It's still pretty chilly here at night, but despite the low temperatures moths are arriving in ever-increasing numbers. None of the truly colourful ones yet, but the land is still wearing muted colours so you can't really expect the moths to stand out with undue gaudiness.
I had 17 in the box this morning, 4 different species, which is considerably up on the last time it was out (March 8th) when there were 3 moths made up from 2 species.
Here are today's Mothy People.
First, the Clouded Drab. An unfair name for a very variable moth who flies March- May and feeds on sallow (Goat willow) catkins and blackthorn flowers. This little moth overwinters as a pupa in an underground cocoon. Here I have two of the several varieties available, one browny grey and the other more orange.
Next, the Common Quaker, who is the most numerous moth recorded this week in Hampshire historically speaking. I had 8 here. This is also a one-generation moth, flying March-May, although you sometimes get small numbers emerging in Autumn and Winter if the weather is mild enough for them. They also feed at sallow catkins and blackthorn flowers and spend the winter as a pupa in an underground cocoon.
The third visitor is this Hebrew Character, of which there were 5 in the box. Moth names can be strange and at first glance this one sounds insulting, but in fact it is named for the black mark in the centre of the forewing which resembles Hebrew Script (something I've learnt today). There were 5 of them in the box this morning and they are also a one-generation species flying March-May in southern Britain and April-early June in the north and Ireland. It too feeds on sallow catkins, so if you have those near you you are very likely to have Hebrew Characters flying about at night. As with the other two, this moth overwinters as a pupa underground in a cocoon and it is widespread, found all over the British Isles in every type of habitat imaginable.
The fourth and final species in the box this morning was this Twin-Spotted Quaker. Here he is demonstrating the Moth Defensive Position of Playing Dead.
caterpillars, adult moths don't have poisons to ward off predators so
their best tactic is to play dead. Some species do this more frequently
than others. You only have to suggest movement to the White Ermine for
example and it crumples up in a convincing heap. I remember the first
time I saw this in action- I was so upset I'd killed a moth but couldn't
for the life of me work out how I'd done it. Ten minutes later I
returned and the ermine was doing the moth equivalent of sitting with
his feet up drinking tea and watching tele! I was very relieved all was well.
The Twin-Spotted Quaker
is also a single-generation moth flying between March-May and feeding
on sallow catkins. It too lives as a pupa underground in a cocoon during
winter and is a common resident all round the UK so you will most
likely have them flying about at night in your garden if you are a UK resident.
What these four species amply demonstrate more than anything else is the value of sallow as an important food plant. It supports a huge number of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths): some feed on the catkins (as these four), others on the leaves (Sallow Kitten moth) and others the wood (Lunar Hornet Clearwing moth). That most elegant and revered of flutters, his Imperial Majesty the Purple Emperor, requires sallow to feed his children who will eat nothing else, and as this morning's moth collection has shown, a great many early moths rely on it for their survival too.
Sallow, or Goat Willow, may be more familiar to you at this time of year as Pussy Willow as its catkins are decorating many of our hedgerows right now. It grows in all kinds of places as squatter shrubs and taller trees and, unlike other willows, it does not require damp ground in order to flourish.
I would go so far as to say it is the second most important tree in the UK after Oak in terms of the biodiversity it supports. Many invertebrates would be in serious trouble if sallow ever failed.
If you are thinking of planting a tree in your garden this year, have a think about planting a sallow- you'll be helping a great many more species than you realise and the tree will almost certainly reward you with visions of natural wonder you've never seen before, if you are patient and take the time to look. I know this because we are fortunate enough to have a Goat Willow in our front drive and I became very close to this tree last year and wrote a post about him and the life I found on and around and in him which you can read here.
I'm so glad the moths are starting to reappear. Along with everything else, it suggests this long winter is finally drawing to a close. I went to the garden centre yesterday afternoon and splashed out on some compost and some new plants- two colour variations of Scabious, a Cowslip and a couple of Aubretia, all beloved of insects and of course, I made sure I came home with something white for the moths. I find these days I can't buy a colourful plant without also coming home with a white one for my little night-time friends.
Have you ever thought about why so many night-scented flowers have white blooms? It's because they've adapted to be visible and attractive to the night-time pollinators. Night-scented stock, tobacco plant, jasmine, night-flowering catchfly, honeysuckle all have a large number of white or light blossoms.
Wishing everyone a peaceful and productive week,