Sunday, 25 October 2020
Not so fast
Monday, 19 October 2020
Saturday, 17 October 2020
Sorry not to have posted for a while but things have been dull both in terms of the weather and the moths. I keep meaning to go over to a once-a-week regime but the prospect of something unexpected has kept me lighting the lamp more frequently than that. Nothing unexpected has however arrived.
Which is not to say that my visitors have been uninteresting. It was a pleasure, for example, to welcome what I think is a late newcomer for the year, the sleek grey Blair's Shoulder-knot, one of no fewer than three moths named after a single entomologist, Kenneth Blair (1882-1952) who was deputy keeper at the Natural History Museum and had the good fortune to live on the Isle of Wight. This is a famous landing ground for immigrant species and Blair was the first to discover, in succession, Blair's Mocha, Blair's Wainscot and Blair's Shoulder-knot.
My moth is the last of the three, I think, the only one to have become common. Indeed it has forayed as far north as Scotland where its arrival in Gordon Brown's constituency, during his time of intense rivalry with Tony Blair, caused mirth and a brief outing for the moth in the media. It has been a regular caller both here and in Leeds before we moved in 2013
I have written 'I think' twice, however, because I noticed earlier this morning that Dave Wilton, the great and helpful expert on the Upper Thames Moths blog, has recorded the rather similar but rarer Grey Shoulder-knot. So I must double check with UTM before coming down definitely on ID. Update: and the good news is, that this is a Grey Shoulder-knot, rather than a Blair's; so another species new for the year. I don't think I've recorded it since 2013. our first year down here; but that may be because I've previously made the mistake which I almost made this time.
Wednesday, 7 October 2020
My recent musings on the subject of moths and the effect on them of light finally prompted me to do a little research. It came up with this excellently pithy account from the National Geographic magazine, written as is their won't in language which the layman or woman can understand. Its conclusion, that moths' delicate nocturnal guidance systems based on the moon - waxing happily at the moment here as you can see in the picture above - are thrown into confusion by a powerful alternative like my light - shown below on the same night - very much chimes with my own experience in the field.
I like the sentence:
The day that Thomas Edison patented the lightbulb—January 27, 1880, which paved the way for global distribution of electric illumination—was a dark day in moth historyand the article also raises mild concerns about using a moth lamp. I have always felt that the method does no harm to moths, but it would be hard to sustain that view if it were the case that the mercury vapour bulb's intense light was causing them confusion and therefore, presumably, distress. I certainly got that impression from the behaviour of the Clifden Nonpareil which was the subject of my last post. And it cannot be natural that this Centre-barred Sallow which I photographed at the same time as the trap and the moon - around 10pm - spent all night and the whole of the next day in the same place without moving, instead of going about its usual mothy business in the dark.
However, the distress is not fatal and the rewards of light-trapping for science, wildlife conservation and personal interest are very great. So I shall carry on for the time being, although this year's sessions will be fewer from now on because of the dark mornings and the gradual reduction in the number of species which still fly on these colder Autumn nights.
That said, the visitors are still interesting. As well as the last of the Lunar Underwings, Silver Ys and Hebrew Characters, the trap is currently rich in bright little Beaded Chestnuts such as the two below which show how variable this species can be.
Friday, 2 October 2020
What a fascinating evening I had yesterday! There is a discussion going on over at the Upper Thames Moths blog about the first Clifden Nonpareil to be recorded in the UK - in the 1740s at Cliveden whence comes its name - and whether the specimen still exists. In the course of this, I found myself reading a curious note in The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 10 (yes, it's a monster work) published in 1983 and written by John Heath and A Maitland Emmet.
This says that the species is 'strongly attracted to sugar' - the mothing term for painting a mixture of rum and treacle on to tree trunks - and adds: 'By day it rests on oak trunks where it is well-concealed; on one occasion, a collector, while applying his sugar at sunset, painted one by mistake.'
Goodness! Well, inspired by this, I overcame my usual aversion to rum-and-treacling which I have seldom found effective, and mixed up a tasty and very powerfully-smelling mixture which I dabbed on to our oak. I then sallied forth at various times after dark to inspect the scene, which remained disappointingly free of moths of any kind.
My last foray was at 10pm when it had started to rain lightly. As I wandered towards the tree, I passed near the moth trap whose lamp at that moment gave two pronounced flickers. I first suspected interference from the rain; I had planned to turn the trap off anyway after my final treacle inspection, because of a very damp forecast. But then it suddenly occurred to me that it might have been caused by a large moth fluttering by the lamp. And it was!
To my delight and in spite of the difficulties posed by looking at the trap when the light is on, I saw a Clifden Nonpareil crawling over the eggboxes. Very interestingly for me, because I have often speculated whether moths are distracted rather than attracted by light, it clearly wasn't comfortable. Indeed it was looking for the way out.
And it found it. Clicking away with the iPhone, again with some difficulty because of the MV lamp, I recorded its successful escape through the narrow entrance of the bulb's funnel-holder which works on the principle of a lobster pot. I thought that was it. But flicking on the 'phone's torch, I saw the moth resting on the grass, its magnificent wings outstretched, apparently in a dazed state.
It was easy to scoop it up carefully in my hands but less so to find somewhere to take a 'static' photo. Eventually I discovered our change box for the local Farmer's Market stall which is why my picture shows the Nonpareil on a pile of money.
Trying to release it was another story. I took some more pictures under our porchlight and thought the lovely visitor had flown off. But back in the kitchen, I found it on my jumper sleeve. The kitchen lights are very bright and it took off and made two very lazy, circular flights before settling on top of a high storage cupboard. I retrieved it again, via a wonky clamber on a chair and the sideboard, and decided to give it a treat by releasing it on my treacled tree.
This time, after a short stay, it fluttered away again, not in the swooping style of its similarly-sized relatives, the hawk moths, but with more of the grace of a large butterfly, though I had the strong impression that it was still in a bit of a daze.
An exciting episode. And more evidence in my mind to suggest that bright lights distract and upset moths' navigation, rather than having any sort of lure for them, like the pheromone scents which attract males from long distances to a female. If I am right, the very old adage of 'moths to a flame' is not nullified but needs to be read more subtly. Like the lamp, beauty or sex appeal really can turn its observer's head (or in moths' case, antennae) upside down.