Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The power of Corbyn

The weather's return to lovely, mild nights continues to bring a good number and variety of moths, among them this natty little Spruce Carpet. Now, your eyes can play tricks but as soon as I set eyes on it, Lo! I beheld the face of the Leader of the Opposition gazing back at me.

Here's the detail and below the real thing to compare it with. There are already websites devoted to the truly impressive number of Corbyn lookalikes in the world (OK, basically senior chaps with beards). But is this the first recorded sighting of the spirit of Even Newer Labour in a moth?

Update: the kindly experts Martin Albertini and Dave Wilton correct me on the invaluable Upper Thames Moths blog, as do Trent's much-appreciated comments on this post. This is actually a Juniper Carpet, a rarer and more interesting species. What, I wonder is the political symbolism of that? And indeed of JC's appearance on BOTH species? 

He'll hum no more

Charles Darwin is immortal on account of The Origin of Species but he is also pretty famous as a lifelong invalid (of the sort who often live to a good old age) and an unusually kindly child. In the latter persona, he once declared that he would collect and study only those insects which he found dead. Fortunately for the study of evolution, he soon renounced this virtuous plan as impractical.

Having said that, the observant nature inspector can find a surprisingly large number of insects which have bitten the dust, and I have just had this experience with an interesting moth for the second year running. In August last year, I described how I had found a Hummingbird Hawk moth expired in our greenhouse. Yesterday I found another one, just outside and under a honeysuckle bush - pic below.

As before, the discovery allowed me to take these other 'still' pictures of the insect, a moth which when alive is almost permanently on the go and thus very hard to photograph for an extreme amateur such as myself. I'm glad to add it to my pretty impressive tally of hawk moths seen and photographed this year. I saw one flitting about in the garden two months ago but by the time I had fetched my camera and come puffing back, it had gone.

The Hummingbird Hawk has been a success story in the UK in my lifetime and, not surprisingly, exerts a charm on human observers. It has 'apparently long been considered a messenger of good tidings in Italy and Malta' according to the Moth Bible, which adds in a rare moment of personal anecdote: 'One was seen by the senior author on the day his daughter was born'.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Feathery fellows

It was nice to see this well-whiskered (or at least antennae-ed) chap in the eggboxes this morning - a Feathered Thorn - and that would have been satisfaction enough for me. But a couple of boxes later, I found another one. Here they are together:

And that wasn't it. A few minutes later, I discovered a third; then a fourth; and finally a fifth. Here they are all together, below, playing happy families. I wonder, genuinely, if that's what they have in mind. Has a female attracted the males for such a little clutch to turn up?

Other berths in the eggboxes were busy too, for example with a pair of exceptionally fine-condition Blair's Shoulder-knots, which surely support the thesis advanced in the comments made on my last post: that this migrant moth has now settled down and made itself a permanent home in the UK.

Also in residence, below, a new arrival for the year here: the Sprawler, which takes its excellent name from the habit its caterpillar has of throwing back its head when alarmed, rather as if it planned to lie back in a large armchair. Dave Wilton, the expert organiser of the unfailingly excellent Upper Thames Moths blog, says that Sprawlers remind him of Blair's Shoulder-knots wearing winter coats and I think that this is very apt. A fine garment with a look of Harris Tweed.

Finally, because I'm being summoned to do other things, here are three other arrivals whose identity I've not yet sorted. I aim to get this done in due course but, as regular readers know, I am never averse to someone more expert lending a much-appreciated, short-cutting hand.

Common Marbled Carpet?
Brown-line Bright-eye with the bright bit of 'eye' dulled? (Wild guess)
Very battered Spruce Carpet?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Trouser leg

Small is beautiful, I know, but it can also be good to go large. I have to admit that I always get a kick out of anything hefty-looking in the trap and this morning my adrenalin rush was nicely satisfied by this Red Underwing.

They're common, I know, and it would have been something really special if the dappled grey V-bomber lookalike had turned out to be its much rarer relative, the Clifden Nonpareil, which has been more frequent than usual in Oxfordshire and particularly Buckinghamshire this year. You also have to carry out a certain amount of harassment to get the moth to show off its principal feature, lovely scarlet petticoats worthy of Maxim's or the Folies Bergeres.

I thought that this one had done a runner before I managed to get an underwear, sorry underwing, shot as it responded to my gentle shaking of its eggbox by taking flight. But I didn't see it go far and it was also extremely groggy, much as I am when only just woken. I looked down and, behold, there it was on my trouser leg ( I was late up today, hence the absence of my world-famous pyjamas).

Here the snap I wanted, below. I took a couple more and then hid the moth safely away from our highly inquisitive and greedy neighbourhood wren. It looks a bit of a survivor: balding on the back of its head and with part of its eft antenna gone. I guess it's been on the wing for a month or maybe more.

