and villas along the southern Spanish coast. These look in October as though someone has poured weedkiller over them; only a few scrubby bits of juniper show green.

Nonetheless they are home to at least two sorts of smallish dragonfly, one green and the other red but neither over-willing to pose for photographs. Looking closer reveals a quite impressive range of grasshoppers, crickets and/or locusts which make mighty leaps when disturbed. If you look closely at this one, on a broken flowerpot which was one of innumerable pieces of interesting litter, you'll discover that it had a little friend nearby (as well as the tiny snail, one of millions somehow surviving in the scrub).

Here's an overview of the habitat, with another green dragonfly if you look closely. If anyone can help me with identification, I will as ever be very grateful, but meanwhile will Google. Rapid update: I think they are female and male Red-veined Darters. I'd also be interested to know why the wealth of bougainvillea, plumbago and hibiscus in the flats' gardens seems to hold little attraction for insects. Mind you, because a lot of people are in residence only rarely, and the developments have strict rules about tidiness, all plants are continuously and vigorously pruned.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The eyes have it

We've been gadding off again, this time for a debut visit to the Spanish Costas, where the human life is every bit as enjoyable to watch as Mother Nature's. Here for example are some grandes beigneuses who would have had Cezanne in raptures.

They are bathing in mud, which Penny also did but I emphatically didn't. When you'd finished, you were supposed to complete the health-giving process by leaping into the cooler sea on the other side of a forlorn, East Anglian-style spit. But since you were greeted by hundreds of these, below, I didn't do that either.

As for the insects of Spain, there were these eyes. Look at this collection here. Tomorrow I will put up pics of the rest of their owners. Be afraid...

Be very afraid!

Beware, be scared, Hallowe'en is coming...

Be there!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

What shall we do with the drunken sailor?

"I know...hic..there'sh only one needle really..."

The link between butterflies, moths and drink is well-established and known to many a child who has enjoyed rum-and-treacling, especially the rum. Here is more proof: a distinctly woozy Red Admiral which is currently spending all day at a bar we have created in the garden by chance.

What happened was this: we've been cleaning out the cellar and in the process found a small stash of those strange liqueurs which you buy abroad at the end of a holiday in moments of madness. Some dated back to the 1980s and had gone even more peculiar in colour and viscosity than they were in the first place.

So we poured them away at last, the only alternative being to get very drunk in a not very nice way. Several days later, we both noticed this Red Admiral had become inseparable from a small patch of ground near our kitchen door.

Here it is; and because we fairly recently scattered some home-made compost - almost as disgusting as the ancient liqueurs - I assumed that it was enjoying that. Butterflies' and moths' debased diets when it comes to faecal matter or rotting anything are also well-known.

But then Penny remembered the drinkfest; and sure enough, here is the Red Admiral's tongue Hoovering up the residue of Myrtle Brandy or Watermelon Vodka or whatever it was. And the sugars, which will have been copious. Psychologically, the results have been to make it completely fearless and almost tame. Ah the delusions brought upon us all by drink.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Bright pink rabbits

Morning all! And White Rabbits to you to mark the first of October. Actually here in usually rainy olde Englande it will be tan or bright pink rabbits because we are having the most wonderful Indian summer. Temperatures up to 30C and phenomena such as cowslips coming back into flower under the impression that it is already Spring. If only.

The moths may be interesting too. I've got to be up and about on useful household tasks, so am breaking my usual habits and posting quite a gallery of pics from last night's trap. I will name them at leisure but, who knows, one of my expert Commentors may be fluttering by online and do some of the job for me. Hint.

Have a lovely sunny day! Here are the moths:

Green Carpet

Red-green Carpet

Spruce Carpet and micro friend

Just to interrupt the succession, so it doesn't look too tedious; isn't that last one lovely? This gallery will also help to remind me that the end of September and beginning of October was very lovely and very mothy. On we go... To the right, a Red-line Quaker

Shuttle-shaped Dart

Pink-barred Sallow

Rosy Rustic (not looking that rosy, mind)

Now another little pause, this time to say that there were several of most of these species in the trap and also a great many wasps. Our big cooker apple tree was nearby and the wasps, and some moths, love the fermenting windfalls. I think that this one to the left is a Square Spot Rustic. Next is definitely my pick of the catch; is it a Grey or Dark Dagger? But then it's got that interesting bit of brown. Ah, I've just been Googling and think it's a Dark Dagger of the form rosea named by the eminent 19th and 20th century entomologist Mr Tutt. But no, I'm wrong - thanks to Bill D in Comments I now know that it's a Blair's Shoulder Knot - one of no fewer than three UK moths named after a GP who had the good fortune to live on the Isle of Wight where such novelties often arrive.

Blair's Shoulder Knot

Copper or Svensson's Copper Underwing

Green-brindled Crescent f.capucina - rather battered.


Wasn't that last one nice? And now a couple dozing on the outside of the trap and a good old Common Marbled Carpet to end up with. Sorry this has been a bit of a marathon.

Autumnal moths

Common Marbled Carpet