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Preview: Martin's Moths

Martin's Moths

A tale of moths and men.

Updated: 2018-02-20T06:22:27.598+00:00


First of the year


(image) Happy New Year, belatedly. The moth trap remains closed-down and I am slowly working through my records in an armchair by the fire. But moths are still about and the lights of our porch are a modest beacon for them

Here, with apologies for the blurring, is the first of 2018: predictably a Winter Moth about whose remarkable 'anti-freeze' life system you can read more here in a blog post which also marked the first moth of a new year, and decade, in 2011.

Today's moth came on a chilly night and if you have time to click the link, you will see how the species copes with such apparently unfriendly conditions.

Merry Christmas!


Hi one and all and a Merry Christmas plus all warm wishes for the New Year. The trap is packed away and I shall spend the next month or so trying to sort out and send off my records, a very long overdue task.

Meanwhile here is a Christmassy and mothy picture which I found on an internet forum devoted to matters moth.  Its poster imagines appositely that clothes moth larvae will spend many happy hours chewing away at it.  Keep those cashmere sweaters well dosed with strong but not unpleasant scents and meanwhile I hope that you enjoy the mince pies!

Brrrr! Glad I put on my furs


It was a lovely evening last night, crisp and clear with a swollen moon presiding over the garden. I had a relatively leisurely morning in prospect and so couldn't resist the temptation to put out the trap, even though this are usually pretty moth-barren times.

I'm glad that I did, because the morning saw our first snowfall of the Winter, only a few modest flurries but enough to make the garden look as though someone had sprinkled it with icing sugar, just as Penny is currently doing with her home-made mince pies, yum. The trap was also sprinkled but protected from getting seriously wet by a nearby hedge.

When I went through the boxes, I failed to see any moths and came to the conclusion that, not surprisingly, none had stayed the night. But while putting them back, I spotted this handsome December Moth in very good condition, snugly wrapped in his fur coat. He didn't mind when I decanted him on to our snowy garden table for a seasonal picture, and went back to sleep when I popped him safely back into his eggbox and hid it under the hedge.

I doubt that I will put the trap out for a while now. But the lure of curiosity about what may be flying out there is great. So you never know.

Tangled web


I haven't lit the lamp since my last post, three weeks ago, because that night the fuses went in the house and because it had rained, I assumed that this was caused by the moth trap.

Last night, however, we had a young cousin to stay and the weather turned mild - thank goodness, because you feel the bitter cold at my age - so I thought: well, let's see if it works. And it did.

So I think that electrically I had put two and two together and made five, which is what I did pretty consistently as a schoolboy in all the many maths and science exams which I always failed. (My excuse is that none of the relevant teachers had a spark which might have ignited my mind, but I accept that there was probably fault on both sides).

Anyway, there was nothing in the trap this morning when we examined the eggboxes while my cousin gulped down her disgustingly healthy breakfast of gravelly muesli. But look! Entangled in one of the many spiders' webs which I carefully protect from too much cleaning on the outside of our windows, was the Mottled Umber shown at the top of this post.

My cousin is a natural feminist I am glad to say, so I sorrowfully showed her the dismal lot of the female Mottled Umber, the flightless bug on the right in Richard Lewington's beautiful illustrations from the Moth Bible, above. These poor creatures hatch, climb up tree trunks, emit pheromones, accept the consequences, lay their eggs and die. Veritably, the stuff of a Margaret Atwood dystopia.

As you can see below, the spiders have been busy elsewhere on the window. They are doing better than my mercury vapour lamp.

Battling on


A week has gone by, of cold weather mostly, with rain moving in whenever the temperatures rise a little. It was so damp the other night that the moth trap went out and tripped our main fuses, causing me to creep around in the small hours with a torch to put things right.I haven't lit the lamp since then, but the night's haul was worth the hassle, in the modest terms of this fag-end of the mothing season. I love the Sprawler, shown above on my wrinkly hand and in its original position on the wall of the house near the light. And the Feathered Thorn below is a lovely russet beast with very fine antennae on the male.December moths - next pic - are reliable visitors, meanwhile, and it's pretty standard practice to get what I think is a Winter Moth, the final illustration today.[...]

Tail-end Charlie


I haven't been putting the trap out much recently on account of the cold weather and darker nights, and this will now be the case until Spring comes. I was confirmed in the policy this morning by the arrival of my first December Moth of the year, the tail-end Charlie which usually rounds off my annual proceedings. It was the only resident overnight.

Unlike the rather commonplace November and Autumnal Moths, with their fey, grey fragileness, he or she is a doughty character very well-dressed to withstand the cold. My liking for this is increased by my having just avoided a chill on a cold day in Salisbury this week, when I could tell that I was too skimpily dressed and getting colder than I should. The devotional candles and souvenir shop in the cathedral came to my aid.

