Sunday 30 October 2016

Time travel

I positioned the trap in the veg patch last night and it seemed to enjoyed itself travelling back in time. For the first time in a fortnight there were Large Yellow Underwings plus a Barred Sallow and a very fresh Common Marbled Carpet (top picture), a very pretty moth which usually starts petering out in early October.

The first visitor I saw was the Nut Bud moth micro, Epinotia tenerana (at least that's what I think it is), which fluttered from the trap when I lifted the canopy and sought refuge in an artichoke plant. Coffee-coloured, it resembles specifically a Flat White, with those little swirls on the leading edge of its wing reminiscent of the patterns in the coffee's froth.

I asked on the unfailingly helpful Upper Thames Moths blog about the next, battered but still functional moth. A Wainscot, I thought, but Dave Wilton suggests a Setaceous Hebrew Character. These are notably sturdy and long-lived and I think that he is right.

I also expressed my frustration and bafflement about the next four moths - I'm rather proud of my composite presentation of them - which are members of the irritatingly similar Epirrita family of four species.

In spite of their different patterns and colouring, these are probably all male November moths but distinguishing them from the Pale November, the Autumnal and Small Autumnal is too expert a job for me.  You can see the problem, below, on the relevant page in the Moth Bible.  But thanks to Dave's fellow-expert on UTM, Peter Hall, I can at lerast tell you that they are male. The females of the species do not come to light.

Friday 28 October 2016

Sprawling amid Thorns

The other day on the Upper Thames Moths blog, that sacred text which helps to keep me on the straight and narrow, its supremo Dave Wilton noted that he was expecting the Sprawler and Feathered Thorn any day now.  They are two of the end-of-season delights which usually visit moth trappers in this part of the world about now. Lo and behold, look what greeted me this morning.

The Sprawler, above, is so-called because its caterpillar throws back its head and front quarters when surprised, in what could be considered - at a stretch - the caterpillar version of a sprawl.  I find this explanation a bit contrived and am content to feel that the moth's beautiful tweedy livery is the sort of thing worn by idle gentlemen in clubs who sprawl in armchairs.

The Feathered Thorn - actually two of them in my trap and one of the grass nearby - is named on account of the feathery antennae sported by the male. He comes to light happily but the females are more reticent and I have yet to see one.

The eggboxes also contained another Merveille du Jour, above, well-known for brining me a great sense of satisfaction, and a lovely Red-green Carpet, below.  It was joined by another one nestled on a nearby wall amid the skeletal remains of a dead ivy which look like the fossilised bones of ancient sea creatures.

Monday 24 October 2016

Return of the striped pyjamas

Unusually, given the weather, I pottered out to inspect this morning's moths in my striped pyjamas - familiar and I hope beloved so far as regular readers are concerned. They lend a pleasant pool of blue to the otherwise rather Autumnal shades of the season's moths.

I have been a bit lax about what entomologists know as the Epirrita, four moths which are abundant at this time of the year and are, in the accurate words of the Moth Bible, 'at first sight, confusingly similar'.  I would amend this observation to say 'and at all subsequent sightings' and I dare not pronounce on each one with any confidence at all.

As a result, I have been referring to them in recent posts variously as Autumnal or November moths. The truth is, they could any one of the following four: Autumnal Moth, Small Autumnal Moth, November Moth or Pale November Moth. The Bible recommends all manner of sophisticated methods to distinguish them apart, including hand-lens, low-powered microscope, genital examination and the removal of some scales after temporary anaesthetics with something called ethyl acetate. I am afraid that I am not prepared to do any of these things and will ask you to assume that most of my specimens, including the rather fine one above, are November Moths, which are by some stretch the most common.  Sorry.

Meanwhile, amid the Black Rustics, Green-brindled Crescents, Beaded Chestnuts, Large Wainscots and other nightly regulars, here is a Sallow Moth, the first for a few weeks, and below what I think is a rather battered Lunar Underwing of the russet brown sort.

