Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

Hi one and all and a Merry Christmas plus all warm wishes for the New Year. The trap is packed away and I shall spend the next month or so trying to sort out and send off my records, a very long overdue task.

Meanwhile here is a Christmassy and mothy picture which I found on an internet forum devoted to matters moth.  Its poster imagines appositely that clothes moth larvae will spend many happy hours chewing away at it.  Keep those cashmere sweaters well dosed with strong but not unpleasant scents and meanwhile I hope that you enjoy the mince pies!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Brrrr! Glad I put on my furs

It was a lovely evening last night, crisp and clear with a swollen moon presiding over the garden. I had a relatively leisurely morning in prospect and so couldn't resist the temptation to put out the trap, even though this are usually pretty moth-barren times.

I'm glad that I did, because the morning saw our first snowfall of the Winter, only a few modest flurries but enough to make the garden look as though someone had sprinkled it with icing sugar, just as Penny is currently doing with her home-made mince pies, yum. The trap was also sprinkled but protected from getting seriously wet by a nearby hedge.

When I went through the boxes, I failed to see any moths and came to the conclusion that, not surprisingly, none had stayed the night. But while putting them back, I spotted this handsome December Moth in very good condition, snugly wrapped in his fur coat. He didn't mind when I decanted him on to our snowy garden table for a seasonal picture, and went back to sleep when I popped him safely back into his eggbox and hid it under the hedge.

I doubt that I will put the trap out for a while now. But the lure of curiosity about what may be flying out there is great. So you never know.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Tangled web

I haven't lit the lamp since my last post, three weeks ago, because that night the fuses went in the house and because it had rained, I assumed that this was caused by the moth trap.

Last night, however, we had a young cousin to stay and the weather turned mild - thank goodness, because you feel the bitter cold at my age - so I thought: well, let's see if it works. And it did.

So I think that electrically I had put two and two together and made five, which is what I did pretty consistently as a schoolboy in all the many maths and science exams which I always failed. (My excuse is that none of the relevant teachers had a spark which might have ignited my mind, but I accept that there was probably fault on both sides).

Anyway, there was nothing in the trap this morning when we examined the eggboxes while my cousin gulped down her disgustingly healthy breakfast of gravelly muesli. But look! Entangled in one of the many spiders' webs which I carefully protect from too much cleaning on the outside of our windows, was the Mottled Umber shown at the top of this post.

My cousin is a natural feminist I am glad to say, so I sorrowfully showed her the dismal lot of the female Mottled Umber, the flightless bug on the right in Richard Lewington's beautiful illustrations from the Moth Bible, above. These poor creatures hatch, climb up tree trunks, emit pheromones, accept the consequences, lay their eggs and die. Veritably, the stuff of a Margaret Atwood dystopia.

As you can see below, the spiders have been busy elsewhere on the window. They are doing better than my mercury vapour lamp.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Battling on

A week has gone by, of cold weather mostly, with rain moving in whenever the temperatures rise a little. It was so damp the other night that the moth trap went out and tripped our main fuses, causing me to creep around in the small hours with a torch to put things right.

I haven't lit the lamp since then, but the night's haul was worth the hassle, in the modest terms of this fag-end of the mothing season. I love the Sprawler, shown above on my wrinkly hand and in its original position on the wall of the house near the light. And the Feathered Thorn below is a lovely russet beast with very fine antennae on the male.

December moths - next pic - are reliable visitors, meanwhile, and it's pretty standard practice to get what I think is a Winter Moth, the final illustration today.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Tail-end Charlie

I haven't been putting the trap out much recently on account of the cold weather and darker nights, and this will now be the case until Spring comes. I was confirmed in the policy this morning by the arrival of my first December Moth of the year, the tail-end Charlie which usually rounds off my annual proceedings. It was the only resident overnight.

