This is a Comma butterfly that happens to have been photographed in Oxford. There are plenty about right now – I’ve been seeing them in London, coastal Sussex and Dorset. This one in Oxford was enjoying Nepeta (catmint), and providing a lazy excuse to reference the seemingly interminable ‘Oxford Comma’ grammar debate – the question whether, in a list of items, a comma is mandatory before the eventual ‘and’. See below (if you can be bothered in all this hot weather / while the World Cup is on).
“I love my parents, Jesus Christ and Lady Gaga”. Does this make any kind of sense? No. Exactly. You are not the progeny of Christ and a self-enobled and cannily bonkers popular singer. You need a comma before the ‘and’ for the sentence to make sense. Only then are you clearly loving each of those specified independently. I rest my case.
BOX TREE MOTH: SEEK AND DESTROY…
Here’s a moth species new to me, that I couldn’t locate on any UK Moth ID site. Then I found out why. The Box Tree Moth Cydalima perspectalis is native to East Asia. It’s an introduced species to Europe, first recorded as recently as 2006 in Germany; 2008 in UK; and nearly everywhere else since. It thrives on Box Buxus colchica, and to an extent the species may have spread with exports of the bush. And it’s plainly a busy reproducer… and now it’s here, it’s probably a stayer.
A few days ago we had one in the kitchen (bonus points for recognising the cookery book it chose to land on). I took some quick photos for ID, failed to find a match online, and resorted to the excellent Moths UK FB page, where mothmaticians quickly respond to images uploaded for ID. I later found out that one of our sons has had two infestations this summer, resulting in total loss of two small rows of box.
KNOW THY ENEMY
The moth lays its eggs on the undersides of Box leaves. The caterpillars feed so rapaciously on the leaves and shoots that they may simply destroy the entire plant. And there are two or three generations gorging each season. Furthermore, there are no natural predators (such as the Asian wasps that target the larvae in their native lands). Maybe in time that will change, with birds and other predator species learning a taste for the things.
There’s also a quite different brown morph / colour variant of the Box Tree Moth to contend with, which I imagine is just as effective in destroying the host plant.
There are apparently various methods of dealing with the problem, mainly involving chemicals, bacteria, nematodes, and pheremone traps. All seem to require intensive repeat applications. Some of these solutions may presumably have an adverse effect on other wildlife.
As far as ‘mistake’ species are concerned, the ones that have accidentally (or through escape or deliberate release) colonised places far from where they belong, I reckon a case-by-case approach is needed. Harmless to humans, other life-forms, ecology and the environment? Bring them on. Harmful in any of those respects, parasitic, fast-spreading, predator-proof, potentially ineradicable? Expunge them ruthlessly.
I take one of these views about the Box Tree Moth. Look out for the eggs, the caterpillars, the imagos. Report them. Or DIY. A box bush might be a good place to start.
Top 3 photos from the kitchen; the others thanks to Wiki. There’s a mass of stuff on these critters and their little ways online if you want to find out more. Not trying to be controversial here, btw, but I’d be surprised if you can’t name half a dozen species of animal, bird and plant that are invasive to the UK / Europe, damaging to the new host territory – and would be best eradicated.
This fearsome creature was within an inch of being crushed by my heedless foot… but luckily it made a surprisingly agile lurch to one side just in time. I had no idea what it was, other than the largest caterpillar I have ever come across. Everyone else will know, of course, that it is the childhood form of what will become an elephant hawk-moth Deilephila elpenor. I haven’t knowingly seen one of those either.
These caterpillars have three ‘poses’. The first is the usual day-to-day one, as it goes about its business with its little snout – or ‘trunk’ – extended. Note the four prominent ‘eye’ markings behind the head.
At the threat of danger, the caterpillar assumes its ‘elephant’ pose, tucking away its snout and humping its front end so that the 4 ‘eyes’ glare intimidatingly. From the front, there is the hint of a mouth, with two sharp eyes above it.
From above, the creature looks like a formidable, probably toxic adversary, to be given a wide berth.
The third pose is a so-called snake pose, whereby the caterpillar curves its body, and, as I found, continues to do so back and forth accompanied by alarmingly quick ‘head’ movements, as if squirming menacingly. I backed away, before bravely putting it on a laurel leaf to move into better light in order to inspect it further. At the back, there’s a backward-facing hook or spike – in common with most hawk-moth species I think.
