Home > Moths > 1 August 2016 – Old Lady in Earth Closet

1 August 2016

1 August 2016 – Old Lady in Earth Closet

Old Lady (Mormo maura)

Tung Chau, our University of Pennsylvania student, has now finished her time at Shandy Hall.  Over the last two months she has managed to identify 25 new species of moths for the gardens – a fine contribution to the total list of 398.  I looked through the list on the Yorkshire Moths Flying Tonight website and realised that a good number for this time of year have now been recorded and identified.  I was wondering when the next might show itself and was astonished by a speedy response. 

On a spar of wood above the door of an outbuilding (Sterne’s old earth-closet) I noticed what I thought was a Svensson’s Copper Underwing – the wing-tip just showing but too far above ground for me to be sure.  I reached up, cupped the moth in one hand and took it to a handy cage where it settled, allowing me to photograph it.  An Old Lady!  A moth I had been hoping would put in an appearance one day but not a moth that is drawn to the light of the mercury vapour lamp, making it unlikely that I would find one.  But now…species number 399 recorded.

The name comes from the Greek mormo – a hideous she-monster, companion to the goddess Hecate; a bugbear or bugaboo.  Maura is a reference to an inhabitant of Mauritania.

The words to describe this grim, children-biting horror have been around a long time – a recent version being ‘Boogieman’, the evil character in John Carpenter’s Halloween.

A Bugaboo!!! by Richard Newton (1792)

In his dictionary of slang, Francis Grose defined a Bugaboo as a scare-baby, a terrifying monster that bit children. The photograph above is of a print by Richard Newton who depicts Pitt riding on the shoulders of King George III.

That this sombre-coloured, large and innocent moth should have inherited all these unpleasant associations seems a little unfair.  

Welcome to the earth-closet, Old Lady.