Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Drinkers do go on for ever



I have always had a soft spot for this curious-looking character, which made its debut for 2015 in the trap on Sunday night. It is a Drinker moth, named not because it resembles a lover-of-the-bottle nose-diving on to the pavement outside a pub, but bcause its caterpillars venture up grass stems to imbibe the dew.


This made them dear to me as a schoolboy as they were easy to find - big handsome creatures with a velvety coat of blue, dotted with red and gold as if they were soldiers in the Blues and Royals. They were the first 'interesting' caterpillars which I kept and bred successfully into adult moths; real aristocrats after the everyday 'Cabbage' White and Small Tortoiseshell catties which had previously been my subjects.

The Drinker is part of the Eggar family of UK moths, large, brown and in some cases given to interesting practices such as laying their eggs in flight, dropping the tiny things like bombs. This marked contrast to most moths' careful selection of the right foodplants for egg-laying perhaps works because their caterpillars are happy on grass, heather, brambles and other widespread plants. 


I've included the third picture, with apologies for the blurring caused by its preparations for take-off, because the colouring is closer to the real thing. My ongoing struggles with my Panasonic Lumix have yet to overcome colour variations depending on the light- or darkness of the background.


The moths continue to be very abundant and it's always good to have whoppers such as the Privet Hawk shown above. Especially when they come in pairs - see below. Finally, can any literary sleuth track down the inspiration to today's headline?  Answer tomorrow.


Monday, 6 July 2015

Women in white




The first night of trapping for a week produced an overwhelming guest list in the Eggbox Hotel which coincided with a delightful visit from our granddaughter. This combination, although welcome in every way, made a thorough examination of the mothy arrivals impossible. Describing even those which I did manage to record would also make this a very long post.

Dress sense- grandchild and matching moth 

Accordingly, I am adopting my strategy of the last week, when Penny and I were on holiday, and feeding the information out in tantalising daily instalments. Veritably a Charles Dickens of a moth blog, although I cannot guarantee the sort of cliffhangers which kept his readers subscribing to Household Words. Today, too, we briefly acknowledge one of his great friends and fellow writers, Wilkie Collins, by examining some Women in White.


This first one fascinated me and I was relieved to find it slumbering in the trap when I finally got to take a prolonged look. Earlier on, it had been fluttering wildly, trying to escape.  It is either a female Yellow Tail, whose shape it resembles, or more probably the somewhat rarer White Satin moth. I plump for the latter because, as in the picture below, it has zebra legs which are a feature of WS but not the YT. It is also the moth in the picture at the top of the blog which shows no yellow tail.


On which subject, here is an undoubted Yellowtail below, with its trousers which bring to mind that old  rhyme:  
Anne Boleyn had no britches to wear
So King got a sheepskin and made her a pair.
Leather side out
And woolly side in
Eeh, it were warm in summer for Anne Boleyn.

Except the Yellowtail wears its trousers right way round.


I spoiled the late afternoon kip of a couple more Yellowtails when I was hosing the veg patch yesterday and there were two more sleeping on long grass and dead cow parsley near the trap this morning. They flash the yellow tail when tickled, an occupation I also enjoy employing on the granddaughter.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

What I (and Penny) saw on holiday



Goodness, there is much catching-up to be done on Martin's Moths because - lo! - I can now reveal a secret. For the last week I have been away in the Lake District, land of bliss. In an excess of vigour, I compiled a week of advance blog posts from a single night's catch on Friday 24th June and launched them daily from my Coniston B&B over my and Penny's morning tea. 

We didn't go to the Lakes in search of moths. Indeed, blog-posting apart, the holiday was largely a break from them. But I couldn't resist photographing a few that I came across. But first: admire my fungus! 


We were visiting John Ruskin's former home at Brantwood and, having been round the house many times, I wandered off into the lovely grounds, climbing steadily through a world of tasteful Lakeland greens and browns until - bazoom! - there on the trunk of a sickly oak was this amazing orange and yellow thing.  I thought at first that it was a deflated balloon, a child's toy or some sort of symbol for a junior nature trail but close inspection revealed that it was an astonishingly vivid mushroom or toadstool. That's Penny in the picture to the left, or at least part of her. Luckily, the fungus hadn't actually gobbled up her head.

I enquired of the very helpful staff at Brantwood, Tweeted for info and finally friends put me on to the eminent and extremely helpful Professor David Ingram who is an expert on Brantwood's botany. "What a magnificent specimen," he emailed, confirming that this is Laetiporus sulphoreus or the Sulphur Shelf Fungus, often known (because of its taste when young and cooked) as Chicken of the Woods. Personally, I cannot imagine giving this lurid object a go in the frying pan. But a special prize to a friend on Twitter who renamed it the Bagpuss Fungus.

