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3 September 2015

3 September 2015 – From Mouse to Monroe

Mouse Moth  (Amphipyra tragoponigis)

Moth: An insect with two pairs of broad wings covered in microscopic scales, typically drably coloured and held flat when at rest.

 Oxford Dictionary.

Such a description of Moths, in particular the words ‘drably coloured’, were exactly what I expected to find when the suggestion arose to catch some in a trap, in our Barley Studio grounds one summer’s night in August.

Helen Whittaker and moth trap

The first moth to appear (see above) was found by Kennet Barley who delivered it to me in a sun-glasses case.  He had found the Mouse Moth (Amphipyra tragoponigis) in the Studio van that afternoon, before we set the trap.

I have to admit that my initial thoughts were, ‘Mmm, those dusty brown things, usually dead and partially disintegrated, often on window cills – why?’  However to keep me keen I was told that there was more to moths than we realise, and to wait and see what our catch delivered. The question was, would any of these dust-bags really fly into our trap, and relax on the egg boxes provided until their photo-shoot the following morning?

And here was my revelation. Not only did we catch over twenty different species of moths, they were all shapes and sizes, and colours.  On close inspection, the brown ones were just as beautiful as the others!  They were all absolutely stunning, and very much an equal to their relations, the more celebrated butterflies. These moths were quite incredible to watch too, as they bounced up and down, heating their wings ready to escape. One of the most interesting facts I learnt is that some moths eat and others don’t, due to the fact that they don’t have any feeding mechanism. Their sole purpose as adults is to reproduce…

Ignoring this quandary, if one returned to this planet as a moth, the ones that caught my eye the most were:

Gold Spot (Plusia festucae)

The Gold Spot – the rust colour spoke of fire, and flames – often suggested as an attraction for moths.

Magpie (Abraxas grossulariata)

The Magpie – this moth had a bold pattern, with lots of contrast that reminded me of a stained glass window.

Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis) 

Mother of Pearl – simple and reflective, quite glass-like.

White Satin (Leucoma salicis)

The White Satin moth added a bit of glamour to the occasion – the Marilyn Monroe of moths.

Post by: Helen Whittaker [Barley Studio]

Keith Barley and moth trap

Patrick arrived fully equipped with white sheet, moth trap and a mound of torn up egg cartons. With his usual gusto Patrick proceeded to set the scene with full instructions. Little did I know of what was in store for my evening’s entertainment. As instructed I turned on the light before dusk and continued with my domestic routine. At intervals I went to view the activity, which increased at an alarming rate to the extent that I was mesmerised and captivated by the spectacle unfolding before me. 

Between the hours of 10pm and midnight my trap was like Piccadilly Circus with moths flying in from all directions, most crash-landing onto either my head, the top or side of the trap but more commonly into the mass of Russian vine (Fallopia baldschuanica) which has invaded from my neighbour’s garden. The foliage was alive with the rustling of moths hiding from the magnetism of the bright light. Despite having passed the time when I should have been safely tucked up in bed, I continued to watch. I was amazed at the number of moths that once having entered the trap eventually found their way out, apparently no longer captivated by the bright light which had left impressions in my vision when I blinked my eyes. 

At one point I witnessed the one that got away.  It was large, had delta-shaped wings, like a Vulcan or Victor bomber and the larger hind-wings curled upward at the tips. It did enter the trap but disappointingly was not there during Patrick’s ritual of investigation the following morning. However I was not to be disappointed for as we upturned the egg-boxes we came across a large beastie that baffled his knowledge of the moth fraternity. It turned out to be a Pine Hawk-moth which was surprising as I can only see one Pine tree from where I live.

Pine Hawkmoth (Hyloicus pinastri)

I have become familiar with scenes in the life of toads, snails, slugs, owls, rats and mice in my nocturnal neighbourhood, but to be introduced to a new hidden world of the night-time activity of moths has given me enormous pleasure and specifically justifies the reason why one should not need to spend your evenings in front of a television.

Like most things in nature I was once again astounded by the beauty of symmetry and geometry that have evolved in the patterns and markings found on the wings of moths.

Blood-vein (Timandra comae)

Keith Barley [Barley Studio]