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7 September 2016

7 September 2016 – Seized with a Vapourer

The Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua)

The Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) has been identified in the quarry garden at Shandy Hall.  A male of the species was found clinging to the outside of last night’s trap and was immediately identifiable even though I had only seen illustrations before.  The two bright white spots on the fore-wings stand out very clearly and a male it must be, as the female is flightless.

This moth sits among a group generally known as Tussocks – those that have larvae with long tufts of hair.  An example can be seen in the illustration (beneath) from Humphreys and Westwood’s British Moths and their Transformations Vol 1 Plate 17.  Others in the family include Pale Tussock, Yellow-tail, Satin Moth, Brown-tail and Gypsy Moth.  The hairs can be an irritant but that is their only defence so we wish them well with it.

The Vapourer (illustration)

The scientific name is interesting. Orgyia is from the Greek (orguia), that measure of distance between the finger-tips of outstretched arms – also known as a fathom. The Tussocks have a tendency to rest with their fore-legs thrust out before them so this must have seized the imagination of F. Ochsenheimer (1762-1782) a lepidopterist who was also an actor.

The antiqua part is not only ‘existing long ago’ but also ‘simple, honest and innocent’. Linnaeus perhaps thought of the flightless female as fitting the role of the female that would remain at home rather than ‘gad about with the men’.  Westwood and Humphrey attribute the name ‘vapourer’ to the movements the moth makes when in flight – a ‘vapouring motion’. Are we meant to envisage a dizziness, a listlessness?  I released the moth a few moments ago and it shot off like a bullet. 

Other moths in the trap included the Shuttle-shaped Dart, Canary-shouldered Thorn, Gold Spot and lots of underwings.