Thursday, 24 April 2014

Handsome is

Two new arrivals in the trap this morning, one of them this very handsome Iron Prominent with its lovely rust-coloured markings. It's timely because Penny and I spent part of yesterday sanding rusty gutters. I don't like rust any more than the next householder but it can come in pretty shades.

At the other end of the size scale was this Least Black Arches, smaller than some micr-moths but still officially a macro. Slumbering beside these were two types  of the other three Prominents which have come here so far - one Pale and three Pebble Ps - along with a Streamer, a Flame Shoulder, four Clouded Drabs, two Powdered Quakers, a Hebrew Character and three Brindled Beauties.

One of the last, although in excellent condition otherwise, had these curiously symmetrical bare-looking patches on its forewings. Is this the result of bird attack or other damage> Or a deformation or problem emerging from the pupa?  Any thoughts most welcome.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Hatching and catching

See how the empty and translucent pupa shows the sun's reflection from our lovely dishrack

After my Easter frivolities, the real moths have returned and in style. I spotted the first of them before leaving the house; back on 4 April I posted about finding a moth pupa while digging in the veg patch and how I had snuggled it into a bowl to await hatching.

Interestingly, the pupa wing cases to which I referred in my April 4 post,
did not show the uniquely raked shape of this moth

This morning as I searched for my pen and pad to record the moths outside, I noticed a stain spreading from the pupa. Initially I though: Oh no, what's gone wrong?  But then I saw this lovely Angle Shades perched on top of the bowl, its raked wings just expanded and dried.

After this promising beginning, the trap itself was well up to the mark following a dry and warmish night. My first Streamer of the year, above, was dozing in one eggbox with its distinctive wing mark like the tail of a kite. Some near neighbours who plan to borrow the trap one of these days reported a Streamer on their kitchen window about a fortnight ago and I have been jealously waiting for my own.

One of the strangest-looking of UK moths was in the next box - this Pale Prominent above which resembles either a large twig or a section of Cadbury's Flake chocolate (the ones which you finished off at school by folding the yellow wrapper into a gutter and pouring the bits into your mouth). Beside it was the Pebble Prominent below sideways and from above, showing the 'pebble'; so with last week's Coxcomb Prominent, I am doing well with this excellent family.

Other moths included this pug below - either Brindled or Oak Tree, I think. Update: it's a Brindled - many thanks to Ben, via excellent Upper Thames Moths blog. Help much appreciated. And there were also three Brindled Beauties in very fresh condition, two each of Clouded Drab, Common Quaker and Hebrew Character plus one Early Grey and one Powdered Quaker.

And finally this Flame Shoulder, left, a moth whose occasional habit of seeking out enthusiasts' ears as they check the trap - a rare example of legendary moth behaviour being true - is described in one of the Moth Bible's  rare departures from sober data.

Monday, 21 April 2014

You've never seen moths like this before

Lots of family have been here for Easter and they've coincided with a positive plague of unusual insects tucked in hiding places around the garden.

What they are is a mystery I have yet to unravel but I haven't been using the moth trap. The mercury vapour lamp is so powerful that I think they would melt.

They have come to a different end, equally sad for them. But not for us.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Curious creatures

We had a very enjoyable outing yesterday to Rousham, a mansion of great charm set between one of William Kent and Charles Bridgeman's Arcadias above the meandering river Cherwell and a jigsaw of wonderfully maintained walled gardens. The owners have a policy of making you wait until you are 15 before being allowed in, which loses them a vast slice of the usual stately home custom but means that the grounds are quiet and their invitation to 'bring a picnic and Rousham is yours for the day' is even more alluring. They're not remotely anti-children, having plenty of their own scattered about. And, as we told our tiny granddaughter who will not be admitted until 2028, the wait is worth it.

Orange Tip, Brimstone and Peacock butterflies were sailing about but my two insect photos are of humbler but interesting creatures. The first is a fly or bee which awaits identification from any passing expert; and the second, ditto, is a caddis fly unknown to me. Update with many thanks to Pete Smith who's commented at the foot of the previous post. The first insect is an Ashy Mining Bee, a Spring-flying solitary bee (I love that description) whose numbers are on the increase in the UK. It is harmless and useful to us. The second is not a caddis but an alder fly, whose carnivorous larvae live in the silt of ponds near which the adults tend to rest on vegetation. This one was following that pattern closely, sunning itself beside the round pound between assorted temples and nude male statues put in place by Kent. He might have liked the fly and the way its wings resemble a stained glass window before the colourists have set to work.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

In the eye of the beholder

A colder night has made all the difference, as usual, and yesterday's excellent congregation shrank to a couple of Hebrew Characters and a pair of Clouded Drabs in the eggboxes this morning. Having said that, one of the unfortunately-named Drabs was actually a rather lovely moth and I append a photo of it on my equally lovely left palm at the foot of this post.