Unlike the rather commonplace November and Autumnal Moths, with their fey, grey fragileness, he or she is a doughty character very well-dressed to withstand the cold. My liking for this is increased by my having just avoided a chill on a cold day in Salisbury this week, when I could tell that I was too skimpily dressed and getting colder than I should. The devotional candles and souvenir shop in the cathedral came to my aid.

The December Moth is hardy enough to survive the UK winter as an egg which begins a life cycle that culminates in the hatching of adults in late October, in spite of their name. It is also found as far north as the Hebrides and lower slops of the Caledonian mountains. I expect that it or its relatives will still be around when I put out the trap again next week.

Monday, 30 October 2017


Two nights ago, just before the cold snap arrived, I found this attractive pair on the cowl of the dew-covered moth trap. The lower one is a fine male Feathered Thorn, one of a small number of moths which fly at this time of year and are equipped with the equivalent of a gaberdine to keep them cosy.

The smaller moth is a Juniper Carpet, a relatively infrequent visitor and one of a handful of local moths which have yet to visit the supreme expert Dave Wilton, who runs the Upper Thames Moths blog to which I so often refer.

Here it is, above, after fluttering off rather weakly, when I removed the cowl, and getting only as far as the lawn. I tempted it on to the leaf below, and so you can see its delicate but much less-patterned underwings

Another agreeable arrival was the Satellite, below, with its little versions of a lunar landing pod boldly marked on each wing. Meanwhile, last night saw our first frost of the autumn, so only the hardiest moths will be out and about between now and the Spring.

Sunday, 29 October 2017


A solitary arrival three nights ago, the first time that this has been the case for a while. It's a handsome moth, though: the Sprawler, which always puts me in mind of heavy tweed suits as once worn by gents with pipes in Scottish fishing inns or London clubs.  As with so many moths, the pattern is delightful and the colours very satisfying however subdued.

Talking of colours and patterns, I've been interested in the reaction of the Upper Thames Moths blog's great and very helpful expert Dave Wilton to the highly distinctive Blair's Shoulder-knot which I described here the other day - the one with two white patches on its shoulders, suggestive of an ermine collar to a robe. He commented: 'I've not seen Blair's Shoulder-knot with such an obvious white thorax but that probably doesn't mean much'. I think this is right, in that moths within a particular species can be extremely varied in wing pattern and colouring with out differing in any other physical way. But to the amateur like me, such variations are fascinating.

This may date back to my schoolboy capture of an extremely unusual form of the Dark Green Fritillary, a lovely butterfly which has even made it to a Mongolian stamp. I noticed straight away the distinctive keymarks on its lower topwings and, still more, the shining segments of silver on the underwings. Sure enough, it was definitely different - so much so that at one time in the 19th century, it was reclassified as a separate species called the Queen of England Fritillary in guides such as the one shown below:

It was identified for me by the learned and very kindly head of natural history at Leeds City Museum, John Armitage, who initially assumed that it was a foreign butterfly which I must have found on holiday. It was indeed a holiday capture, but on Goonhilly Down in Cornwall (in exactly the same spot where the great entomologist Prof E B Ford caught one of the few Monarch butterflies - the famous migratory American species - to be found in the UK). 

The butterfly, shown above and below with the standard Dark Green Fritillary (below in the top pic, above in the bottom one, sorry for the confusion), is known as aberration Charlotta.  It's the top specimen in the cabinet which I keep from my long-ago collecting days.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Hats off to the Sahara

Here's a first. I've never started a post with a picture of the desert before. But the Sahara plus Hurricane Ophelia and now Storm Brian (sounds a bit weedy by comparison, but it's done its bit)  have been sending some interesting moths to the UK.  They don't fly, or at least hardly. They get scooped up and hurtled north. So it's largely a matter of simply staying aloft while the weather does the motoring.

