Thursday 30 July 2020


Plenty of moths around at the moment - and, as so often happens, a couple of hawk moths obligingly came yesterday when a friend's granddaughters called by. One went away with an Elephant Hawk on her fingertip, the other with a Poplar Hawk.  My top composite shows, from the top left clockwise: Brimstone, Buff Ermine, a rather faded Lead Belle (Update: Edward in Comments questions this, I think rightly. I wonder if it is a worn Shaded Broad-bar, a very common moth hereabouts at the moment), Red Twin-spot Carpet, Dark Swordgrass (a strong-flying immigrant recorded in every month of the year) and Willow Beauty.

This collection are prominents, the Lesser Swallow Prominent at top left and bottom centre with its large white rose-thorn shape, the Swallow Prominent top right with its white streaks, and two Pebble Prominents to left and right in the bottom row. Here are the diagnostic markings of the Swallow and Lesser Swallow writ large (Update: and thanks again to Edward for getting my order right):

Away from the  moths, I will shortly be testing the experts at iRecord with these three grasshoppers, the last one found by one of my grandsons, and a moth trap-inhabiting snail. Update: Conehead has done the job instead in Comments - very many thanks - suggesting that the first is probably a Field Grasshopper, the second definitely a male Meadow Grasshopper and the third a Southern Oak Bush-cricket, pointing out the difference - crickets have long antennae which grasshoppers lack.  With my yearning to have antennae, I hope I will be born again as a cricket rather than a grasshopper.

Monday 27 July 2020

Catching up

Rain  has stopped play for the time being but I have a bit of a backlog, so I am not complaining. Before anything else, however, I must offer you a link to this wonderful episode. As the author says in his first paragraph, the headline 'Puffin in the Moth Trap' says it all. Warmest thanks to Peter Alfrey who gave me the link on the Upper Thames Moths blog after I posted news there of the bat which I found in my own trap - see last post here.

My first two photographs don't show anything unusual, but something about the two Scarce Footmen and their jusxtaposition with the Forest Bug made me laugh. It's wrong to antrhropomorphise animals but if I were to run a caption competition for the pictures, I think that I might attract some witty entries.

Elsewhere in the eggboxes, I found the micros Celypha striana and the Common Plume below, but I was foxed by the insect in the third photo - distinctive but nowhere to be found in the Micro Moth Bible. The reason for this was revealed by Martin Harvey when I asked for help from the UTM blog. It isn't a moth but the caddis fly Mystacides longicornis.

Penny meanwhile made another of her famous Indoor Moth Spottings by finding this little creature, below,almost comatose but not dead. I think that it is a Small Scallop but cannot be absolutely sure. Update: Many thanks to Dave Wilton on the Upper Thames Moths Blog who clocks it as an Early Thorn, somewhat comatose but not yet, as he says, a late Early Thorn.The same uncertainty surrounds the pugs which follow. Pugs drive me up the wall but I will hazard the suggestion that these are both Brindled. Update: Dave to the rescue again: the second one he identifies as a Maple Pug, new to me, though I've no doubt overlooked them in the past. The first is too worn for a certain verdict. 

The butterflies are meanwhile stupendous, dozens of Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Ringlets and Small, Lareg and Green-veined Whites in the garden, joined by the handsome new generation of Commas, Red Admirals and Peacocks. Here are some examples and I am sure that there will be many more to come.

One, two, three and finally four. For both Red Admirals and Peacocks, sunbathing is the thing.

Here's a senior member of the Red Admiral family to finish up with, maybe a second generation example which has led a busy early life but more likely, I think, a stayer from the year's first, earlier hatching.

Sunday 26 July 2020

Bat in the trap

It's always nice to have a first in any activity and, after 15 years of running my mercury vapour light trap, I have had one. Curled up in one of the eggboxes on Friday morning was this little bat - a Pipistrelle according to a friend of a friend nick-named 'Batwoman', but I am sending the photos to the Oxfordshire Bat Group in any case.