The December Moth is hardy enough to survive the UK winter as an egg which begins a life cycle that culminates in the hatching of adults in late October, in spite of their name. It is also found as far north as the Hebrides and lower slops of the Caledonian mountains. I expect that it or its relatives will still be around when I put out the trap again next week.



Two nights ago, just before the cold snap arrived, I found this attractive pair on the cowl of the dew-covered moth trap. The lower one is a fine male Feathered Thorn, one of a small number of moths which fly at this time of year and are equipped with the equivalent of a gaberdine to keep them cosy.The smaller moth is a Juniper Carpet, a relatively infrequent visitor and one of a handful of local moths which have yet to visit the supreme expert Dave Wilton, who runs the Upper Thames Moths blog to which I so often refer.Here it is, above, after fluttering off rather weakly, when I removed the cowl, and getting only as far as the lawn. I tempted it on to the leaf below, and so you can see its delicate but much less-patterned underwingsAnother agreeable arrival was the Satellite, below, with its little versions of a lunar landing pod boldly marked on each wing. Meanwhile, last night saw our first frost of the autumn, so only the hardiest moths will be out and about between now and the Spring.[...]



A solitary arrival three nights ago, the first time that this has been the case for a while. It's a handsome moth, though: the Sprawler, which always puts me in mind of heavy tweed suits as once worn by gents with pipes in Scottish fishing inns or London clubs.  As with so many moths, the pattern is delightful and the colours very satisfying however subdued.Talking of colours and patterns, I've been interested in the reaction of the Upper Thames Moths blog's great and very helpful expert Dave Wilton to the highly distinctive Blair's Shoulder-knot which I described here the other day - the one with two white patches on its shoulders, suggestive of an ermine collar to a robe. He commented: 'I've not seen Blair's Shoulder-knot with such an obvious white thorax but that probably doesn't mean much'. I think this is right, in that moths within a particular species can be extremely varied in wing pattern and colouring with out differing in any other physical way. But to the amateur like me, such variations are fascinating.This may date back to my schoolboy capture of an extremely unusual form of the Dark Green Fritillary, a lovely butterfly which has even made it to a Mongolian stamp. I noticed straight away the distinctive keymarks on its lower topwings and, still more, the shining segments of silver on the underwings. Sure enough, it was definitely different - so much so that at one time in the 19th century, it was reclassified as a separate species called the Queen of England Fritillary in guides such as the one shown below:It was identified for me by the learned and very kindly head of natural history at Leeds City Museum, John Armitage, who initially assumed that it was a foreign butterfly which I must have found on holiday. It was indeed a holiday capture, but on Goonhilly Down in Cornwall (in exactly the same spot where the great entomologist Prof E B Ford caught one of the few Monarch butterflies - the famous migratory American species - to be found in the UK). The butterfly, shown above and below with the standard Dark Green Fritillary (below in the top pic, above in the bottom one, sorry for the confusion), is known as aberration Charlotta.  It's the top specimen in the cabinet which I keep from my long-ago collecting days.[...]

Hats off to the Sahara


Here's a first. I've never started a post with a picture of the desert before. But the Sahara plus Hurricane Ophelia and now Storm Brian (sounds a bit weedy by comparison, but it's done its bit)  have been sending some interesting moths to the UK.  They don't fly, or at least hardly. They get scooped up and hurtled north. So it's largely a matter of simply staying aloft while the weather does the motoring.The latest shivering arrival (presumably, although adult moths are less sensitive to the cold than their caterpillars and, in particular, those caterpillars' foodplants) is this Scarce Bordered Straw which also rejoices in the alternative name of the Old World Bollworm. If that suggests to you an American connection and a fondness for crops, you are right. The SBS can be a serious pest. However, it will do no damage here and I have never seen one before. So, Hooray!A more familiar immigrant from the hotlands is the Vestal. They are coming regularly now, when the nights are not too wet and cold - they have been both of late, until it warmed up and dried up yesterday evening. Another good moth in the background is also around in numbers: the Large Wainscot.I'm particularly pleased with my last moth, too: a very unusual-looking Blair's Shoulder-knot. Many of these are also immigrants albeit only from the Continent, but they have also settled here and breed regularly. Their normal background colour is grey, with occasional pinkish streaks and all those dots and dashes, but this one has these extremely distinctive white shoulders.  An ermine collar. Is that an omen for the political future of our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair?[...]