I was interested in yesterday's suggestion that what I thought was a Red-line Quaker is more likely a Yellow-line one. It has thrown me into confusion (what's new?) about the next two moths. I think that the second is a Red-line, but anyone any ideas about the first?

Finally, the variations of November, Pale November or Autumnal moths continue apace. Here are four different ones which shared the trap this morning, the first making advances at a Red-green Carpet which also stayed the night.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Latte in the thatch

Two thirds through October and the season is still capable of coming up with nice surprises. This first-for-the-year, a handsome Large Wainscot, flew in last night and slumbered in what was a rather damp and unwelcoming trap. It has a beautiful latte colour with an extremely modest helping of chocolate sprinkles, and the great advantage for the ID-challenged like myself of being much larger than all other, often confusingly similar, wainscots.

The species likes reedbeds and we have plenty of those round here, traditionally used for thatch. Penny and I came across a nice example of this on a walk on Sunday - the cricket pavilion at Barton Abbey, whose macabre weather vane was perhaps designed to strike fear into visiting teams.

Other arrivals, shown in order: a Brown-spot Pinion, an immigrant Blair's Shoulder-knot, a Red-line Quaker and a pallid Sallow. All this plus the usual contingent of Black Rustics, Lunar Underwings and ever more-battered Large Yellow Underwings keep the morning pilgrimage to the trap worthwhile.

Saturday, 17 October 2015


A whole load of bits and bobs today, starting not with a moth but with a wasp. On a walk with friends recently, I was intrigued by the curious deformation of a briar rose in a hedge, shown above. Back home, I Googled.

This is the work, it turns out, of Diplolepsis rosae or the Bedeguar Gall Wasp, a small creature whose practice of laying eggs in the rose's buds leads to the development of wispy thin leaves and the mossy-looking structure in my picture. The best of its various rural nicknames is Robin's Pincushion and has been used for medicinal purposes up to recent times, notably for curing diahorrea in cattle, yuk. For all that, these were the first I had seen.

I recalled them while clearing out a box of toys, Part 34,698 of our decluttering exercise, and finding this little family of similiarly mossy-looking dolls. We've always been fond of them even though they've remained unseen for years. So too - if you look at the remains of the young man doll's felt trousers - are tinea clothes moths.

In among the toys was this well-preserved body of a Rustic moth (I am pretty sure), seen above next to a pretend fly and then, closer-up, on a table-top. To protect the moths against birds, I sometimes bring the trap indoors for a spell in the morning and I suspect that is where this ex-moth came from.

In the trap itself, or strictly just outside it on the rain shield, I was pleased to find this Barred Sallow, a bright piece of Autumn colour to match the changing leaves on the trees. lovely to have another Brindled Green too, with its glinting scales of metallic green.

This next arrival is, I think, a Chestnut moth and finally I welcomed the year's first November or Autumnal moths, species which may well be my only arrivals between late November and late January. Like those lorries in Siberia whose engines are started by lighting fires beneath the wagon to warm everything up, these species have a fantastic ability to fly in sub-zero temperatures. It can take them half-an-hour to exercise their muscles sufficiently to take off but their equivalent of blood has been usefully studied by manufacturers of antifreeze.

I say November or Autumnal moths because the two species along with the Pale November moth cannot be identified on wing pattern/colour/tone but need work with a microscope or, eek, dissection. I am happy to leave the question open.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Spit and polish

I chanced on a Tweet the other day which featured a picture of the Burnished Brass moth and the message: "Whoever said moths were dull?" Hear, hear - but alas, on the glorious night of the Merveille du Jour, the most unbrassy, unburnished and, well, frankly dull Burnished Brass that I've ever seen was also in my catch.

I've posted pictures of it on the never-failing Upper Thames Moths blog where expert Dave Wilton surmises that it's suffered from getting wet. This seems the likeliest bet for the washing away of the normally lustrous glitter and glow of the reflective and refracting scales which give the moth its distinction and name.

A bit brighter, when I turned it every which way to get the light, but not much

The rest of the moth is in good condition with no signs of the ragged edges and wing-fraying which come with what amounts to old age - a few weeks on the wing - for moths. It's just the colouring; and it's so faded that I could scarcely tell that this is the form juncta, where the two major 'brassy' bits are connected by a strip, rather than aurea where they are separate. Here's what they should look like, from posts here last month:

juncta, with a snoozing friend


Posting on the UTM blog was handy too in that another of experts, Peter Hall, suggested that the time is not far distant when juncta and aurae will be classified as different species rather than forms of the same one. Another 'new' UK moth to add the 3,500 or more that we have already. Hooray!