Sunday 30 April 2017

Stripey - and new

A completely new arrival in my moth trap is relatively uncommon these days, as I start my fifth season of recording visitors. Welcoming one this morning was all the better for having the grandchildren around, although as my fifth picture shows, they were more attracted by a Lesser Swallow Prominent (sorry for the blurring; the moth was comatose; the child was not).

The new-for-me moth, shown in the first four pictures, is a Shoulder Stripe, classified as 'common' but only visiting me for the first time last night.  It is excellently precise markings including those little 'V's on the hindwing. I wonder what camouflage or other value accounts for them. When I went to inspect the trap, it was annoyingly perched on the black bowl which makes photography extremely tricky - see above and below. But luckily it fluttered on to an eggbox, rather than away into the wild, when I nudged it.

One point of interest (as satnav puts it) about this moth is that it has been recorded sipping fluid from rose hips, an interesting taste; rose hip syrup has never appealed to me.  Otherwise the trap had a routine guest list of Hebrew Characters, Clouded Drabs and the like, plus the Lesser Swallow Prominent previously mentioned:

But we had one very interesting visitor of another sort - see final photo.  The granddaughter found an old bag of what is called 'Hedgehog Food' - some kind of little biscuit - and sprinkled it on a flowerbed. It seems to work.

Saturday 29 April 2017

Aliens, mothy and Spacey

Two grandchildren and about 30 moths arrived last night. I cannot vouch for the attitude of the latter to the former, but the former were very well-pleased.

As I've remarked before, antennae are the great attribute of the insect which is not given to us humans, and here's a great pair on a male Muslin moth. I had just been reading the granddaughter a story about a space alien with antennae called Q-Pootle-5, so the arrival of the moth was a bonus. You can see the book in the background of my top picture, albeit blurrily.

It was also nice to have a colourful moth in the list of new visitors: this Brimstone above and below, a double-brooded moth which emerges at dusk and may sometimes been seen on the wing in the late afternoon.

A pleasure, too, to have a Lesser Swallow Prominent, below, a moth which is less frequent than its larger and slightly differently-marked relation, the Swallow Prominent.

And finally, an excellent moth for young visitors, the Spectacle, seen below perched on the granddaughter's finger and showing pretty clearly the reason for its name.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Chocolate treat

Some very cheerful moths this morning, starting off with a favourite of my granddaughter's: the Chocolate-tip. No need to ask why she is attracted to the bright little Spring arrival, although fortunately she hasn't tried to nibble one.

One of the things which I have learned gradually about moths over the years is that many have parts of the garden which they prefer. Ever since I saw a Chocolate-tip recorded on the ever-excellent Upper Thames Moths blog a couple of weeks ago, I have been meaning to move my trap to a corner where I have found Chocolate-tips before. Last night I did and Bingo!

Why they favour that patch, a corner shaded by hawthorn, magnolia and another ornamental tree whose ID I have yet to pin down, I am uncertain. The moth is only locally common, with an isolated population in parts of Scotland which is thought to have made it across from mainland Europe independently of its English relatrives. 

The Pale Prominent, another new arrival for 2017, is one of the most peculiar-looking of UK moths and it is a shame that the 18th century's usually highly inventive coiners of English names for insects suffered a lack of confidence with this one. Paleness is the least of its characteristics; something like the False Twig (for what marvellous camouflage it has) or the Jagged Dolphin (see the snout and serrated wing edge) would have been more memorable.

Finally, the Muslin moth has arrived which suggests that its relatives, the beautiful White and Buff Ermines, will not be long in coming. The male Muslin is a decorous Jane Eyre of a moth, superficially dull but a lovely, soft colour with neat black buttons when you have the chance to look more closely. The female, which does not come to light-traps but paradoxically enjoys flying by day, is white or pale cream.

Saturday 22 April 2017

Numbers rising

Another nice, showy arrival this morning in the distinctive shape of two Pebble Prominents, their stylish wings marked with the eponymous pebble shape and their stance the crouch which is shared by all the Prominent family. This is the second of the tribe to make its presence known to me this year, after the Swallow Prominent which came the other night.

The Carpet moths, too, are increasing in both number and species. Two which are new for the year were in the eggboxes this morning: a Red twin-spot and a Green .

In the world of micro-moths, a delicate Plume was asleep on the inside of the trap's black bowl, a background which ruins photography, at least in my hands. Unusually, it allowed itself to be enticed on to a scrap of aggbox for better quality pictures which show it above, from below and from on top. I do not know which Plume it is, I'm afraid, but suspect that it is this blog's old friend the Common one, Emmelina monodactyla.

This little chap led me a contrasting dance, scurrying about before allowing me to get this one picture which is more or less in focus. I am not sure of his or her identity, in spite of the distinctive markings, but I do know that the tiddler below is Epiphyas postvittana, the Light Brown Apple moth. Update: thanks to my Commentor, below, I was put on the right track with the Elachista family. Peter Hall of the ever-helpful Upper Thames Moths blog then suggested E. apicipunctella and sure enough, when I checked back through the blog, I found that this visited me in early May last year and in 2015, when the super-helpful Ben Sale of Essex Moths first ID-ed it for me. Memory...

Finally, in the last eggbox which I examined, here's one of those big tabby cats, a Brindle Beauty.  A good night's tally, all in all, and a sign that - although colder weather is forecast - the moth year is getting into its stride.

Friday 21 April 2017

Familiar faces

A routine guest list in the trap last night, but very agreeable for all that. The Lunar Marbled Brown, above, appears to be taking stock of the 8am world hereabouts, while the Nut-tree Tussock, just below, is still largely in Dreamland.

