Thursday 30 September 2021

Keep trucking on

We've reached the time of the year when nights are longer, the weather colder, and Christmas being talked of as only so-many-weeks away. The moths are dwindling in number and variety too, so I have a sense of the 2021 season gradually drawing to an end.

There are still unexpected pleasure however, such as the chunky Bulrush Wainscot above with its dusty colouring, as opposed to the cream predominant in most Wainscots, and its tail peeping cheekily out below the wings. More familiar Autumn moths are a pleasure as well, like the Sallow below with its scrambled egg/omelette colouring.

The Large Ranculus (or buttercup) is also a beautiful moth with the little flecks of orange interspersed with the grey and white of its camouflage. My picture illustrates the problem, however, of dull weather in the early morning and the low levels of light when I creep out around 7am to inspect the trap. If I wait too much longer, some of the overnight guests can become restive and do themselves damage, although many are happy to dose on.

How nice too that big moths are still calling by, for example these Red Underwings which cosied up together three nights ago:

And finally a couple of small but colourful visitors: the 'copper-splodge' form of the Common Marbled Carpet, substantially bigger than most carpet moths, and the Red Green Carpet, a fresh specimen with its wing-edge chequers intact.

Monday 27 September 2021

Sound asleep


The artful cocoon of twigs, leaves and even a bit of pea netting which my Elephant Hawk caterpillar span a month or so ago - as described here - has now dried out to the extent where I can safely make a small 'window' for the grandchildren - and you - to peek inside. Here is the pupa, the armoured shell within which the astonishing change from a fat caterpillar to a trim moth will take place between now and next May.

The transformation seems slightly less dramatic when you look at this picture of a Large Yellow Underwing which I found upside-down near the light trap at the weekend. The stripes of the plump body have an undoubted resemblance to the patterned chrysalis of the Elephant Hawk.

Meanwhile a neighbour kindly sent me this picture of a Dark Dagger moth's caterpillar, probably on its way to find its own secret site for spinning a cocoon.  It's very much that time of the year and the end of the long, calm spell - lovely weather but bad for the UK's increasing investment in wind-powered electricity generation - has just signalled the onset of Autumn.

Another sign of the changing seasons is the appearance of Autumnal moths such as the bright Barred Sallow above, beyond a Beautiful Hook-tip, and below, on its own and closer-to. The Sallow family have taken over from the Brimstone moth the task of adding a cheerful gleam to the ranks of the duller moths in the eggboxes.

The Bordered Beauty and Oak Hook-tip below is both another such and the funny little Spectacle in the third picture is also bringer of variety and pleasure. Actually the 'specs' are perched above the moth's actual eyes, but the effect is very endearing (and perhaps a deterrent to predators). 

Now for some of the afore-mentioned drabber or less showy bretheren - thoough, as I have often mentioned, their colours and especially patterns have great appeal. I have captioned them for ease of putting two and two together, rather than listing them in advance:

Willow Beauty - the second generation are smaller

I think that this is a lightly-marked Lunar Underwing but am checking with Upper Thames Moths

Black Rustic with its slanted golden 'eyes'

Here is one of the two other colourways of Lunar Underwing

And lastly an Autumnal Rustic - the name says it all

In the butterfly world, by contrast, Autumn is a time of vivid colour as Red Admirals take over from the Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells which brought such delight in the Summer. They love buddleia, the one plant among the many on garden centres' optimistic lists, which really will attract butterflies to your garden. Here are two in the grandchildren's garden and a third basking on a sunny wall of our house, a practice which they alternate with sessions sipping nectar from the purple-flowered and honey-scented bushes.

And now for a change: behold the vast family of a single spider, followed by a Henley Regatta Blazer Beetle - actually a Rosemary Beetle, a species which only arrived in the UK from South America in the 1990s but has since spread rapidly. It eats rosemary, lavender and other herbs but is well worth it, in my view, for its beauty.

To conclude: a nice little micro and, praise the Lord, an easily identifiable one. It's Ypsolopha sequella, the very last moth in my alphabetical records on the headings bar above.

Monday 20 September 2021

Still unequalled

My greatest source of pleasure and wonder in 16 years of recording moths has been the recent , storming advance of the Clifden Nonpareil, once an extreme rarity which I dreamed of seeing without any realistic hope of doing so.

In the last three years I have been visited by more than a score of these huge and beautiful creatures and on Saturday night they lived up to their reputation again. Reports of local sightings have featured on the Upper Thames Moths blog for some weeks and I was beginning to wonder if the moths had tired of Thrupp and, like an army invading much faster than it expected to, moved on.  Not so. There were three in the trap, another record.

I was alerted to the year's first Nonpareil Night when I went out earlier than usual, at about 6.15am when it is only just getting life. Something was very restless beneath the trap's transparent cowl and I soon saw the unmistakable stripes of the underwing. I popped a towel over the top of the cowl and went back inside to await better light and make our morning tea.

