Monday, April 16, 2018

April lepidoptera

Butterflies and moths are becoming more frequent again as the weather gets warmer.  So far in the garden I have seen brimstones, peacocks and the comma (Polygonia c-album) below sunning itself on a flagstone.  I sometimes wonder quite how the aerodynamics work with the ragged-edged wings of this very capable flier.


On the moth front we were surprised to see on 11th April a small magpie (Anania hortulata) on our sitting room ceiling.  This normally emerges from June to August and such an early record possibly indicates that the caterpillar had found somewhere to pupate undisturbed indoors.  

The generic name Anania is a figure of speech known as a litotes (e.g. 'not bad') which, in this instance, could translated as 'not unattractive'.  However, the moth was originally placed in the genus Eurrhypara which means 'well greasy'.  The wings were said to have a greasy appearance, a feature which escapes me.


A very pretty Geometrid moth (see below) that normally flies in April and which I haven't seen for some time is the streamer (Anticlea derivata) appeared the other night on our lighted kitchen window.


This has caterpillars that feed on the leaves and flowers of wild roses, reminding of William Blake's poem The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

The scientific name is interesting.  Anticlea was the mother of Ulysses and she is said to have died of grief because her son was away too long at the Trojan War, though I fail to see why this relates to the moth. The specific name derivata means 'a diverted stream' and presumably refers to the fine black lines (the streamers) crossing the outer part of the forewings. 


Friday, April 06, 2018

Spring arrives

The weather has now turned warmer - up to 15 degrees C today.  Over the past week a wood mouse has been sharing some barley flakes put out for the birds.  Here it looks a bit on the wet side and seems to have the tip of its tail missing, but having survived the worst of the winter it might now have a chance.


In contrast to the damp mouse, today a comma butterfly sunned itself on the concrete path.  Almost the first butterfly of the year.


The early dog violets (Viola reichenbachiana) are starting to come out in various places in the garden and woods.  They flower earlier than common dog violets (V. riviniana) and are a somewhat redder shade of mauve which is distinctive when one is familiar with both species.  The flowers also have a dark spur at the rear rather than the paler one of the common dog violet.


The clay pit in Killingan Wood is very attractive just now with many patches of wood anemones but very few bluebells.  The hornbeams, which are the dominant trees in most of the wood and the oaks, maples and other species tend to grow on the clay sides of the pit whereas the central sections have mainly been colonised by ash.


In one out of the way corner I found a colony of about 25 early purple orchids (Orchis mascula), a species that seems to do particularly well in this wood.  I shall return when the flowers are out.