Finally, and also the first for a while, a Deep-brown Dart, a flying mate of the Black Rustic albeit a little scarcer.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Here I am again


Our visitor in search of a Merveille du Jour - see last post - departed without a sighting, albeit very pleased with the particularly beautiful Green-brindled Crescent which flew in instead. Look what duly arrived the day after he had gone, above.

You don't recognise it from its tummy view? Well, see below. Yes, it is the moth he hoped to see for real, rather than having to make do with one of my photographs. Note my Marmite mug in the background, celebrating the return of the product to Tesco's shelves after the post-Brexit spat with Unilever.

I have found that Merveille du Jours tend to come when the trap's light is as out in the open as I can contrive. Last night, as you can see, I contrived a curious hedgetop position. In case you are wondering, the flags are the Union Jack and EU stars, which will fly until the UK comes round to realising that it isn't very sensible to smash up your own economy. And not just the Marmite part of it.

The moth's the little scrap at the top of the cowl rim to the right of the cable
Other arrivals included the spirit-lifting warm colours of the Barred Sallow, immediately below, and the handsome brown moth below that which I hope to identify in leisure over my morning cup of tea. I must now go and get that sorted.

Update: It's a Square-spot Rustic.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Obliging a visitor

A very nice friend has been to stay after an interval of almost exactly two years. Back in 2014, he had his introduction to that paragon among moths, the Merveille du Jour, and he was hoping for a reunion this time.

That was not to be, but he was able to feast his eyes on this particularly lovely Green-brindled Crescent which in my view gives the Merveille a run for its money - in colouring and pattern if not in name.

The trap also offered a Black Rustic with slightly unusual colouring which makes clearer the 'double lobe' pattern common to all rustics but often concealed by the sheer Darth Vaderish darkness of the Black one.

I was specially pleased to have Large Wainscot on the guest list as well, a graceful and exquisitely patterned moth which cheers up these colder days and nights.

Here are the three of these stars together

and here is another nice visitor concluding the rill-call for our friend: a Blair's Shoulder-knot.

Oh, and the Harlequin ladybirds are about. I know we're not supposed to like them, but I can't resist that bright and bold colouring.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

And now the darker side

You can get a bit blase when you've blogged about the same subject for years, but there's also a sort of reassurance in the predictability of most arrivals in the trap. That is the case today - and yesterday. First the beautiful Green-brindled Crescent flew in, a regular glory of this darkening time of the year. And then, on its heels, comes today's cappuchino version of the same species; with the green replaced by assorted browns.

It isn't as beautiful but it outdoes the standard green form for interest, because this is a form found only in the UK.  In the current climate post-referendum that may please the more rabid 'Leavers', but the rest of us shouldn't allow that to deny us our own pleasure in such a peculiarity.  Like most darker forms of moths, most famously the virtually black Peppereds, it used to be found more in industrial areas than elsewhere, but its distribution appears to be coming more general.

Also staying last night: a Beaded Chestnut, a moth which likes dots and dashes more or less equally.

Monday 17 October 2016

Autumn colours

Russet, amber and yellow are the colours of Autumn in our landscape. For today's main moth, the season's colour is green.

Here it is: the lovely Green-brindled Crescent whose vivid splash of metallic wing scales, using both the reflection and refraction of light to achieve their effect are shown below and a little closer-up, above.

It is a lovely creature at this largely sober time of the year. In certain lights (and to some extent, with certain cameras), it also has a purplish tone on the outer part of its wings. It is very well-behaved when it calls on me; usually deeply asleep and happy to be photographed many times.

Quite a few moths continue to call, among them the visitors below, all duly captioned below the pictures.  We've just had rain but I think that tonight will be dry, and do the recording of these intriguing creatures goes on.

Setaceous (or 'bristly') Hebrew Character
Garden Pebble micro, aka Evergestis forficalis
Red-line Quaker, with its look of a mouse
Autumnal moth
Lunar Underwing; not had one of those for a week to ten days

Sunday 16 October 2016


Rain last night and rain again this morning; conditions could hardly be less encouraging for moths (and the people who study them).  And yet, hardy little beasts that they are, they still wing in. Here are today's dozing inhabitants of the rather sodden eggboxes, kicking off with the handsome Autumnal moth above.