Vestal visitor


We had a foggy journey back from London late last night and the garden was misty and very still when I put the trap out a little before midnight. I was clearly sleepy, too, as this morning I found that the transparent cowl had partially slipped off. Conceivably, a fox or badger might have nudged it but it would be a very brave animal that ventured so close to the dazzling mercury vapour light.My last Vestal wasfloating in the poolon our holiday inPortugal last month- alive and duly rescuedLuckily, the extra gap hadn't enticed a couple of interesting arrivals to escape: my first two pictures show an immigrant Vestal, a species from the Mediterranean which has been arriving in unusual numbers in this part of the UK on the tailcoats of Hurricane Ophelia, as mentioned in recent posts. You can tell that it is an immigrant because of the yellowy shade which is generally found in Vestals from warmer climes which have spent less time in their chrysalises.  The ones which breed in Northern continental Europe and here (from eggs laid by immigrants earlier in the Summer) are paler and closer to Hollywood's ideal of the clothing worn by ancient Rome's Vestal Virgins from whom this dainty insect takes its name. My composite picture below contrasts this morning's arrival - on the left - with one which came in September 2013 and an NBC picture of Janet Stephens in a Hollywood Vestal role.It was also good to welcome a Sprawler, that tweedy regular in mid-Autumn, and to see another Large Wainscot - all shown below. On the smaller side, I think the Plume moth with its distinctive T shape is probably just a Common Plume, Emmelina monodactyla, but if anyone knows different, please shout.Lastly, it's always instructive to note the great variation you find within a moth species, as with these two November Moths below:And very lastly, because I often berate brown and grey moths for their similarity and lack of pzazz, here is a fresh red-line Quaker looking actually rather fine:[...]

Great skies; but where are the moths?


As much discussed in the UK, we enjoyed delightfully spooky weather yesterday, variously described as a Red Sun and Marmalade Skies. The latter was closer to accuracy so far as we were concerned; until early afternoon, we were bathed in a weird, orangey glow caused by sand swirled up from north Africa by mighty Hurricane Ophelia, along with ash from fires in Portugal and Spain.When we saw the sun, it resembled the photo from the BBC's website on the left, but most of the time, the other pic from the BBC on the right gives a better and more marmaladey impression. Along with many others, I was optimistic that these conditions would be reflected by curious, long-distance arrivals in the moth trap. But that was not the case. I blame the wind which got up in the evening and the temperature, which fell. Although I saw a couple of moths fluttering close to the lamp before I turned in, the eggboxes were very sparsely populated this morning. Indeed, the only moth which I thought worth showing you was this Angle Shades, a long-standing favourite which hasn't been for a while. Perhaps its stylishly raked wings allowed it to risk the 40mph gusts which lasted 'til midnight.My other moth curiosity, below, was on board a friend's boat which took Penny and myself for a memorable saunter along the Thames, including a call at the wonderful Egyptian House in Moulsford, left. These are the tragic remains of that lovely and aptly-named species, the Bordered Beauty. I suppose that they show the efficiency of spiders at filleting out a moth's juicy, edible bits.[...]

Large means large


I am running a day behind these days, with daylight coming too slowly and too late for me to scribble out the blog post before life's other demands kick in. Today's handsome whopper therefore visited me on Sunday night and provided a nice surprise yesterday morning.It's a Large Wainscot, suitable named as you can see when you compare it with the Common Wainscot which also stayed the night. Here they are below, waking up slowly in the company if a Merveille du Jour, that star of the UK's Autumn moths.The Large Wainscot is not that common round here but it has come calling for the last three years. It likes watery spots and we have both the Oxford Canal and the River Cherwell nearby. A curiosity of its behaviour is that it flies twice a night, briefly at dusk and then for a longer spell later on. Superficially it resembles the White Speck which filled me with such joy yesterday, and inded my first thought on seeing the WS was that it was an LW.I rhapsodised about the Green-brindled Crescent two days ago. Its appearance is usually followed by that if its very close relation, the form cappucino, and this has duly happened again this year. Here it is, above, a darker and less blingy version, with the brown body and creamy top associated with the coffee (and the Capucin monks after whom both drink and moth are named). The standard, glisteningly green form is on the left.A distinctive micro next. This is is Hypsopygia glaucinalis, a sort of big brother to Hypsopygia costalis or the Gold Triangle, the pretty scrap of purple and gold which came the other day - and again in this bunch of Sunday nighters - see right. Glaucinalis is duller but bigger, easily the size of many UK macro moths. It's also useful. Unlike the Boxworm and White Speck (or Armyworm) which are serious crop and plant pests, its caterpillars feed on decaying matter and are useful scavengers. They have admittedly been found munching on birds' nests, but not in sufficient numbers to do serious damage. And it's hard to imagine them being foolhardy enough to dine on an occupied nest, whose inhabitants would surely seize the chance to dine on them,When I first went to look at the trap, a small moth was all of a flutter inside the transparent collar, whirling around distractedly before finally settling on the battered plastic. Here's the view I had below:What was it? I lifted the bulb and its holder out carefully and upturned the collar gingerly. The moth stayed put and posed for a picture, resting on my beautifully pyjama-glad knees (the jams looking a bit grubby because the collar is between them and the moth).  It's a Straw Dot, one of the macros smaller than Hypsopygia glaucinalis, which is enjoying a good long season this year.Finally, a series of tortrix micros: a fine, fresh example of the Garden Rose Tortrix, Acleris variegana, which last arrived two nights ago in the form of a very battered specimen; the puritanically grey Acleris sparsana and the Light Brown Apple Moth, Epyphias postvittana, with a jauntily tail-cocking Red-green Carpet looking on.[...]