I haven’t investigated how the eyes are constructed, but the white parts are plainly holes rather than surface marking
I had to look up what the actual moth looks like, and courtesy of wiki I can reveal what everyone probably knows already – like this:
Had I wanted to straighten it out, the caterpillar would have been over 2 inches long. Quite wide, too. All-in-all an impressive beast.
Until last weekend I’d never heard of, let alone seen, a ROSY FOOTMAN. I’m beginning to discover and enjoy the ornate to downright bizarre names that moths tend to be given. They have this in common with fly-fishing flies – the previous day I had caught a plump wild brown trout on the River Frome with a ‘Tups Indispensable’*.
High on an inside wall above a mirror, I saw a small pink item. On closer inspection, I could tell it was a moth, and one I had never seen before. I had to fetch a small stepladder to inspect it and (with some difficulty) to photograph it, . Meet a Rosy Footman.
The Rosy Footman is apparently a moth of southern England, in particular the southern-most counties from Kent to Cornwall. They fly in July and August. With such very particular markings, they are unmistakeable, but clearly I’d failed to notice one ever before… I’m glad I have now.
* For those concerned about these things, I use barbless hooks. I netted the fish, unhooked it still in the water and released it in about 30 seconds to fight another day. Or preferably to produce more wild stock.
Until a few days ago, I’m not sure I’d ever before seen a pale tussock moth Calliteara pudibunda that was on a wall inside our house. I took it outside and put it gently onto an old garden bench. 10 minutes later it was gone. As is so often the case I only had an iPhone with me at the time, so the photo above is a bit rough and ready. On the other hand, you get a good idea of the subtle and pretty colouring and marking of this moth – and as you see, it was intriguingly furry, with spotted legs.
I flicked through a couple of slightly basic butterfly / moth books we have, but could find nothing like this creature. So I checked out the FB page of UK MOTHS to find a match. Sure enough, others had queried the ID of this species so I discovered the name easily enough. I don’t think it is particularly rare. There were also plenty of other fascinating and indeed extraordinary-looking moths that are apparently quite common in the UK. A FB page that’s well worth taking a look at.
The pale tussock is a moth of spring / early summer, and its appearance seems to be distinctive enough to avoid confusion with other moth species. The other feature, only deployed once I’d got it outside the house, are its feathery antennae (below).
To make up for my rather poor photos, here is a really good one to make up for it, showing a pale tussock in all its glory…
Photo credit: Kurt Kulac / Wiki
Jersey Tiger Moths Euplagia quadripunctaria, are widely distributed throughout Europe. Once rare in Britain, they are now increasingly found in the South of England. Recently we spotted one in the eastern Pyrenees one evening. It wasn’t very close and I had only a small camera with me so the results aren’t startling. However, the photos give a fair idea of this very pretty moth.
I knew at once what sort of moth this was, because we had found one – the only one I’ve ever seen before – in our garden in Dorset last year, and I to go through the usual online process to ID it.
A more professional photo… (Wiki)
The Wrong Sort of Tiger Moth… “CHOCKS AWAY”
We were sitting having a picnic on the low wall surrounding a small hilltop church in the eastern Pyrenees, when I caught sight of this wonderful creature. A marital ‘no computer’ pact and limited wifi possibilities for a phone meant that ID was frustratingly delayed.
This butterfly turns out to have the wonderful names Two-tailed Pasha or Foxy Emperor (Charaxes jasius). Frankly either name is exotic enough to stick in the mind, but I think I prefer the Pasha. Because the creature was on a tree beyond the parapet, there was no chance I could get near enough for a close-up, so I had to resort to zooming in at various angles and magnifications, and hoping for the best.
I kept hoping the butterfly would move without going to the extreme of flying away. An open wing shot would have been great to get, but it was not to be. Here’s what the upper wings look like. Having found the image, I realised at once that we saw one or two of the same species on the wing elsewhere, but they were too busy to pause for a photograph.
These are butterflies of Africa, but they are also found on the southern fringes of mediterranean Europe. Apparently they like maquis-type scrub country or (clearly) the similar garrigue terrain where we were. They also like some height, although we were only about 1500 ft ASL.