Curiously enough, we were skirting the crags of Walna Scar the following day when I saw on the slopes of the spectacular flooded quarry below what appeared to be another example of sulphoreus.


Here it is, below, in the middle of the picture:


And here is what it actually was: a baseball cap but in identical Chicken of the Woods livery


There were two highlights on the entomological front in the Lakes. First, this beautiful Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly on the way up the Coppermines Valley below the Old Man of Coniston:

The first glimpse...
...and a closer look
And then I was thrilled to find myself in the middle of a large colony of Chimney Sweeper Moths, lovely little smudges of black with a tiny white rim to their forewings, like a Dickensian sweep in a new collar.  I hope you can make them out in the two immensely subtle examples of photographic art below. It was impossible (for me) to get any nearer without sending them fluttering away.



Penny meanwhile saved this White Ermine moth from the marching feet of mountain walkers on a rocky track near Goat's Tarn, a modest version of the mountain rescue heroics often performed on the gloomy precipices of nearby Dow Crag:



It was very refreshing, after two-and-a-half years in beautiful but low-lying Oxfordshire, to be striding up real hills again and the butterflies and moths appeared to share our glee. Here's a snatched picture of a Painted Lady on top of Catbells, along with one of a snowstorm of Crambyd micro-moths; I think that it is Crambus perlella? Update: No, I've changed to C. lathoniellus



The much higher summits of Swirl How and Coniston Old Man also boasted Painted Ladies, Red Admirals and Small Heaths - pictures of the latter two below:



And lastly, in the hope that a kindly expert on wasps, hoverflies and other such beasts may be dropping in, here are three characterful insect inhabitants of Wordsworth's nook of mountain ground. The background to the final, zebra-crossing one is our car's bonnet, but the skies and lakes of Cumbria this week were equally blue.





Saturday, 4 July 2015

Scrapeaters


When I was a young journalist on the Bath Evening Chronicle, I was lucky enough to go on Ethiopian Airlines' inaugural flight from London to Addis Ababa. This was in the last days of the famous Emperor Haile Selassie and I partly got to go because he had spent his wartime exile in Bath and remained very fond of the city (which has always returned the compliment).

I was also the only reporter on the paper who had a yellow fever vaccination, because of a gap year spent teaching in Zimbabwe, and the flight required both this and smallpox immunisation. Because in those days you could not have any other injection within six weeks of the yellow fever one, more senior colleagues were ruled out (and I was saved from any jealous recriminations).


It was a great trip and I specially remember discovering a 'poor school' run by a very bright young teacher right next to the top public school which taught the country's then elite. They were given the 'posh' boys' leftovers and were issued with cards saying 'Scrapeaters'.  Two other journalists on the trip, from the Sunday Times and Daily Mail, tried hard to get the details out of me, but I managed to frustrate them.

I tell you all this because I don't - yet - know anything about the two scraps of mini-moth shown here. I hope I will soon, either through my own efforts or thanks to the help of kindly, expert commentors.

Friday, 3 July 2015

A hint of blue, hooray


I was very pleased to find this delightful Carpet moth on the trap's transparent cowl, a nice change from the pretty but commonplace Garden and Common Carpets, and even the Silver Ground which is lovely but, to me, rather familiar now.

I am pretty sure that this is a Galium Carpet, named after the Gallium plants or Bedstraws on which its caterpillars like to guzzle. It has a good choice in the UK: Lady's, Heath and Hedge; a three-course meal for any Galium caterpillar lucky enough to be brought up within a crawl of all of them.

I have talked recently about the lack of blue in moths but the Galium is one which has a touch of it - very subtle but nonetheless there in that lovely, jaggedy band across its wings. I will try to introduce it to my granddaughter next time we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

A riband round it


I mentioned last week that the delicate little Riband Wave comes in two forms. At that stage only one of them had showed up. Now we have both and obligingly they came together. Here they are, above, on the trap's transparent top.


The first form was the plain one, though 'plain' is a misnomer for this quintessential Laura Ashley moth. But you'll see what I mean when you see the second one with its lovely smokey colouring along the riband.