It's childish I know - or perhaps we could settle more kindly on 'child-like', but I still get a kick out of finding unusual moths in the trap. This is a pretty infrequent experience and now that we have been here for five summers, it's a surprise to find anything which hasn't called at least once before. But that was my experience yesterday morning, after the last of National Moth Nights' three nights.The visitor was a White-speck, an immigrant species which makes landfall in the UK every autumn but only seldom this far inland. Martin Townsend, the co-author of the Moth Bible and an unfailingly helpful mainstay of the Upper Thames Moths blog, says that there have only been a few records for Oxfordshire. Now mine joins them, huzza!It nearly didn't, firstly because I turned the moth's eggbox over clumsily after examining the other side and nearly dislodged the un-noticed White-speck in the process. And secondly, because I initially took it to be one of the less common wainscots. Luckily, there was something about its shape and the beady, eponymous white speck, which kept me searching through the Bible.White-speck Land - the Isles of ScillyIt isn't a specially exciting moth to look at, as you can see, but it has a sleek, streamlined appearance which makes for a purposeful impression.  In the United States where it is common and a major agricultural pest, it is known as the Armyworm because its voracious caterpillars can assemble in large numbers and march on crops. The Americans' usage of 'worm' for caterpillar, by the by, is an example of how their version of English has kept alive old forms which we have discarded; 'worm' is one and 'gotten' another. Worth remembering, when we criticise them for their many novelties.Why a White-speck now? It is one of an army of immigrant moths swept north from the Continent on warm winds caught up in the train of the remains of Hurricane Ophelia. White-specks usually head for Devon and Cornwall and have even established breeding colonies in the far south west, including the Isles of Scilly. On your guard, daffodil-growers!This morning's forecast for Hurricane Ophelia from the BBC's website. You'll have to imagine the moths getting hauled north to the right of the orange trackA most excellent bug - thetrap also had a wasp, an earwig,Several Daddy-long-legs, lacewings and woodlice. Update: Alex in Comments has kindly been Googling and suggests that this is a Hawthorn Shieldbug and I think heis right. Many thanks. Thedarkness of its purple maysuggest that it is gettingready to hibernate.Back on National Moth Night, I was visited by another attractive immigrant and one which has settled here bigtime, Blair's Shoulder-knot, above, one of three UK moths which carry the name of a retired entomologist from the Natural History Museum, Dr Blair, who lived on the Isle of Wight where many species new to the UK first make landfall as the Shoulder-knot did in 1951. It shares the sleekness of the White-speck but has a rather more handsome, Tweedy appearance. It also has a look of the Pinion moths and Dr Blair modestly suggested initially that it should be given the agreeable name of Stone Pinion. But others disagreed and wanted him  honoured for his tireless discoveries and so the moth joined the much rarer Blair's Mocha and Blair's Wainscot.Red-line QuakerAnd its Yellow-line cousin. Update: Paul in Comments suggests that this is a Brick and I am sure that he is right. Many thanks again P.Here are the other arrivals on Saturday/Sunday night:9 Lunar Underwings8 Beaded Chestnuts7 Setaceous Hebrew Characters4 Large Yellow Underwings3 Black Rustics2 Straw DotsAnd one each of Sallow, Barred Sallow, Square-spot Rustic, Autumna[...]