Then in Tinyworld, we have a completely comatose V-pug close to the golden gleam of my wedding ring and, finally, what I believe to be an Oak-tree Pug although people as visually challenged as myself cannot really tell the difference between these and Brindled Pugs. Whichever, it is most welcome.

Thursday 20 April 2017

Good Housekeeping 2017, Part 1

We're coming up to St George's Day, Shakespeare's birthday etc and I've a little bit of spare time, so here is my tally for the year so far. I've put the trap out only intermittently and there've been some nice visitors and 36 species overall, so many thanks to the world of moths for progress so far (micros in italics, new for my garden list in red):

Agonopterix heracliana/ciliella
Brindled Beauty
Brindled Pug
Chinese Character
Depressaria chaerophylii
Diurnea fagella
Dotted Border
Double-striped Pug
Early Grey
Early Thorn
Emmelina monodactylla
Flame Shoulder
Hebrew Character
Clouded Drab
Common Quaker
Lunar Marbled Brown
March Moth
Nut-tree Tussock
Oak Beauty
Oak-tree Pug
Pale Brindled Beauty
Pale Pinion
Powdered Quaker
Purple Thorn
Red Chestnut
Red-green Carpet
Small Quaker
Spring Usher
Swallow Prominent
Twin-spotted Quaker

plus one still-to-be ID-ed micro

Monday 17 April 2017


After yesterday's excitements, I must return to the more humdrum daily round and record a trio of unsensational but welcome visitors to the trap. At last we had a little rain last night, very welcome to the amateur vegetable gardener and allotmenteer. The ground has been cracking recently like the Arizona desert.

So, here we have the year's first Flame Shoulder, a nicely distinctive moth. Actually my picture shows the year's first two Flame Shoulders, along with that grubby but useful instrument of measurement/comparison, my thumb.  Secondly, I believe the moth below to be an Oak Tree Pug.

My final picture is of a teeny micro-moth on whose ID I am still working. If any passing micro expert can save me the trouble, I will be extremely grateful, as always.

Sunday 16 April 2017

An Assembly of Emperors

This has been a very happy Easter for me because I have realised a long-held wish: to organise and then witness an 'assembly' of male Emperor moths attracted by the pheremone scents given off by an unmated female.

Loyal and tireless followers of this blog may recall at least a dozen posts over the last three years which have recounted the saga of a dynasty of Emperors established by the magnificent female used above on the blog's web page.  I have repeated her photo at the top of this post, because she and her offspring have brought me so much pleasure since she spent a night in the moth trap in early May 2014.

She left me a gift: this clutch of 25 eggs which hatched into caterpillars, at first small and black, then bigger and banded and finally huge and glorious in green with gay patterns of lines and dots. I described the ensuing saga two posts ago, ending with my hope of using my latest hatching - the lovely female below - to get male suitors to assemble.

I placed her gently in a muslin bag for the whole of last Thursday, took her to the grandchildren and repeated the experiment on Friday and then tried putting her out as mate-bait in the garden here on Saturday. Nothing happened, so towards mid-afternoon on Saturday, I transferred her to the outside of our shed/summerhouse where she sat in the sunshine, free to fly off but as uninterested in escape as she had been when in her muslin prison.

I was planting spuds and doing other garden chores with Penny and we both kept an eye on the moth, but neither of us noticed any arrivals. I know from others' reports and articles online that males do not always come and assemble, and so I was resigned to failure when I took my spade and rake back into the shed at teatime.

As soon as I went in, I heard a terrific fluttering and there was a male Emperor, beating his wings against one of the windows in obvious frustration. When he stopped, the fluttering carried on, and I found a second would-be suitor at a different window, My eye was then caught by a third. An assembly! But one thing puzzled me, and still does.

The moth literature credits the female Emperor's pheremones with attracting males from over a mile away. Their antenna - and look what majestic ones they have in the two pictures immediately above - guide them across country (and if necessary, town) to the 'calling' beloved. She moves the last segment of her body in and out, emitting what are clearly fantastic aphrodisiacs. Unfortunately, the human sense of small cannot detect them.

But while my female was on the outside of the shed, her three suitors had all flown in and although the door and two windows were open, they could not get out (I think on the lobster-pot or indeed moth-trap principle, that prey find going in through an opening much more easily than getting out).  What explains this bungle at the end of such an outstanding piece of navigation?  My best bet, drawn from descriptions of assembling males moving in on a female in a series of erratic circles (much as teenagers or young lovers may do), led them to fly into the shed and then get trapped.

Anyway, all was well as I captured them all and put them briefly into an ice cream carton where an orgy which would not have disappointed the sleazier sort of Roman emperor took place, as shown immediately above.  All three males did their best, crawling all over the impressively unfazed female, but only one managed to lock on - an appropriate phrase as when I took the lovers outside to the safety and comfort of a hawthorn hedge, they tumbled down several branches without coming unstuck in the vital place.

I always like it when young people can witness scenes from the natural world such as this (even if usually a little less hectic), and it was great that two of our neighbours' grandchildren were visiting for Easter. Especially as one of them was wearing a shirt whose motto summed up the apparent philosophy of male Emperor moths:

All four moths are now at large in the neighbourhood and I hope that the female will lay another brood of eggs to continue the story of this remarkable dynasty. Sadly, her generation will only have a couple of weeks left to play their part in this, as adult Emperor moths do not feed and therefore live only a short time.

Meanwhile, I have two cocoons left which have not yet hatched. Four years' slumber is not unknown, says Dave Wilton. So you may not have heard the last of this.  A very happy Easter to you meanwhile.