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3 June 2014

3 June 2014 – Pliny, Aeschylus and Woolf

Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata)

‘Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow-underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us.’  That’s Virginia Woolf’s opinion.

This afternoon the sun came out and shone with all its might on the catmint and the clumps of apple mint.  Honey bees were frantically thrusting themselves into blossoms everywhere but amidst all their madness, gently weaving its way through the plant stems, was an insect more leisurely airborne.  Resting most conveniently upon a leaf it could be seen to be chocolate-coloured with tawny orange markings on the fore-wings and hind wings.

The name Mint Moth seems to have been discontinued.  In Westwood and Humphreys it is called Pyrausta punicealis but I can find no indication as to why its name was changed. The interesting thing is that this is the moth that gets singed in the candle flame.  Verily, I do fear the stupid death of the moth as Aeschylus would have it.  Puraustes from fire (pur) and to kindle (auo); ‘applicable to the short-lived, to those destroyed for the sake of some small pleasure, or those who die ignobly through their own folly’ (Beavis IC 1988). 

According to Pliny Pyrausta was an unknown insect supposed to live in fire – if it flies out from the fire it dies.  

All this kindling and scorching and doom-laden archetypal moth behaviour resting on the shoulders of this tiny day-flying sun-lover. 

Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata)

Below are the illustrations from Westwood and Humphreys : Pyrausta punicealis [13] and Pyrausta purpuralis [12]

Pyraustae (illustration)

And species number 336.