Recording chores


Top Moth from National Moth Night for me: an iridescent Green-brindled CrescentCommon Marbled CarpetI have belatedly caught up with the fact that the last three nights have constituted this year's National Moth Night, a fairly recent way of harnessing amateurs' enthusiasm to get a clearer picture of the UK's growing record of species and numbers. This is an entirely excellent idea, especially in providing solid data to counter the mercurial ways of the media (in which I used to work for many years) and the resulting, exaggerated highs and lows in reports of moth gluts or suggestions that species are dying out altogether.Another favourite: Ruby Tiger with a long-snouted caddisflySnout and another caddisSo I joined in on Friday night, having missed the previous evening because of a visit elsewhere. I am not a sedulous recorder and find the painstaking listing of species and numbers in the trap much more difficult than I should. Since childhood, I have preferred to concentrate on the 'treasures' in any list of facts or collection of objects. Indeed, cherry-picking the curiosities of life is probably the main reason why I decided to make my living as a journalist.And another; the good old Burnished Brass (f.juncta)Here by contrast are the figures from Friday's trap, which I must also remember to send to the organisers of National Moth Night - and do let me encourage you to do likewise. I will try to be more on the ball next year and flag the event up in advance.New for the year: Autumnal MothRed-green Carpet35 Setaceous Hebrew Characters 31 Black Rustics10 Large Yellow Underwing8 Lunar Underwing5 Red-line Quaker4 Square-dot Rustic4 Lesser Yellow Underwing4 Sallow3 Green-brindled Crescent2 Autumnal Moths2 Centre-barred Sallows2 Beaded Chestnut2 Straw DotOne each of Red-green Carpet, Common Marbled Carpet, Burnished Brass form juncta, Rosy Rustic, Ruby Tiger, Snout and Silver Y.Silver Y, a seasonal immigrant in great numbersThere were also three 'carpety' moths which I have yet to identify - probably faded Common or Dark Marbled Carpets but I wonder if one of them is a Streamer; and two 'grey-y' gents, or ladies, as my granddaughter would no doubt call them, whose ID I also need to track down. Here they are:These are the two 'grey-y' ones. I think they are two more Lunar Underwings:The micros consisted of the dainty Gold Triangle, Hypstopygia costalis, pictured left, and the two tortrixy types shown below, one of them very battered. I think the top one is a Dark Fruit Tree Tortrix, Pandemis heparana, and the knocked-about one a Garden Rose Tortrix, Acleris varienaga. I should be sure, as both are common and come here often, but there we go.[...]

One up for youth


The 'phone went the other morning at 8am when I have to admit that Penny and I were still slugging in bed with our morning tea. It was our granddaughter, a noted enthusiast for moths as I have mentioned in the past, who could not contain her excitement about a new discovery."I am calling it Browney Whitey," she said, "because it is brown at the edges and white in the middle." Then she repeated this in a whisper, so as not to wake the moth up.We hooked up on Facetime so that Penny and I could take a look at the cause of all the excitement (which the granddaughter was keen to tell us had been found in a pair of pants). It was difficult to make out as the 'phone jogged about, but there was something familiar about it. A few hours later, our daughter-in-law emailed the photo above and I realised what that something was: posts on the matchless Upper Thames Moths blog have reported recently about the spread of the micro Cydelima perspectalis, known in English as the Box Tree Moth or, less flatteringly, the Boxworm.The granddaughter had beaten me to finding an example of this new arrival in the UK, a moth from the Far East - Japan, Korea and parts of India - which made its way here in imported goods in 2007 and has since flourished mightily as you can see from the post in the UTM blog by ace expert Dave Wilton, above.  Hats off to the young, say I! I hope that I will play host to a Box Tree Moth here before long.Mind you, I have no box in my garden. If you do, this moth is very bad news indeed.It will be interesting to see how the neatily clipped hedges of hundreds of stately homes cope with the species' voracious caterpillars.[...]

Top moth


I was all set to write an elegiac, end-of-the-season post this morning. Indeed, I was rehearsing my opening as I looked through the scantily-inhabited eggboxes: 'Things are beginning to wind down, darker days are drawing in...' etc.But then I saw the magnificent Merveille du Jour shown in the two pictures above, nestling in a battered eggbox cone. Oh happiness! This is one of my favourite moths and it adds to its lustre by coming at the otherwise sometimes dispiriting fag-end of the year.Marvel of the Day?  It is strictly speaking a Marvel of the Night. But who is quibbling?  Though talking of marvels of the night, Penny and I went to a brilliant light show at Blenheim Palace last night, laid on by the American artist Jenny Holzer. It was free but - like the Oxford Heritage Light Night which I featured last week - very under-advertised. Blenheim is usually awash with people and queueing cars but last night there were fewer than 100 spectators when we were there.  If you are anywhere nearby, the night-time show has a couple more evenings to run.Back in the moth trap, I also found the Square-spot Rustic above,  interesting in that its caterpillar is as nocturnal as the adult moth, feeding by night. And - final picture - the micro Endotricha flammealis which is only locally common but was here in July as well at the end of September last year.[...]