This smokey version is commoner in the south of England, a refreshing counter to the misconception that smoke and greyness are 'northern' attributes. Tell that to anyone who knows the Lake District, the Dales or the North York Moors. Mind you, I did once stay at the Grey Hotel in Grey Street, Newcastle upon Tyne. Northerners can be their own worst enemies.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A jewel



Here's a moth to cheer up your Wednesday, should that need doing. It's also another of the tribe I was discussing on Sunday - very closely-related moths which only intimate bodily examination can tell apart.

This is therefore either a Gold Spot or a Lempke's Gold Spot, the latter named after the Dutch entomologist B J Lempke who flourished in the second half of the 20th century.


We can, however, be pretty sure that it is a plain and simple Gold Spot, which is a common moth, whereas Lempke's is only locally common with a stronghold in the fens of East Anglia. Perhaps Mr Lempke's countrymen and women brought it with them when they were draining the fens.

The scales are like those of the Burnished Brass, a recent favourite here, in the marvellous tricks they play with light. It is hackneyed to compare moths such as this with little jewels in the casket of eggboxes. But apposite, nevertheless.

My granddaughter loves the shadow of her hand when we are out with the buggy in the current sunshine. Below, for her, is the Gold Spot PLUS its shadow. I don't recall noticing this (admittedly obvious) phenomenon with my moths before.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

What's in a name?



Two days ago, I was discussing differences in the Dagger moths' sexual equipment. Today I am on the safer ground of the insects' nomenclature. The men and women who gave our UK moths their English names were an excellently imaginative bunch, but sometimes they erred on the side of literal descriptions.

Thus, alongside the Peach Blossom and the Gold Spangle, we have the Lead-coloured Drab and the Small Dusty Wave. One of my favourites, or rather two of them, are another literal couple - that confusing pair: the Bright-line Brown-eye and the Brown-line Bright-eye.

We have already had the former this year - here it is again below with its toothy marks - but my top picture shows the latter, freshly arrived with the July sun. The timing of the two moths' different seasons is worth knowing because the Bright-line Brown-eye is occasionally a pest on tomatoes and I am carefully tending two bushes of these.


The two moths are not near relatives either but the Brown-line Bright-eye is a close cousin of the similarly-looking Clay which I showed here the other day.

Monday, 29 June 2015

The PR moth




I featured the Barred Yellow on Saturday - here it is again, below left - and it made me think about the colours of moths, a subject on which I have mused from time to time. Governed by chemistry, camouflage and doubtless other factors, it remains a field in which new, young scientists might yet achieve great things.

I have yet to read an explanation, for instance, of the almost complete absence of the colour blue which is so gloriously shown in butterflies, even the relatively modest ones of the UK. Our delphiniums are out now, with cornflower and love-in-the-mist on their heels. While enjoying these very much, the sight of them in the early morning increases my sorrow at the bluelessness of moths.

Green isn't a lot better, though the emerald family gloriously save the day, but yellow - today's colour - is well represented. My top moth, the Swallowtail, is at the pale end of the yellow spectrum but very lovely for all that; and it is also a very good ambassador for UK moths.

When people contact me with descriptions or photos of a moth which has wandered into their dining room or fluttered at their bedroom windows at this time of the year, it is very often a Swallowtail. Neither small nor brown nor madly flying like a demented bee, it is a perfect ambassador for the moth world.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Size matters



The Grey Dagger has arrived which is always a good moment. It ought to be 'Daggers' in the plural, though. Check out how many you can see on its menacing wing patterns. This is a moth which would have been at home in Wolf Hall.

I thought of it and its relative the other day on the Underground in London, when Penny and I were queuing next to a young woman going home from a political demonstration. (How the word 'demo' transports me straight back to Uni at the end of the Sixties...)

Her poster had a cartoon of a man's...well...sorry to be coy but this is a family blog, and the slogan: 'Everyone loves a comedy *****. No-one loves austerity."  I was quite keen to pursue this issue but Penny restrained me and so I will never know the arguments on either side.


What has this to do with moths? Well, as in quite a large number of cases of very similar species, the Grey Dagger and the Dark Dagger can only be told apart by close examination of their genitalia. In the past, I have usually simply passed this information on from the Moth Bible, but the young woman on the Tube makes me contemplate the scene in Linnaeus' laboratory.  "I say, Carl," says one of the great man's assistants. "Have you seen the shape of this one?"

But I will stop there, because the Grey (or Dark) Dagger is a very fine moth and does not deserve my titters.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

An arm and a leg



The moths were frisky this morning, perhaps because of bright, dawn sunlight at 5.45am and a lovely mild temperature. No sooner had I lifted the lid, than a gang of the smaller ones waltzed out, some skittering off into the distance but others staying closer to home.

