Home > Moths > 29 September 2014 – Virginia Woolf the Lantern Bearer.

29 September 2014

29 September 2014 – Virginia Woolf the Lantern Bearer.

Red Underwing (Catocala nupta)

This is a near perfect specimen of a Red Underwing (Catocala nupta), a moth I have been hoping to see for a number of years.  Common in Nottinghamshire when I was young, I have only seen one other here in the last five years.  I read that it tends to be attracted to the lure of wine-ropes rather than the glare of mercury vapour light, but ‘sugaring’ (another term for the mixture of rum, absinthe, schnapps and whatever other boozy liquid there happens to be around mixed with treacle and demarara sugar and then soaked into rope and hung in the garden) is a method that has never worked for me.  Compared with all the other moths I have seen in the garden, this one is impressively large.  I wasn’t completely sure of its identification until it opened its wings and then, the bridal (nupta) petticoat is displayed.

The underwings disclosed

Virginia Woolf wrote a gently satirical account of a moth hunt in her 1899 “Warboys” diary. It tells of VW (as lantern bearer) ‘lighting the paths fitfully with a Bicycle lamp of brilliant but uncertain powers of illumination’ in the company of the Leader wrapped in brown plaid and looking ‘picturesque & brigand like; … a female form in evening dress’ and completing the company ‘Gurth the dog member, whose services are unrequired & unrewarded; being the first to investigate the sugar & having been convicted of attempts to catch moths for no entomological purpose whatsoever’.   The young enthusiasts manage to trap a ‘rare red underwing’ which Virginia identifies before ‘with a gleam of scarlet eye and scarlet wing, the grand old moth vanished’.