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5 August 2014

5 August 2014 – The Footman Stripped Bare

Spot the difference – moth or melon pip?

The scientific name of the Dingy Footman – Eilema griseola – means ‘a veil of grey’. This name fittingly describes the cloudy color on the back of the moth’s wings, encircled by a faint yellow border.

The color composition is similar to that of the Common Footman (Eilema lurideola), but the grey is softer and more veil-like; the yellow border is thinner; the moth is more ovular in shape.

It was not in this guise, however, that the newest visitor to the gardens appeared. While the ovular shape of its wings was nearly identical to the picture in Richard Lewington’s Field Guide, its wings were uniformly straw-yellow colored, without any hint of grey. It seemed as if the grey veil had been ripped off from the moth’s wing, revealing its bare skin; or the way the moon emerges from behind dark clouds.

As it turns out, the specimen discovered in the garden was the ab. stramineola variety that is known only in Britain. In other parts of the world this variant of the Dingy Footman is unheard of, but in England it is relatively common. In fact, it’s so familiar that it earned its own nickname, the ‘melon pip’. This is a rather good simile – in the pictures above, can you tell which one is the moth and which one is the melon seed?

Dingy Footman (illustration)

In the illustration the moth (here seen dancing between forget-me-not and quaking grass) is recorded as the Dun Footman.

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)