One of these was that welcome scrap of colour in the trap at this time of the year, the Yellow Shell  Update - sorry, senior moment. As Trent points out in Comments, this is a Barred Yellow. The Yellow Shell came last week.  I didn't mention then the interesting fact that its colouring is most vivid in southern parts of the UK. As you move north and west, the yellows and oranges become slightly browner until eventually you come across a sub-species which is tragically dull brown.

Known appropriately as 'isolata', this Cinderella of the family lives only on the remotest of county Kerry's Blasket Islands in Ireland, Inishvickilean and Tearaght. Maybe one day I will pay it a visit. Or you might.

My Barred Yellow made a beeline for my leg, at the same time as the pretty micro Anania coronata opted to sunbathe on my palm. Gradually, if you read this blog very carefully, you could be able to cut out and keep an entire jigsaw of me, always tastefully clad in my pyjamas.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Trumpety-trump



I thought my hawk moth tally for the year was complete, so this (above with my almost equally pink and beautiful thumb) came as a nice surprise this morning. A Small Elephant Hawk joined seven standard Elephant Hawks among the eggboxes on a very busy (and mild) night which saw a number of other interesting newcomers.

As regular readers will be aware, I love Elephant Hawks because of their marvellous colouring. I think everyone does. I'm always very pleased when we have visitors on a day when an Elephant is slumbering in the trap. They never fail to win people over and do their bit to show that UK moths are not all small and brown.



In the last two pictures from my Pink Period above, you can also see a Heart and Club on an egg cone and then in the background on the red strip of my towel, a Burnished Brass.  The latter are such lovely creatures - and also great examples of non-small, non-brown moths - that I'll unashamedly add a picture below of the two which came today, even though there's a BB in the trap every night at the moment.


The way the sheen is created by the refraction and reflection of light by hundreds of wingscales is as fascinating as the effect, and there is much learned material about it online.

The other arrivals included the lovely Light Arches and a Clay, a foxy-coloured moth which to me also has the rather sly look of Reynard. Here they are, below, albeit in reverse order, both nosing into eggbox crannies in the (vain) hope of more sleep:



Still on the newcomers list - this time of the year is the absolute zenith of moth activity - please kindly welcome, below, a Willow Beauty (I am pretty sure) and a Buff Arches, with that spindly calligraphy like the tugra or Sultan's cypher on documents from the Ottoman Empire.



I think we also have a possible Smoky Wainscot, below, although it's more than likely just a Common one. Help appreciated, as always.


Time for a little break now with some more familiar but always enjoyable guests: a big Silver-ground Carpet and another of the most excellent tribe of longhorn micro-moths. Like its predecessor the other day, it has chosen the underside of the bulb collar to roost.



And now, in this already inordinately long post, it's time to turn to yesterday's Three Grey Mystery Moths which have been the cause of much-appreciated advice both in Comments here and on the Upper Thames Moths blog.  On advice from experts on the latter, I rephotographed the moths yesterday with a scale and in an attempt to get clearer pictures. I managed the scale as you can see but picture quality was another matter:




Although there had been a suggestion on the UTM blog that one of the moths might be a Sycamore, and my anonymous commentor here ingeniously suggested a Tawny Shears, I think the revised photos show that all three are Large Nutmegs.  One of the lessons I draw from this is that I must find a CD player to check out the detailed instructions for my Panasonic Lumix. It's getting better (or maybe I should say immodestly that I am), but it can still panic over dark moths on light backgrounds.  In case you have been wondering about the sudden introduction of my towel to the blog's photos, that is the reason. I thought the camera might prefer moths seen against a slightly darker backdrop. I may be on to something here.


There was also a bonus from this because during rephotographing, I came across a very small, blurrily pretty moth which I'd overlooked. On a whim, I stuck a picture of it, above, on the UTM blog with the hasty suggestion that it might be a Least Black Arches. The expert Martin Albertini put me right, saying that it was a Muslin Footman which he kindly described as "a much more interesting moth." We were both rewarded this morning by the arrival of two more - and actually, I should have recognised it as I see from my records that it came both last year and in 2013. I must have a colony. Here are today's two, below, which have the coincidental advantage of showing my camera problems: the Lumix has had trouble with the very dark background of the bulb collar but is much happier with the transparent trap rim resting on my famous towel.



Surely he can't go on even longer? Yes, but only to show you my latest butterfly photo - the tally here is well into double figures. This is a Large Skipper on Sweet William. Doesn't English nature have nice names?