Sunday 24 March 2024

Spring Forward


As I mentioned at Christmas, my entomological granddaughter was brought her very own mothtrap by Santa Claus. Since then, she has waited with saintly patience for the rain and freezing weather to turn nicer. At last this week it did.

Her first visitors were this very handsome Double-striped Pug, above, still with the russety colouring visible which gives it the scientific name of Gymnoscalis rufifasciata in which 'rufi' is the Latin for 'red.' More predictably, a Common Quaker woke up when she disturbed the eggboxes and crawled inquisitively on to her pyjamas after inspecting her fingertip.  

A second Common Quaker provided a useful lesson in making sure to search the whole trap, as it was hiding sleepily - first picture below -under a rim which overlaps the bowl. My granddaughter was notably delicate compared to her clumsy Grandpa, however, at persuading even a fragile and usually very jittery Common Plume on to her finger. Having moths on her fingers has been an enthusiasm for most of her ten years, the record being five hawk moths on one hand.

The star of the show, though, was a Nut-tree Tussock, a very attractive, medium-sized moth which has yet to pay a call to my own trap this year. It had no hesitation about obliging its captor with a wander round her hand and arm.

After she had gone to school, her younger brother and I discovered a second Double-striped Pug up on the ceiling, almost certainly an un-noticed escapee from the trap. Their parents, Penny and I had brought this in at about 10.30pm the night before when it began to rain and the species is so small that I think it could have found a way under the towel which we draped over the bowl for the night.

There was also a badly-worn moth in the eggboxes, I'm pretty sure a third Common Quaker. And her Mum, who is not a fan of small, fluttery or creepy things but nobly encourages the family to be interested in them, spotted the caddis-fly in my last picture up on the kitchen ceiling and quite possibly attracted in by the house lights, which can often serve as a weaker form of light trap.

An interesting aspect of this debut was my granddaughter's sincere concern for her small, temporary prisoners. Whereas my generation when young had few if any second thoughts about pinning butterflies and moths to form collections of dead insects, her priority is to ensure that they all escape safely back in to the wild after photographs have been taken. It will be interesting to see how she copes with blackbirds and robins once they start to take an interest in what she is doing.

I also pondered, as I sat beneath two lovely cherry trees at school collection time later in the day, how this attitude - pretty general among the young and encouraged by teaching and modern environmental concern, will affect scientific study. Will we miss things through the absence of close examination of dead creatures, or will we form new insights by a more sympathetic approach to their ways? 

Friday 22 March 2024

Livening Up

The warmer weather has brought more moths both in numbers and variety including the milky Powdered Quaker above and a nice bright Herald below. The latter follows the Spring Usher in raising spirits at the prospect of sunnier times. Hooray!

A third distinctive arrival is this Pale Pinion, next, followed by a tabby-cat of a Brindled Beauty. Just four moths but they nicely illustrate the range of possible arrivals even at this early stage of the year.

Beyond the world of moths, plenty more is going on among the insects, beetles and other small inhabitants of our garden. Ladybirds are beginning to explore outside their hibernation nooks and crannies and I chased the caddis fly, second picture below, for several minutes before it rested long enough for me to see that it wasn't a moth.

Finally, I upended a flowerpot the other day and found this healthy-looking cocoon inside. It has joined three Pale Tussock ones on loan from the granddaughter who craftily gets us to check for emergence every day, rather than doing it herself.

Sunday 17 March 2024



The first showy moth of the year was snoozing in the eggboxes this morning, an Oak Beauty which I transferred to the beech hedge for a nicer backdrop.  No Photoshopping though, after the Royal photo furore. Actually, Photoshopping is a skill, or possibly dark art, too far for me. I confine my interference to cropping. I am tempted sometimes to add 'warmth' or 'saturation' from the iPhone's editing function, if only because the camera's search for maximum lights plays such tricks with the colour anyway. Compare the beech leaves above with those below. There's not a lot in it but to my eye, the bottom photo is a little washed-out and duller and the top one is closer to the colours I saw.

Another welcome dab of colour was the russet of the Clouded Drab below, often a much duller moth than this example. Update: Thanks very much to my two Commentors below who raised doubts about my ID of this, and rightly. And actually my blundering goes further than that. The two moths are different in spite of their similar colouring and considerably more interesting than I thought.  Both Mothwatch and Stewart were on to the possibility of Red Chestnut and Stewart also wondered if the moth might be the rarer White-marked. 

In fact it turns out to be both.

How so? Well, as I promised in my initial reply below, I put the question to the experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog and their skill reveals that we actually have two different moths here. I photographed them at different stages in my examination of the eggboxes but then assumed from their similar colouring that they were the same insect when I looked at the photos quite a lot later while compiling this post. Dave Wilton, the ever-patient webmaster of the UTM blog, wondered first if they were different, suggesting that the first one looked like a Red Chestnut and the second one a White-marked.  Martin Townsend, co-author of the matchless Moth Bible, then confirmed that this is the case.

Thank you all!  And that's a much better result than my original misinformation.

Below the two pictures is an attractive Twin-spotted Quaker, a regular arrival at this time of the year, and following that, a March Moth with its unmistakable zigzags.

The micro below gave me a hard time, as I scrutinised my Micro Bible without success until plumping for a slightly odd example of the familiar Agonopterix alstroemeriana and putting that suggestion to the experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog.  The eternally helpful webmaster there, former air traffic controller Dave Wilton, was back speedily with the correct ID and I wasn't far off. The moth is Agonopterix heraclia/ciella and Dave adds interesting additional info, especially on its diet:

Your moth is a rather well-preserved individual of Agonopterix heracliana/ciliella (they've usually lost many of their scales by this time of year, after hibernation, so aren't as well marked as this one). Agonopterix alstromeriana is a much more brightly coloured moth than this which also hibernates, quite a common species which I imagine you will get in your garden too. However, your Alstroemerias are safe because its larvae actually use the far more sinister plant Conium maculatum, otherwise known as Hemlock.

Finally, two of my rivals in terms of getting at the moths. It's impossible to be really cross with a robin but, my goodness, you have to keep an eye on them when examining the eggboxes. One distraction and they're in and out in a flash. One moth fewer for me.

As for the twilight bats, just about discernible below. I cannot really tell how many moths they capture but clearly there are enough to keep them circling round.

Sunday 10 March 2024

Mothers' Day moths


Happy Mothers' Day! I'm greeting it with some colourful Spring flowers from the garden including the delectable Snakeshead Fritillary, still in bud on the left, because the overnight moths have been modest both in size and colouring. None the less worthy for that, however. Here they are:

First, a rather battered Agnopterix Alstromeriana, a very small but prettily-coloured mcro which I almost overlooked. Then below, a Clouded Drab, a dull-looking mouth with a dull-sounding name. It was more cheering to see the Twin-spotted Quaker in my third photo.

Finally a second and slightly larger micro, the very familiar Diurnea fagella.  A fairly meagre tally even when supplemented by assorted other Quakers and a Hebrew Character, but the initially promising weather was spoilt by rain. 

Have a great day, Mums everywhere. Back to Dads' Days tomorrow onwards...   Only kidding.