When I returned an hour later, the moth was happier but still not at ease, so I gently manoeuvred my Bug Bottle under the towel and popped it inside - first pic below. It settled down and I started to look at the eggboxes and immediately came across a second one. 

It was showing its beautifully blue-banded hindwings which is a sign of nervousness, above, so I popped it in the Bug Bottle too and continued examining other, less dramatic arrivals. When I turned over the second  last eggbox, there was Clifden Nonpareil number three and this one, on the left in my top picture and the trio below, was fast asleep.

Since they seemed happy and we had a neighbour and her young daughter visiting in the afternoon, I kept them in a large Tupperware box with the towel on top to keep out most of the light. We duly had a happy moth-on-finger sesh, something which would have been inconceivable here until 2019.

You can read more about the Nonpareil, truly a moth without equal, on previous posts such as this one, or this one.  Meanwhile I had another first this morning: a Comma butterfly slumbering happily on the rim of the trap's black plastic bowl. If you wanted to know why the species is called the Comma, look no further.

Thursday 16 September 2021

Fives moth

One of my other hobbies is playing Fives as a born-again incompetent and I was very pleased when it crossed paths with my interest in moths a couple of weeks ago. I have never been good at sports of any kind but I always enjoyed this game at school - basically hitting a ball against an oddly-shaped wall with a padded glove - and took it up again the year before the pandemic.

It's described as 'the fastest ball game on Earth' which could not be more misleading in the case of our veterans' group; none of us have felt remotely close to a heart attack during play. We spend roughly half the time holding learned conversations, a practice known in the 18th century as 'coffee-housing' which is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'talking while playing a sport'.

Much of our chatter relates to the fiendishly complicated laws and fascinating history of Fives, the latter accounting for the curious architecture of the court. The game was often played against a church wall and was codified by boys and teachers at Eton who used a buttress on the side of their school chapel. This became the model for today's courts used in the standard version. Needless to say, there are many variants including Rugby, Winchester and even Warminster Fives.
The moth remnant, just visible in the picture below on the sloping edge of the buttress - one of the many surfaces which send the ball flying all over the place - was a hindwing from a Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing. Its nemesis will have been one of the spiders whose many cobwebs form an unintended additional challenge at Oxford University sports centre in Iffley Road. The two Eton Fives courts there are a great boon for us, because they are not all the common in the UK, but it would be lovely if they were better-used.

Here's a glimpse of me playing too, just after a successful return of the ball from behind the buttress where I had been examining the sad little bit of moth. Back home, it was a pleasure to find a Tawny-barred Angle in the eggboxes, a common UK moth but one which I have seen very seldom both here and in Leeds pre-2013.

Rather similar colouring marks the Iron Prominent below, a photo which unusually captures it with its wings outstretched. My tastefully vivid pyjamas make an appearance as well. Then we have it again in its usual resting position, alongside a big Old Lady moth which later perched on one of my granddaughter's fingers, as shown in my final photo, while a Gold Spot occupied another.

Monday 13 September 2021

Exotica in the butterfly house - and at home



I am still playing catch-up so these moths are a bit since, mostly from the last week of August when the grandchildren were here for a week. I was very pleased that this little jewel of a regular came to see them: the Gold Spot (or possibly the imperceptibly different Lempke's Gold Spot). It likes 'damp places including canals and rivers' according to the Moth Bible and we have the Oxford Canal and River Cherwell within quarter of a mile of us. So it must feel at home.

Another shapely and interesting arrival was the Dusky Thorn below whose caterpillars like ash but are prepared to fall back on privet, a useful insurance policy in the event of problems such as ash die-back. I have often wondered why some moth larvae are so faddy when being omnivorous has so much to recommend it (as I constantly tell the sceptical grandchildren).

It was good to have some local examples of colourful and interesting moths because we decided to pay a visit to Blenheim Palace's excellent butterfly house which keeps an excellent number and range of species. Here are some of them.  When I have a bit more time, I will see if I can sort them out from one of my intimidatingly large global reference books - or perhaps the internet where searches such as 'black and white swallowtailed butterfly' often produce very rapid answers.

Actually, I just tried that but without immediate success. I do know the next one, however, the Owl Butterfly with its enormous 'eye' which I take to be an effective deterrent against jungle predators. A lot of experiments have been done on this, many suggesting that the eyes resemble those of lizards and other hunters while some suggest that they may divert a bird's attention and subsequent attack away from the insect's body to less crucial places such as the edges of the wings.

Back at home, we found an interesting example of way that the colour green fades in moths, as I mentioned in my last post with reference to the Light Emerald. Here are two Yellow-barred Brindles, the first an older one whose colour has faded (albeit making the moth more in tune with its name). The second is fresh and still delightfully green