Monday, 16 March 2015

Moth Time

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.



Unlike 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,

CT :o)

 


 

31 comments:

  1. The Clouded Drab,
    Not fab.
    But what's in a name?
    In your blog, it's found its fame.

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    2. I know! Poor thing, it does get the rough end of the name stick. Love the mothy poem! :o)

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    3. That is very good Stephanie!

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  2. Never knew or thought why some plants were white. Loved looking at all your Moths and perhaps spring is nearly here. Usually animals etc knew better than we do.

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    1. I agree- they always get it right, better attuned that we are :o)

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  3. LOTS of Pussy Willow/Sallow in these parts. Probably lots of moths too, although I've not seen many pussy willow paws out locally yet, but on our travels there are large amounts of it in the final yellow stage. Obviously warmer than our valley.

    I think "Hebrew Character" is such a lovely name for a moth.

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    1. I expect you've got loads of moths around you. Be interesting to find out :o)

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  4. Lovely photos CT ... I didn't know moths played dead, you learn something new every day.. thank you :o) x

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    1. You're welcome my dear. They are fascinating creatures :o)

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  5. Very interesting. I had never thought about seeing moths meaning spring is near. That's funny because when I opened the front door early this morning, a moth flew inside.It looked a lot like your third picture. I need to buy more white flowering plants.

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    1. They do fly all through the year, different species obviously. They are a hugely varied group. I wonder what your moth was?

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  6. Hey CT,
    I feel a bit drab at this time of year, so your Clouded Drab has my sympathies. I did chuckle at the moth playing dead. I wonder whether the boys would leave me alone to read if I did the same? We have lots of pussy willow here too. I've noticed that it's out and about along the back roads of St Ives.
    Leanne xx

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    1. Me too :o) Having a hair cut this week- long overdue, hoping it lifts the winter drabness! Worth a try re the reading, although it's never worked here :o) xx

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  7. Have been waiting for your moth posts, love the names and colours even the brown ones, will buy some white flowers next time I visit the garden center...
    Amanda xx

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    1. I think the brown ones are very pretty when you see them up close - wonderful, intricate markings. The moths will love you for adding white flowers to your garden- worth checking them with a torch after nightfall in summer to see who's visiting :o) xx

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  8. What lovely moths. I know nothing at all about moths, but they're so subtly beautiful. Visiting here I shall learn more! Disappointingly the local Britain in Bloom group ripped out a load of goat willow the other day. They've replaced it with a ring of thorns (eight or so hawthorns I think). But now I know how valuable the goat willow is it seems a shame. CJ xx

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    1. I wonder why the Willow came down? Hawthorn is also good for supporting other things, but not as good as Sallow. I wonder whether they knew and understood that? There will be plenty more moths over the summer, CJ, some are really stunning xx

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  9. I was just thinking as I read, thank goodness for Sallow, and then, I must get one to plant! The moths are extraordinary pictured up close. I notice on their legs they have a toe thing coming out of the back of their knees, is this for helping them cling? I've decided to find my nearest Pussy Willow and do a night vigil - never seen moths feeding before.

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    1. I'm not sure about the evolutionary role of the 'toe' if that's what it is. Their feet can be quite sticky, you have to be very careful when moving them not to pull them. I tend to use a small paintbrush so as to not damage them in any way.

      Do let me know how you get on with the night vigil on the Sallow. Having a look at white blossoms on plant on a warm, muggy night in mid summer is also worth a try :o)

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    2. I'm glad you mentioned about the feet, I think I might have accidentally hurt insects in the past unsticking them.

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  10. The Pussy Willow is coming out round here too and also the Blackthorn blossom :) As you said in your comment on my blog - we are trapping the same species at the moment :)

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    1. Blackthorn's out in the hedges here too, and I saw my first hawthorn leaves this week AND the chiff chaffs have arrived! :o)

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  11. Hi CT, my son took a video of a strange creature hovering around the daphne flowers a couple of weeks ago, it looked just like a hummingbird so we are guessing it's a hummingbird hawk moth.

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    1. Sounds spot on. How exciting. That's an early sighting so you might just have seen one of the new colony that's recently begun to overwinter here- courtesy of climate change. If you google it and can confirm that's what you saw Butterfly Conservation will be very interested in the sighting so you should record it with them. Check out their website for details but if you get stuck drop me a line via comments and I'll forward you the email of the person to inform x

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    2. We have recorded it C.T. :)

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    3. Great- well done. They are territorial and have excellent memories so will return to the same flower. Worth keeping an eye out as you might see it again :o)

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  12. I have never really grasped the beauty of moths before but this post had me gripped. I think you have converted me.

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    1. That's wonderful! Moths do lose out to butterflies in the poster boy stakes, which is very unfair because they are just as important and as beautiful.

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  13. Great to see all these moths already out and about! I have plenty of willows (of unknown species) around my pond, so I guess I'd have some of these moths here. Will be getting a moth trap this year........ :-)

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  14. That first photo of the Clouded Drab Moth looks a little like a fur coat hanging up. That, or I need to go to Specsavers...

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x