Here are the rest, duly captioned. The sun has come out now and the forecast is for a better night. So provided the eggboxes dry successfully, the lamp will be lit once again as darkness falls ce soir.

A shy Red-line Quaker
An aged Snout, time-battered almost to the point of transparency
Male Light Brown Apple moth, or Epiphyas postvittana as it likes to be known
And here's the female which always reminds me of an ermine-collared member of the House of Lords

Saturday 15 October 2016

Not as grey as it looks

After my last post's giddy procession of moths, I have only one for you today. But it is a diverting species. This is the Autumnal Rustic which comes along faithfully at the appropriate time of year and has always struck me as rather smart.

The Moth Bible described the colour of the standard form, which mine is above, as 'cold, whiteish grey' and that is spot on. It always reminds me of a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War (when we look aghast at Trump, let's remember that US politics historically haven't ever been a smooth ride for freedom and good sense).

Curiously, in spite of its virtual monotone, grey is also a very fashionable colour in contemporary home decoration. Penny has just been on a day's wood-painting workshop and come back with a set of shelves coloured nattily in a tone called 'Paris Grey', although it looks like plain old grey to me. Young people meanwhile spend ages agonising over different versions of the colour for their kitchen walls.

But the interesting thing about the Autumnal Rustic is that it isn't always cold, whiteish grey by any means. That is the only form that I have ever seen here and in Leeds, but in the West of the UK the moth can be pale orangey-brown tinged with pink while in Shetland it turns as black as the local peaty soil.

Whether this variation is related to camouflage, temperature or other reasons appears to be unresolved. Any young reader looking for a thesis topic? Here is one.

Thursday 13 October 2016

All sorts

I was rung yesterday by Sky TV to see if I was free to talk about a big increase in moths, which normally I would have been happy to do. Specially as Butterfly Conservation issued rather gloomy news about butterflies the day before and this sounded like a chance for ray of my unquenchable (if sometimes annoying) optimism.

Luckily, I was in a meeting all morning, having lunch with a cousin and then hopping on a train from York back down South which I could not miss, so I had to say No.  And I'm glad that I did because - as I should perhaps have guessed - was not really about moths, in the sense of the delightful species described and illustrated here (and I'll come to the pics above and below in a moment), but about just one moth: Tinea bisselliella, the much feared and despised 'Clothes Moth'.

I am hostile to this as anyone else' It is simply a pest and a very uninteresting moth in appearance, to boot. But it should not be treated as a type for all the wondrous other inhabitants of the mothy world. When authoritative texts such as the Bible or William Shakespeare speak of 'moth and rust' and the like, they should really have inserted the word 'clothes' before 'moth'.

"It's a bit late for that now," you may say, and I have to agree. Any attempt to bowdlerise either text in the past has ended unsatisfactorily. So I shall pass on to the other point which I would like to make today: that although it is getting late in the year, there is a great diversity of moths still around.

From the top, we have today a Straw Dot in a nice little eggbox pod with a porthole, a Green-brindled Crescent (I think) beautifully camouflaged on a table top, a Red-green Carpet doing its perky display and then seen from above, a Red Underwing goaded by myself into showing its petticoat and, below, the year's first November or Pale November Moth, right, accompanied by a Snout.

Other visitors in the past two nights have included Blair's Shoulder-knot and the three slightly different-looking Red-line Quakers below:

Then we have a couple of Garden Carpets and the very worn relic below them which was once something rather nice.A Common or Dark Marbled Carpet, maybe?

A couple of micros, now, which I hold to be a somewhat gloom-shrouded Carnation Tortrix, Cacoecimorpha pronubana, an austerely grey Acleris sparsana and a more cheerful-looking Light Brown Apple moth, Epiphyas postvittana, all long-standing regulars.

Finally, a very worn Shuttle-shape Dart, a Brown-spot Pinion and a  Vine's Rustic. At least, those are my best guesses for these browny-greyey types.