Presumably it went into a dive after a particularly juicy moth and either couldn't pull out in time or was so overcome with greed, or hunger, that the powerfully deterrent effect of light on bats didn't work. I also wondered if its famous radar might have been distracted by the lamp, as may happen with moths (the opposite of being 'attracted' to light, which they are often said to be). But when I reported the event on the omniscient Upper Thames Moths blog, Martin Townsend who co-wrote the Moth Bible, commented that he had never heard of a bat roosting in a trap and described the incident as 'amazing'.  If distraction-by-light had been responsible, the same would have happened to other bats.

Aware of the super-protection enjoyed by bats, I placed the eggbox carefully in our shed (the bat stirred very slightly so I was reassured that it was alive) and left the door and windows open. By nightfall the furry little visitor was gone.  I often see bats at dusk but our only previous close encounter was when a Noctule flew into one of our big windows and we found its little body - most UK bats really are tiny when their wings are furled - on the ground outside. Pics below:

As for the moths, I was interested to find a couple of Small Magpie micros both of which, rather unusually, shared the pearlescent sheen of the Mother of Pearl shown after them below:

Two other agreeable micros also caught my eye: this Endotricha flammealis below and, finishing off today's post, the discreetly marked purple beauty, Hypsopygia glaucinalis.

Saturday 25 July 2020

Pretty in pink

How good it is to meet an old friend after a long time, even a year or more. As it is with humans, so with moths and I was delighted to have a visit from this lovely Black Arches two nights ago. It wasn't in the trap but on a nearby wall of the house, and I only saw it because of my granddaughter's assiduity in checking the same wall a few days earlier and finding at least five moths which I hadn't noticed. Moreover, it was alongside a Peppered moth whose patterning was even more successful in imitating the colour and texture of the stone.

Can you see them? Not with a passing glance, I think, but here they are from a little closer and then the Black Arches from near-to. They successfully spent the whole day there undeterred by predators, after I gently borrowed the Black Arches for a photo session, to show the hidden glory of its pink body and soft grey underwings. Its camouflage is interesting, relying on the 'dazzle' effect which navies have used to break up the shape of warships. The actual colouring of the moth is less similar to the background of the wall than the Peppered's nut the immediate contrast of black and white in wavy patterns plays pop with the human eye's focussing.

As has happened in previous years, the arrival of Black Arches has coincided with the debut of two other beautifully-patterned and camouflaged, smaller moths: the Marbled Green and the Marbled Beauty, shown in that order below. The Beauty is common but the Green only locally so, like the Black Arches, so I am blessed to get all three. The caterpillar of the Green has the charming habit of constructing a little silken nest into which it retreats after feeding discreetly on the lichen which the adult so much resembles, at night. 

Other arrivals on a warmish night included what I think is a Small Blood-vein, though I got into a muddle between this and the Small Scallop five and six years ago and was helped out by the experts on Upper Thames Moths. Let's see what Edward from Calderdale has to say.

Good to have a fine example of the aptly-named Chestnut, below, and quite a few Brown-line Bright-eyes (as opposed to the Bright-line Brown-eye which came earlier in the year), Yellow-tails, White Satins and Single (Ha!)-dotted Waves. Update: thanks to Edward's point in Comments about the Chestnut not being due until September, I checked this on the unfailing Upper Thames Moths Blog where Martin Townsend (no less; co-author of the Moth Bible) put me right. It's a Least Yellow Underwing. I was misled partly because of my fabled hopelessness with ID-ing anything tricky but also because this is one of the many moths with vivid underwings which keep them hidden. Interestingly, this seems to have led to the great Linnaeus and some of his colleagues giving many of them the character of a young women, either modest or subtly seductive, in the second part of their scientific names; for example, the Large Yellow Underwing is Noctua pronuba, pronuba meaning a bridesmid in Latin, while the Lesser Yellow Underwing is Noctua comes, comes being a Latin term for a mistress. The Least Yellow Underwing, Noctua interjecta, seems to have escaped this exercise unless interjecta is a piece of classical slang that has got lost.