Petticoat hunt


I always get a kick out of a big moth choosing to spend the night in the moth trap. At this time of year, the likeliest bet is a Red Underwing such as this one; not merely large but bright and beautiful. I've given the first picture an appropriately colourful background in the form of my morning tea in a mug from the Ashmolean, showing Ucello's lovely painting The Hunt in the Forest.Getting the Red Underwing to share its attractions isn't easy, however. You need patience to get a photograph of the vivid scarlet petticoat which gives the species its name. The moths are very reluctant to show their underwear off for any length of time; they prefer to flash it briefly as a warning to a predator. Here are my best attempts during a long sesh this morning until the sleepy creature finally achieved lift-off and soared away to the eaves of our house and a quieter roost.The Red Underwing isn't alone in this shyness about its underwings. The Black Rustic, which is one of the commonest moths in the trap at the moment, is also very skilful at hiding its shining white pair which form such a vivid contrast to the dark forewings. Indeed, I had forgotten about this altogether until this morning a Black Rustic fell out of an eggbox and in its confusion, left a triangle of its slip showing.For the rest, the 60 or so moths (on a very cold and quite windy night) included this vividly russet Chestnut (I think) - Update: actually, on reflection I think that the three markings on either side of the folded wings mean that it is a Beaded Chestnut - and what I am fairly sure is another form of the Common Marbled Carpet - quite different from yesterday's 'copper blotch' version.[...]



I was speculating idly yesterday on why many Carpet moths and a number of other species often rest with the tip of their abdomen jauntily cocked aloft. Idly, because as usual I had other things to get on with and therefore no time to do research into the question.I have now remedied that and come up with the entry above on a discussion forum. The first part chimes with my own, unoriginal, thinking but the second is fascinating. I have dealt before with anti-bat radar counter-measures taken by some moths, notably the Yellow Underwings, but not in connection with the curling bodies. I shall follow the links and read more. There are, after all, many sounds in Nature which humans cannot hear. Meanwhile here is a Red-green Carpet again, this time demonstrating another unusual habit of the species: when surprised - and presumably therefore alarmed - it folds its wings butterfly-style above its back, rather than in the usual flat position shown below.I shall search again for enlightenment but my guess is that the moth hopes to make itself less conspicuous. This happens in a fascinating way with many of the 'brown' species of butterfly, notably the Graylings, which fold their wings above their backs, slide back the forewing to make the visible area roughly half as big and then, brilliantly, angle themselves against the sun so as to cast the smallest shadow possible.  I have spent happy times on warm and sunny days both here in the UK and abroad watching this sensible behaviour. Lastly, another type of Carpet moth, the Common Marbles's 'copper blotch' form, was sleeping on the wall of our house near the light trap. I don't think its neat placing on the cement pointing is a matter of coincidence, another sign of how moths position themselves in ways which they think and presumably hope make them harder for predators to see.[...]

A dab of bright colour


The year is turning and the changing colour of trees' leaves mark the progress of Autumn. But there are still plenty of moths about and plenty of colour among them too. Above and directly below are two Red-green Carpets, each with its own version of the mixture of red and green which the name suggests. The more reddish one below is consorting with that Puritan-looking moth, the Autumnal Rustic.Like many Carpet moths, this species has the habit of sticking its tail in the air saucily when at rest - see below. Whether this is for comfort or - more likely - connected in some way with moths' great mission in life which is to mate, I am uncertain.Sallow moths continue to brighten up the trap too, and here are examples of two of the several forms of the straightforward Sallow: the plain version and the one which looks more like a well-cooked Welsh Rarebit.My last moth, for contrast albeit still very much in the same part of the colour spectrum, is a different species, the Pink-barred Sallow. Welcome all![...]



All too often the comparatively large and delicate Swallow-tailed Moth is battered and careworn by the time it appears in my trap, so today's visitor was a nice surprise. Clinging to the cone which surrounds the mercury vapour bulb - and channels moths into the trap in the manner of a lobster or crayfish pot - it was in almost pristine condition.It showed a distinct preference for black plastic when I lifted the cone out and the moth was subjected to a battering from this morning's breezy conditions. First it flew dozily to the edge of the trap's bowl; then, when I attempted to entice it on to an eggbox for better photography, it nipped back to the cone. Finally, it agreed to spend a little time underneath an eggbox, albeit rather shadily as per my second picture, before flying away and tucking itself into a window architrave.A quiet night otherwise, with most of the eggboxes' other guests made up of Black Rustics and Lunar Underwings, well over 50 in all. But it was nice to find among them a Frosted Orange and my favourite, a Burnished Brass (form aurea), both shown below.[...]