More obvious beauty first, however, and we were beguiled back yesterday by the snakeshead fritillaries to Magdalen College water meadows, complete with infant dozing in buggy. Orange Tip butterflies were about and I managed to creep upon the one above and get its picture with - for me - only minimal blurring. It was very interesting watching this butterfly and another Orange Tip fluttering about for a very long time before finally alighting on some cow parsley. There were all manner of beautiful flowers in the gardens - daffs, anemones, bluebells, younameit - but none seemed to the Orange Tips' taste. It was like an extremely discriminating diner inspecting the hotel buffet of all time.

And secondly, another form of beauty. Quite often, I try to photograph the trap in action but usually with scant success because the mercury vapour lamp is so bright. This picture hasn't come out too badly, though, thanks to the magnolia tree above the spot I chose and the last glimmering of sunset.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Easter chocolate

Moth or shrimp? Forelegs to the left
and note antenna peeping out
I'm writing this with my little granddaughter on my knee while her Mum and Dad have a brief, well-deserved lie-in. Appropriately, an excellent moth for children arrived this morning, the Easter-sounding Chocolate-tip.  I met these for the first time last year after moving from Leeds, which they have not yet discovered, and they are lovely and distinctly-shaped creatures.

Even better was this Coxcomb Prominent, the first of the year for me, which appears to be pole-dancing on one of the struts of the very simple but extraordinarily effective rainshield which Mr and Mrs Robinson designed for their trap. You can see the reason for its name; part of a camouflage suit which is very effective against a background of old leaves or a tree trunk.

Other new arrivals were a Nut-tree Tussock, above, and the smart-looking male Muslin moth below, albeit with a curious bit of damage to one of his wings. The female is a white or creamy version but has a dislike of coming to light at night although she quite often flies by day.  I have yet to see one.

Otherwise, the usual crew included six Hebrew Characters, two Clouded Drabs, three Common Quakers and this rather handsome caddis fly.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The future is orange (and yellow)

After almost a week of cold nights and rather dull and infrequent moths (but some glorious sunny days), this is the sort of thing I like to see in the moth trap.

It's a Brimstone moth, a welcome blaze of colour amid the sobre ranks of Common Quakers and Clouded Drabs. It's also nicely synchronised with the Brimstone butterflies which are abundant now on the blackthorn and hawthorn of our local hedges.

Here's the moth in its entirety. Blackthorn and hawthorn are part of its diet too. Hawthorn was briefly part of my own when my Mum encouraged the four of us on walks by saying that we could eat the fresh green shoots which country folk nick-named 'bread and cheese'. They don't taste remotely like either.

Dull but different - note the variation in markings on these Hebrew Characters, a worthy moth but one whose choice of colouring has much in common with the Common Quakers and Clouded Drabs

Check out our Woodstock Passion Play here and here, btw, if you are interested. The world of fire and a different kind of brimstone...

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Tiny V

If you can imagine a country which would seem like Lilliput to Jonathan Swift's Lilliputians, then in that country this tiny moth might be the size of a V-bomber. I'm very bad at remembering to include a scale but maybe the fact that the dotted background is an ordinary bedsheet gives you some idea of how tiddly this visitor is.

As a result, I assumed it was one of the smallish number of V-shaped micro-moths mostly concentrated in a family with the name of Crambidae. But one of my wise fellow-contributors to the Upper Thames Moths blog, Marc Botham, has kindly put me right. It's that very interesting creature, the 20-plume moth.

My picture shows it in its unrevealing resting position. When it takes flight, its plumes unfold like Venetian blinds - a process which it is beyond my limited skills to capture in a picture, so many thanks to  for the second one in this post. It actually has 24 plumes if you count all four wings, though the six-a-side on the hindwings are definitely more plumey. Still, what's four between mathematical friends?

If you're near Woodstock, Oxon, tomorrow btw, come and see the Passion Play. Be careful of one of the stroppy priests though...

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Purple prose

A succession of dull days and cold nights has left me with little to say. The moths have come, but only the everyday procession of Quakers, Drabs and the like, relieved by occasional Brindled Beauties but nothing else.

This morning that changed with the arrival of my first Purple Thorn of the year, a notable and striking moth seen above with a Hebrew Character. The latter have slowly moved towards a majority of individual species in the eggboxes, finally ousting the Common Quakers from top spot over the weekend. This morning they cemented their lead with 21 altogether, far ahead of the five Common Quakers, five Powdered Quakers, four Clouded Drabs, one Small Quaker and a March Moth.

The Purple Thorn is one of very few UK moths which holds its wings at rest in the manner of a butterfly, folded above its body as in the picture. The position gives it an air of alertness, further emphasised by that beady eye.  I also had four Brindle Beauties dozing away - or possibly five; I'm not sure whether this battered chap above is a fifth, or a Small or Pale BB which has managed to last this long. Expert views gratefully received as ever. Update - thanks for kind assistance: it's a Brindled Beauty albeit a smallish one.

