It’s been a good year in many ways, but not for Lepidoptera. A few grassland butterflies did well (I’ve never seen as many Gatekeepers as this year), but most butterflies and moths had a very poor year. I’m not talking here about the 40% year-on-year decline that 76% of UK butterflies are suffering, but standard seasonal variation that changes from year to year. Perhaps next year will be better, but at this time of year it doesn’t really matter – we aspirant Lepidopterists have got a bad dose of cabin fever. So when a Rusty Oak Button turns up in your kitchen when you’re eating breakfast, you grab it quick. Then spend a happy hour making an 8 image focus stack.
Rusty Oak Button, Acleris ferrugana. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f8 1/180 ISO 100, 8 image focus stack
In a meeting, when someone says There’s a wasp on your back, is the socially-correct response to:
a) Yell OMG, GET IT OFF GET IT OFF and start windmilling your arms around?
b) Pass out?
c) Say Oh, what species is it?
Clearly, the correct answer isn’t (c), as I found out a few days ago. Seemingly what this does is to get you lots of funny looks and rapidly earn you a reputation as a golfloathingrugbyhatinglentilknittingyoghurtsnackingbunnyhuggingweirdo.
The funny looks scenario played itself out again yesterday when I met this beautiful Sycamore moth caterpillar while walking home across the park. It was clearly on a mission, trundling down a busy path and oblivious to the bike types whizzing past, but I judged the probability of death by rubber to be unacceptably high so I transferred it to one of the London Planes where it headed upwards, presumably looking for somewhere to pupate. See you next year my friend. Unaccountably, rather than public approval, I found myself in the golfloathingrugbyhatinglentiletc situation with the passers by. Aren’t people weird?
The Sycamore, Acronicta aceris. iPhone 5s 4.15mm f2.2 1/277 ISO 32
A man should have a hobby. That was supposed to be the title of yesterday’s post – until the Hobby turned into a Kestrel, so I though I’d recycle it today in the spirit of environmental sensitivity.
Since 1852 in the UK there has been a network of wildlife recording schemes. Traditionally these were county based but increasingly they are now moving online. Six months ago I started using the NatureSpot website to record my observations of wildlife in VC55 – Leicestershire and Rutland. I’ve just had my 500th species verified*, this Large Yellow Underwing moth in my garden, not rare but still important – probably a significant part of the diet of the bats I see from my window.
Wildlife recording has given my photography more purpose, and I’m basking in the warm glow of citizen science derived from something I love doing. I’ve learned so much in just a few months and it has deepened my enjoyment of the countryside, and even suburban environments. But it’s not all sunshine and light – there is a tension between high quality/arty photography and recording as much as possible. I frequently snap away with I.D. shots so that I can identify things later, and then am disappointed at the quality of the photos when I get home. I need to find the correct balance on this, which is probably going to mean separating photography trips from recording trips (which will still involve photography). And I need to make the whole process sustainable so I can carry on without burning out – or more likely spluttering out in the dark depths of February.
Here’s to the next 500.
*Which raises the question, how many species are there in VC55? There are several answers to that, most of which are not very good. The biologist’s answer is “It all depends what you mean by a species”. Certainly with things like bacteria it’s not clear what species means, so lets restrict ourselves to macroscopic organisms. The next answer is “No-one knows”, which is also true, especially since species are becoming locally extinct and new species arriving at an ever increasing rate. The best answer is a broad guesstimate: probably somewhere between 5-10,000, most likely nearer the upper end of that range. Which means that my paltry 500 species represents around 5% of what’s out there. Work still to do!
You’ve seen Celebrity Masterchef? Well this is the Old Lady version – Mothsterchef.
Old Lady, Mormo maura. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f22 1/250 ISO 100
At some point in their career, all aspiring Lepidopterists have to try sugaring – preparing a sweet aromatic syrup to attract moths. Some moths are attracted to light, but not all of them. Some are much more into the sweet stuff. Each moth manic has their own secret recipe that they would not divulge even on pain of death, so here’s mine:
6 ripe loganberries
50mL red wine
50g Demerera sugar
1 tsp Scottish heather honey
Mash the berries and stew everything together in a saucepan over a low heat (don’t let the sugar burn) until it becomes thick and sticky. Then add the secret ingredient and cook for a few more minutes. Clearly I’m not going to tell you what the secret ingredient is. It’s a secret. Allow to cool slightly, place in a glass jar and keep in the fridge. To use, smear a goodly portion in a good moth spot.
Within half an hour, I was surrounded by Old Ladies (Mormo maura), impressive moths with a wingspan over 50mm. I was half expecting Wayne Rooney to turn up as well. They do not come to light but are notorious for their addiction to sugar, as you can see. More tea vicar?
An attractive day flying moth. It’s nice to see insects taking advantage of all that Marjoram I planted – a very good plant for a wide range of insects. And in this case, nicely colour co-ordinated too.
We puny humans still have the old monkey brain fear of the dark thing going on, which is a shame as I am constantly astounded by the beauty of what’s out there in the dark – such as this magnificent Willow Beauty. It’s enough to make you want to join the dark side. (Although his buddy the demon-eyed lacewing is a bit scary … especially if you’re an aphid).
Now if only I could work out why they called it that…