Light night


The moths in this part of the world had an exotic experience last night when some of Oxford's most venerable buildings were beautifully illuminated in an excellent event called the Night of Heritage Light. What they made of it, I am not sure as neither Penny nor I saw any about, but I laid on my own small show for them at home and managed to get a blurry picture of an unidentifiable species showing interest.In the morning, the current army of Black Rustics, Lunar Underwings and the like was varied by the arrival of a couple of male Vapourers. This is a fascinating moth whose males fly mostly by day, when they are often mistaken from a distance for small brown butterflies such as the Brown Hairstreak, but whose females are non-flying, large-bodied breeding machines.If you are a reasonably energetic sort of person, then I have no doubt that you would rather be a male Vapourer. But a couch-bound TV addict would probably find the life of the female preferable. She remains inert, emitting the occasional pheromone to attract a suitor (probably the reason for the species' name), and then lays a very large number of eggs in her immediate surroundings, which usually include the cocoon from which she hatched. You can read more about this curious lifestyle and see some excellent pictures of the moths on this website here.Unusually, Vapourer eggs hatch in successive batches over a period of up to eight weeks, a very sensible way of avoiding too much competition for foodplants. The handsome caterpillars are brightly-coloured and multi-tufted. Occasionally they occur in such large numbers that they defoliate entire trees. Note in my last picture above, the exceptional antennae which are another advantage of being a male of the species.For the rest, it was good to be visited by a tattered by the gallant Red Underwing shown above and the Rosy Rustic, Bright-line Brown-eye and Red-line Quaker below. My beach towel also takes a bow in today's pictures. I like having a colourful background.[...]

Rush hour


Towards the end of August, the UK's summer glut of moths begins to die away and there is a pause of several weeks when numbers and variety in the trap may both be scanty. Come mid to late September, however, things look up. We are in the middle of a second rush hour.Some of the moths are dull and brown but the seasonal colourway is always cheered up by the yellows and oranges of the Sallow family.  Perched on the stem of one of our pumpkins, above, we have three different members: from left to right, the Barred Sallow, the Pink-barred Sallow and a straightforward Sallow. Then to the left on its own, a Centre-barred Sallow. And that still leaves the Orange, Dusky-lemon and Pale-lemon still to pay me a call.The next character, seen here looking like a High Priest at his or her devotions with an acolyte of the same species prone below, is a relative of the Sallows - a Lunar Underwing, a moth which comes like paint or fabric in three different swatches, pale brown, tawny-brown and, as in this case, grey.Next, behold that delightful and delicate creature, the Light Emerald, followed by a typical snap of an eggbox with two Black Rustics (far and away the most common overnighter just now with 35 in the trap last night), a Setaceous Hebrew Character, a Common Wainscot and two Willow Beauties (I think; my nerve fails me with this type of moth).A small assembly of Black Rustics comes next and then a series of grey/brown moths which are easy to dismiss but actually have very delicate and subtle patterns on their wings, if you spare them a little time:  am immigrant Dark Swordgrass, a Brown-spot Pinion below something I cannot identify, a Beaded Chestnut (I think), a Lunar Underwing of the pale brown persuasion and an Autumnal Rustic.We need to feature a micro and here is a tiny little Light Brown Apple moth, aka Epiphyas postvittana, followed by two of the smaller macros, both common but both delightful: the copper-blotched form of the Common Marbled Carpet and the Red-green Carpet to the left. Nearly there: I'd just like to show the two forms of the Burnished Brass yet again, one of my favourite moths and still the subject of taxonomists' debate as to whether the juncta variety with the shining bands joined by a horizontal strip should be classified as a different species from aurea, where the areas of sheen are divided by a solid brown band. Both these specimens obligingly gave me an illuminating view from above as they warmed up to fly awayWhat have we left? A rather lovely example of the pinkish form of the Common Wainscot with its delicate ribbing; and a trio of that excellent, rakishly streamlined moth, the Angle Shades.[...]

Caterpillar classroom


I have decided to abandon my role as a caterpillar parent after a successful attempt at limited freedom while Penny and I were on holiday in Portugal. Albert, my Poplar Hawkmoth cattie (yes, our relationship had developed as far as giving him - or her - a name) survived contentedly in a muslin bag looped round a branch of a willow tree after a precarious adventure on our stepladder.On our return, inspection of the bag first revealed an impressive number of droppings and then, tucked away among the living leaves - the ones cut for his previous box wilted virtually daily - there he or she was. Given our other commitments, I took this as a sign that the fledgling could leave the nest and so here is Albert (or Alberta) below, out in the big wild world at last.I was promptly rewarded by Penny's discovery of the very fine Grey Dagger cattie shown at the top of this post and below. Munching away quite openly on a beech hedge sapling, it presumably benefits from its bright colouring as a scare mechanism. Don't eat me; I may be poisonous.  Its appetite was as voracious as the famous cattie in the children's modern classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Half-an-hour after we took these pics, the leaf being nibbled had disappeared entirely. Earlier, while I was out, it had eaten another one of similar size as its first course.[...]