Other news: the first Orange Tip butterfly of 2014 fluttered across the lawn this morning; and Penny and I had a marvellous day yesterday looking a the stunning Snakeshead Fritillaries in Magdalen College water meadows. Here are couple of pics. The gardens are open to the public 1-6pm  and this Sunday all takings go to the National Gardens Scheme.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Lady Grey

A moth which I've always thought particularly elegant in an understated way arrived this morning for the first time this year: the Powdered Quaker. It puts me in mind of the sort of clothes worn by my great auntie Katie whose sweetheart died in the 'flu after the First World War. She subsequently devoted herself to others in general rather than one in particular, like Dorothea in Middlemarch whose closing lines I quote at every available opportunity:
Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth.  But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive, for the growing  good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.
But this is not a pulpit so back to moths: my other source of joy is this 21mm chrysalis which narrowly escaped my spade in the veg plot yesterday and is now in a box in the kitchen waiting to turn into a moth. Assuming all goes well, I'll introduce you to its occupant later in the season - isn't it marvellous how you can see the wings etc through the case. In many instances, gentle colouring appears as the moment of hatching draws near.

For the rest, the trap attracted a record three Brindled Beauties last night, along with 19 Common Quakers, 11 Hebrew Characters, one Small Quaker, one Clouded Drab, an Ophion wasp and a small fly with a fat orange tummy.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Now you see them...

Some nice camouflage moths came visiting last night, all but one of them outside the trap on crevices or suitably coloured patches of wall. The finely attena-ed Small Brindled Beauty above was the one exception which decided to spend the night actually snuggled in the eggboxes.

Or maybe its sophisticated radar in those antennae made it an easier victim of whatever force, lure or distraction is caused for moths by the immensely bright light of a Robinson trap. I watched for a little while last night and when moths enter the trap, they jink wildly about. They look disorientated rather than attracted by the glare. This remains a subject of scientific debate but I get the impression that the very long cultural tradition of attraction - like a moth to a flame etc - is gradually losing out to the disorientation theory.

The second moth is a fine Oak Beauty half-tucked behind a last scrap of the ivy which Penny and I are dismantling stem by stem. And then there's an Early Grey melting into a very well-chosen background of Oxfordshire's grey stone.

This Early Thorn, just above, appears to have chosen a different strategy. It seems to have picked a strikingly obvious spot but the first two times that I scanned the wall by the trap, I missed it. Perhaps this is the Camouflage of Unexpectedness, a relative of wartime dazzle patterns on battleships which look, to the careful observer, blindingly obvious, but effectively disguise familiar shapes for those not particularly on the lookout (like anyone who forgot that Tuesday was April Fool's Day...

Here's a second Early Thorn, much greyer in colour and perching with its wings tightly closed which makes it hard to spot from most angles, albeit not this one. Below you can see them together along with my famous Biro measuring scale.

Finally I thought from a distance that this little chap was a micro-moth clinging to the top of a window-surround, but actually as you can see, it's our old friend the woodlouse. An interesting fact about these creatures is that their only known (to me) appearance in major literature is as 'creepy-crawly people' in Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse. The writer (who is responsible for a large slice of the UK's sentimental view of animals) originally put 'woodlice' but her publishers Warnes thought that this was unsuitable for children and so she made the description more vague. Misleading though she may be on animals, Beatrix Potter is good on human characteristics. I suspect we all know a Mrs Tittlemouse, forever dusting and Hoovering things.

Also in the trap (to keep up my heroic recording system): 18 Common Quakers, ten Small Quakers, seven Hebrew Characters, six Clouded Drabs, one Satellite and a small fawn micro which flew away but which I may be able to identify later.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mostly chestnuts

I'm in my usual state of muddle over brown moths this morning but nonetheless I will gallantly attempt to identify the following ones. I think the first three are all Red Chestnuts, even though the contrast between the first one, snuggling up to my wedding ring, and the third one is striking.

Here's that last one again with my famous Biro scale to show its size - a definite step up from your average Quaker moth or Hebrew Character, the eggbox staples at this time of the year.  Update: and guess what, it's not a Red Chestnut after all but a Clouded Drab (another...) Many thanks to Ben in Comments.

Talking of which, I fear that the next one is nothing more than an unusually lovely Common Quaker, but maybe one of my expert pals will have more exciting ideas.

And finally, this old chap or chapess looks as though it might have blown in from the Sahara along with the sand which is apparently trickling down on to England from a high-level jetstream which has reached us from Africa. Alas, everything points to that most sadly and unfairly named of Spring moths, the Clouded Drab.

The overall contents of the trap this morning were 26 Common Quakers, 15 Small Quakers, nine Hebrew Characters, nine Clouded Drabs, three Red Chestnut (if my IDs above are correct), two Emmelina monodactyla micros, one Oak Beauty and an Ophion ichneumon wasp.