Mini mon­sters

Discover the mag­i­cal world of moths

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

The trap was set last night. Baited with light, a false moon to lure the mysterious soft-winged crea­tures of the dark. Moths.

Mike An­drews, a visitor of­fi­cer at Lack­ford Lakes, is now in­spect­ing the finds. As he re­moves the plas­tic sheets, which fun­nel the in­sects away from the bat­tery-pow­ered bulb, a few flut­ter out, al­ready warmed by the sun. Mike tuts. “There’s not as many as there should be. The num­bers seem to be fall­ing every sum­mer.” Even so, the va­ri­ety in­side the trap is im­pres­sive.

Against the hard­board walls and among the egg car­tons, which pro­vide shel­ter for the cap­tured moths, are splashes of cop­pery green, dusty brown and bur­nished bronze, vanilla-flecked creams and milky white. It’s a minia­ture mon­sters’ ball of fur

stoles, hairy chests, hunched backs and wings held closed or stiffly open, pat­terned with spots, stripes, and jagged, wood­shav­ing swirls.

Mike points to a birch twig hun­kered at the bot­tom of the trap. A twig with legs. It’s a bufftip, whose fluffed-up blow-dry face looks ex­actly like the un­even sur­face of snapped wood. Next to it with broad, green, leaf-like wings held open in a but­ter­fly pose is a large emer­ald. I’ve never seen any­thing like it be­fore. It stands stock-still, let­ting me pho­to­graph it in de­tail. It re­minds me of a Spi­der­man vil­lain. I ask Mike if it’s rare. He shakes his head, smil­ing.

“Oh no, all of these are com­mon, they are all around us, but we don’t gen­er­ally see them un­less we ac­ci­den­tally dis­turb where they’re rest­ing in the day.” Still, I can’t help but feel ridicu­lously ex­cited. There is some­thing fan­tas­ti­cal about moth trap­ping. “It’s like find­ing fairies in your gar­den,” I say to Mike, “a real glimpse of a hid­den world.”

Af­ter all, the ex­tent of the world of moths re­ally is breath­tak­ing. While there are 58 day-fly­ing but­ter­flies in the UK, there are around 2,500 species of moths. These are com­monly di­vided into macro moths (the big­ger species), of which there are around 900, and mi­cro moths, which are smaller and gen­er­ally harder to iden­tify. But like the dis­tinc­tion be­tween but­ter­fly and moth within the or­der of Lepi­doptera, the dis­tinc­tion is ar­ti­fi­cial, one of con­ve­nience rather than hard sci­ence.

Mike has been trap­ping for about 15 years, mostly for plea­sure but also to in­tro­duce peo­ple to moths. He en­cour­ages me to try and ID some my­self, but ex­plains that even some of the larger macro moths can be dif­fi­cult to name. Point­ing at a group of bronze moths hud­dled into one of the car­tons, he says: “They’re ei­ther rus­tics or un­cer­tains.” I raise a ques­tion­ing eye­brow. “Un­cer­tains?” He grins. “The clue’s in the name.” I’ve al­ways loved moth names. While some of them are ‘does what it says on the tin’ jobs – the de­scrip­tive ‘bright-line brown­eye’, the ‘brown-line bright-eye’, the ‘yel­low-tail’, the ‘brown­tail’ – oth­ers are won­der­fully cre­ative monikers that reek of the dusty stud­ies of Vic­to­rian gents. The ‘dingy foot­man’, whose ap­pear­ance was thought sim­i­lar to 20th cen­tury ser­vants, the sooty black ‘chim­ney sweeper’, the pinched cheek rouge of the ‘maiden’s blush’ and the furry fin­ery of the re­gal-look­ing ‘white er­mine’ moth.

Mike even has his own name for some of the moths. He points out a clouded bor­der, its flat­tened wings swirled with Friesian shapes of black on white. “I call it the cow moth.” He has other favourites too. A big teddy bear of a moth, its chest coated in fur, is try­ing to crawl deeper into one of the card­board crevices. He looks grumpy, hun­gover. “This is the drinker,” Mike says. The moth’s name comes from the cater­pil­lar, which has been seen drink­ing dew from the grass stems it feeds on. But as an adult it also flies as if un­der the in­flu­ence.

“It’s cer­tainly not a great flier. You of­ten see them out­side the trap as if they couldn’t quite make it in­side.” I look again at the moth, imag­in­ing him hic­cup­ping up against the front door, rest­ing his beery bulk on the frame as his key scratches in vain for the lock.

The Poplar Hawk­moth

The beau­ti­ful large emer­ald moth

Mike An­drews at Lack­ford Lakes

The ap­pro­pri­ately named drinker moth

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