Familiar faces


Before bidding fond farewell to Portugal, where Penny and I have just had an excellent week, here are a couple of familiar and attractive mothy faces which we discovered there. The first, in my top three pictures, is that beautiful and beautifully-named moth the Peach Blossom. I might have missed it while checking out the swimming pool trap - see yesterday's post - because it was way out in the deep end, lying flat-out on the surface. Luckily my swim took me right past.This is a common enough moth in the UK which I remember (on account of its striking appearance) from my schooldays and which visited us fairly regularly in Leeds. But I have had only one in the trap since moving to Oxfordshire in 2013, so the Portuguese encounter was a welcome one.The second moth appeared to be familiar; I had it down as an Oak Eggar, a species which I also remember very well from schooldays when we found their caterpillars and hatched the adults from cocoons. Much the biggest of my swimming pool moths, it condescended to perch on my finger and so I took it into breakfast where it was a predictable hit with assorted children of various nationalities - exclamations of 'Papillon!' and 'Schmetterling!' joining those of 'Mariposa!' and 'Borboleta!'When originally spotted - just above the pool's waterlineRescued and posed with flowerGetting frisky and examining my flip-flopsReleased on to a bush of similar flowersThree days later, by chance, a large and lively moth was jinking about in front of the entrance of a local supermarket. On inspection, it turned out to be - I thought - a second male Oak Eggar; the female is larger and a fine caramel-y colour.Our guys are the two second from bottom on the left-hand page - the male is on the right of the pair with the fine bushy antennaeGetting home and consulting the Moth Bible, however (above), I am sure that both moths were actually Grass Eggars, a different kettle of fish in the UK where they are classed as Nationally Scarce and pretty much confined to coastal sand dunes and cliffs. This habit has given their caterpillars an interestingly varied diet which includes Spiny Restharrow, False Oat-grass and Thrift. Think of them as the equivalents of human beings who like to dine out at Cambodian or Mongolian restaurants.Finally from Portugal, this distinctive little scrap of a moth fell out of the rafters of a funky beach cafe at Vila Nova de Milfontes (pic left), while P and I were munching sardines. It is Eublemma candidana, a macro moth in spite of its midget size (those little squares are part of the tablecloth) which is unknown in the UK although it has relatives here. In France it goes under the magnificent name of L'Anthophile Superbe or The Superb Flower-lover.[...]

A mega moth trap


I have often fantasised about taking the moth trap on holidays abroad - an impossible dream because it is much to big and cumbersome to ferry around, even if we were to go by car. Likewise, I have sometimes gazed wistfully at advertisements in entomological or natural history magazines for cottages and villas to let on the Continent which come complete with a moth trap. Penny would draw the line at that.However, on our week in Portugal from which we returned yesterday, I did indeed have a moth trap - and a very big one. Our hotel's swimming pool was set in lovely, rather wild gardens and its underwater lights were left on all night. You can see some of the results here. Come the morning, several dozen moths were suspended on the pool's surface, clamped like prisoners by the surface tension and moving slowly but surely towards the doom of the filter outlets.Update: the expert and kindly guru of Upper Thames Moths, Dave Wilton, identifies this as a Dusky Carpet, a moth only once recorded in the UK, a specimen caught at Tenby in South Wales which is now in the Museum of Natural History in KensingtonI learned after a couple of early morning swims that it was handy to get to the pool before the gardener/handyman who dutifully netted debris from the pool first thing. I enjoyed chatting to him in a strange mixture of English and something vaguely like Portuguese although probably tending more towards Spanish. But although we got as far as 'mariposa' and 'borboletta' - words in both languages for 'butterfly' - I didn't try to complicate his life by appealing for a netting delay while I waded about with the iPad Mini, taking pictures.A Yellow-tail - a species notoriously shy about showing its eponymous feature. This one had little choice.The answer was to have my swim a little earlier. I managed to do this and even to build in time to rescue most of the apparent victims. The moths looked dead, apart from one or two which were struggling feebly, but once you scooped them out and decanted them on to the stone, decking or even nearby tree-trunks, they recovered speedily. Here are some examples:I think that the bottom moth is a Portuguese example of the Yellow Belle, a moth which is only locally found in the UK - one of the locales being a regular stamping ground for me in my journalism days: Greenham Common near Newbury, scene of the famous women's protests against cruise missiles.I have yet to discover the ID of most of the moths shown in this post, but this one is a Portuguese example of our familiar Scalloped Oak. I think, incidentally, that the moth in my top picture may be a Portuguese Straw Belle. Update: no, I have changed my mind and think that it is the yellowy form of the Vestal.My most curious observations, however, were of a half-dozen or so moths which were perched at least an inch underwater, clinging to the side of the pool, thoroughly alive and apparently contented with their surroundings. When I eased them off and put them down in the sunshine, they too recovered. There is plenty on the web about moths and other insects' ability to spend time underwater, including a piece on a Hawaiian moth which seems happy in both elements. There is also the example of dragonflies, whose first three stages of life are spent in water. But I hope to read more, not only about the breathing issue but also about the waterproof-ness or otherwise of moths' wings - note the bubbles of air clingi[...]