The latest shivering arrival (presumably, although adult moths are less sensitive to the cold than their caterpillars and, in particular, those caterpillars' foodplants) is this Scarce Bordered Straw which also rejoices in the alternative name of the Old World Bollworm. If that suggests to you an American connection and a fondness for crops, you are right. The SBS can be a serious pest. However, it will do no damage here and I have never seen one before. So, Hooray!

A more familiar immigrant from the hotlands is the Vestal. They are coming regularly now, when the nights are not too wet and cold - they have been both of late, until it warmed up and dried up yesterday evening. Another good moth in the background is also around in numbers: the Large Wainscot.

I'm particularly pleased with my last moth, too: a very unusual-looking Blair's Shoulder-knot. Many of these are also immigrants albeit only from the Continent, but they have also settled here and breed regularly. Their normal background colour is grey, with occasional pinkish streaks and all those dots and dashes, but this one has these extremely distinctive white shoulders.  An ermine collar. Is that an omen for the political future of our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair?

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Vestal visitor

We had a foggy journey back from London late last night and the garden was misty and very still when I put the trap out a little before midnight. I was clearly sleepy, too, as this morning I found that the transparent cowl had partially slipped off. Conceivably, a fox or badger might have nudged it but it would be a very brave animal that ventured so close to the dazzling mercury vapour light.

My last Vestal was
floating in the pool
on our holiday in
Portugal last month
- alive and duly rescued
Luckily, the extra gap hadn't enticed a couple of interesting arrivals to escape: my first two pictures show an immigrant Vestal, a species from the Mediterranean which has been arriving in unusual numbers in this part of the UK on the tailcoats of Hurricane Ophelia, as mentioned in recent posts. You can tell that it is an immigrant because of the yellowy shade which is generally found in Vestals from warmer climes which have spent less time in their chrysalises.  The ones which breed in Northern continental Europe and here (from eggs laid by immigrants earlier in the Summer) are paler and closer to Hollywood's ideal of the clothing worn by ancient Rome's Vestal Virgins from whom this dainty insect takes its name. My composite picture below contrasts this morning's arrival - on the left - with one which came in September 2013 and an NBC picture of Janet Stephens in a Hollywood Vestal role.

It was also good to welcome a Sprawler, that tweedy regular in mid-Autumn, and to see another Large Wainscot - all shown below. On the smaller side, I think the Plume moth with its distinctive T shape is probably just a Common Plume, Emmelina monodactyla, but if anyone knows different, please shout.

Lastly, it's always instructive to note the great variation you find within a moth species, as with these two November Moths below:

And very lastly, because I often berate brown and grey moths for their similarity and lack of pzazz, here is a fresh red-line Quaker looking actually rather fine:

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Great skies; but where are the moths?

As much discussed in the UK, we enjoyed delightfully spooky weather yesterday, variously described as a Red Sun and Marmalade Skies. The latter was closer to accuracy so far as we were concerned; until early afternoon, we were bathed in a weird, orangey glow caused by sand swirled up from north Africa by mighty Hurricane Ophelia, along with ash from fires in Portugal and Spain.

When we saw the sun, it resembled the photo from the BBC's website on the left, but most of the time, the other pic from the BBC on the right gives a better and more marmaladey impression. Along with many others, I was optimistic that these conditions would be reflected by curious, long-distance arrivals in the moth trap. But that was not the case. 

I blame the wind which got up in the evening and the temperature, which fell. Although I saw a couple of moths fluttering close to the lamp before I turned in, the eggboxes were very sparsely populated this morning. Indeed, the only moth which I thought worth showing you was this Angle Shades, a long-standing favourite which hasn't been for a while. Perhaps its stylishly raked wings allowed it to risk the 40mph gusts which lasted 'til midnight.

My other moth curiosity, below, was on board a friend's boat which took Penny and myself for a memorable saunter along the Thames, including a call at the wonderful Egyptian House in Moulsford, left. These are the tragic remains of that lovely and aptly-named species, the Bordered Beauty. I suppose that they show the efficiency of spiders at filleting out a moth's juicy, edible bits.