White Satins left, Yellow-tails right. Not the zebra legs of the first and the modest wing dots of the second. And of course the yellow tail.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Stand in the Corner

I could blame the pandemic but I'll be honest: laziness led to my recent crop of mistakes which have been corrected kindly by Edward from Calderdale in Comments below my last two posts. I say 'kindly', but actually I fear that one of the causes of my sloppiness is an unconscious feeling that Edward will put things right if they are wrong. Dependency, in other words.

Not very creditable - but I was pleased to see eminent support for my general approach to such things in the Economist's excellent online Espresso summary of the day's news, which I greatly enjoy and which always ends with a quotation

By coincidence, although it has no real bearing on the subject in hand, Lord Keynes' brother Sir Geoffrey was a distinguished butterfly and moth expert as well as a renowned surgeon.

Anyway, two of Edward's corrections bring me joy as well as my usual plans to try harder, because one of the moths involved is new to my list and the other has been here only once. What I described as a Green Silver Lines, which usually comes here once a year, is actually a Scarce Silver Lines, which never previously has, though one paid me a call in 2008 when we lived in Leeds.  Here it is again as a reminder. A lovely moth.

The second moth is a slight variant of the same delightful colour - uncommon in moths and very prone to rapid fading - and it is a Small Emerald, not a Light Emerald as I claimed. The latter is a very common guest. The former, like the Scarce Silver Lines, has stayed away apart from a brief visit to our rhubarb in 2013. Both came on Penny's birthday which, as I mentioned, usually leads to something nice in the moth trap. In spite of my bungling, this year the magic has worked again.

Away from the world of error, here is another example of a moth feeding, this time on a grain of rice from our dinner the other night. I've also added a film of the process, to go with the one by my granddaughter which featured on the blog a couple of days ago.

Monday 20 July 2020

Birthday moths

The moths always come good for Penny's birthday and this year has been no exception. I was specially pleased to welcome this Green Silver-lines, green being one of my favourite colours (after blue) and a relatively rare one among moths (blue being almost non-existent in their twilit world).

Green is also a colour which fades very quickly in moths, just as red is usually the first to go in the everyday world. This lovely Light Emerald is another example; within a month it will be closer to grey. (Update: thanks very much to Edward in Comments who corrects these to Scarce Silver Lines and Small Emerald - read more in my next post, but thanks E).

Another green insect,  but one which won't fade so fast, came scuttling past outside our house later in the day, this juvenile Green Shield Bug. To anyone of my generation, 'Green Shield" means a saving stamp which you got with petrol and which, after dozens of fill-ups, finally won you a saucepan or something similar.  By happy chance, the same day saw an adult Red-legged Shield Bug visit the trap alongside the moths.

Other guests in the eggboxes included the UK's largest caddis fly, Phryganea grandis, which is quite an impressive sight. Caddises are fascinating craetures which appear in the moth trap regularly. Their larvae are aquatic and build little cases to protect tjemselves as they move around. A French artist, Hubert Duprat has turned this to good account by providing them with small grains of gold and other precious metals which they then work into their cases with dramatic effect - pic left.

Observe my finger for scale

Further moths in the eggboxes meanwhile included - below - a Yellow Straw (Update: Yellow Shell.  Apols and thanks to Edward again), couple of Dusky Thorns, a Purple Thorn (Update: no, Edward corrects again to a second generation Early Thorn. Thanks again too), a Drinker and Pale Prominent hanging out with a Common/Lesser Common Rustic, three Mother of Pearls like a Spitfire wing and a nice little pug which I will identify in due course.

It was also good to have a strong birthday showing of Ruby Tigers, all happy to be photographed (they are often rather fidgety) and one of them showing much more of its scarlet knickers than they are generally disposed to do.