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.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Out on the town

I was childishly pleased to meet this beautiful moth this morning, yawning in its leopard skin coat like a glamorous movie star after a night out in the West End. Actually I don't think moths do yawn but let's not let that get in the way of my metaphors... Update: Penny thinks it's more like a morsel of Chicken Tikka, which is also true.

This is a Dotted Chestnut, one of many moths on the up in the UK - welcome counters to the school of envirodoom which dominates public discourse. In my ageing (2003) copy of the Moth Bible it is described as Nationally Scarce B although the authors noted that its distribution had expanded since 1990.

It's also an interesting moth from an interesting family. Its caterpillars are thought to dwell cosily with certain types of ant, protected by spinal hairs not found in others of the family. Its relative the Red-headed Chestnut, which I have yet to see, meanwhile has a lineage "clouded with uncertainty because dishonest insect traders were involved in records from Kent in the late 19th century."

This particular one showed its share of enterprise. About two hours after taking the first photograph outside - note my special Biro scale - I was making a 'phone call when I spotted a moth on the table. It was the Dotted Chestnut which had cadged a lift indoors, probably on my cuddly dressing gown.

Otherwise it was a moth bonanza in the eggboxes for the second night running, with two more newcomers for this year - the micro-moths Diurnea fagella (and old pal from 2013), above, and the super-pretty but very small Agonopterix alstromeriana, below. I specially like the latter because my late mother was a great grower and fan of Alstromerias which are known with good reason as the Poor Man's Orchid.

For the rest: 32 Common Quakers, 14 Small Quakers, 13 Clouded Drabs, 12 Hebrew Characters, four Early Thorns, a March moth, a Pine Beauty, a Twin-spotted Quaker and a Satellite. I think that adds up to 82 moths of 12 species.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Crown of thorns

I mentioned my role as a dodgy priest in Woodstock Passion Play the other day and one of this morning's moths is à propos. Cast members recently got an email about props in which one of the more learned thesps offered a crown of thorns but warned that there was a scarcity locally of 'genuinely Afroaseatic thorn bushes'.

They're probably much bigger and sharper but I don't suppose that anyone will notice the difference. In the same way,  the various Thorn moths in the UK can easily be muddled. But I think I am safe in saying that this one, above, is an Early Thorn, the first of three newcomers for 2014 to the trap which had a super-abundant collection to mark the last day of March. 

There were 94 moths altogether and here are the other fresh faces. First, the lovely little Pine Beauty, below, which provided a welcome splash of orange and pink after the days of uniform grey and dull browns.  

Secondly and less obviously attractive but finely patterned, were the pair of Brindled Pugs below, the first of their large and confusing tribe to arrive here this year.

Micros were represented by Emmelina monodactyla, the Common Plume, below, which was one of the first moths to call by in February, and a small and tattered colleague which I think was Agonopterix heracliana.

Also, for the records which I am trying to keep better now that I have more time, there were two March moths, two Caddis Flies, four Early Greys, 38 Common Quakers, 18 Clouded Drabs, 12 Smnall Quakers, 12 Hebrew Characters, one Red Chestnut and these two handsome Oak Beauties in my final picture (with an early Virginian Stock for scale).

Much the most abundant night of the year

Saturday, 29 March 2014


The usual gang of grey and dun-coloured brethren were joined in the trap last night by this more exotic character; one of the ichneumon wasps, I think, which we were induced to fear and loathe as children because they lay eggs in caterpillars and live cannibalism ensues.

I'm seeing my little granddaughter today but she isn't old enough yet for such stories which sound awful but have an appeal to the young as the well-named Brothers Grimm well knew.

The other interesting sleeper in the eggboxes was this caddis-fly-type character; the Cinammon Sedge maybe? Full IDs must await my studies later or - more likely - the kindness of my Commentors. I hope you have a lovely weekend. It's warmer again, at last.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The way we were

The cure for grumpiness, and especially the misleading notion that things were better in past times, is to look back. After a particularly dull catch in the trap this morning - I shall scream if I find another Clouded Drab - I flicked disconsolately to check the blog last year.

Goodness! Here are the pictures I used on 30 March...

 I had completely forgotten. Also, my moth count for 2013 at that stage was three, plus a dead Copper Underwing found in the attic.  Today the tally for 2014 stands proudly at 21. So I shall restart my day in a cheerful and optimistic mood.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Moth-ers meeting

It rained last night so I brought the eggboxes indoors and, unusually for me because of time shortage and other demands, gently tipped the slumbering moths out on to a table. Here they are, above, all 38 of them if my numbering is correct.

They are the customary bunch for this time of year: Common and Small Quakers (the latter in the picture above), Clouded Drabs, an Early Grey and one species with very different and more rakish wings than the others, this March Moth, below.

But I am puzzled by the final one shown here, in three different pictures. Is it a Clouded Drab, like the one on the right in the second photo? Or a Red Chestnut? Or even (as I secretly hope) a White-marked, a moth which is not common generally but seems to enjoy living in Oxfordshire. Like Penny and me.