"Dancing with the Longhorns" - sounds like the title of an epic Western movie, doesn't it? But this is a tale from much closer to home and on a more intimate scale.
You see, as I pottered around my garden one evening this week, my eye chanced on a curious little insect sat motionless on a Garlic Mustard seedpod.
We’re talking a creature less than a centimetre long, but what struck me was what looked like its ‘horns’. They were actually its antennae, each one a long filament jutting out sideways with an elegant curve at the end like the finest of handlebar moustaches.
Now you might be surprised to learn that this isn’t a fly, but a moth. It is one of the longhorn moths, and this species is known in the vernacular as the Meadow Longhorn.
This was the first time I had seen this particular moth in my garden, so I checked it out in the brilliant Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland, a book that has revolutionised interest in the smaller moths. I wanted to find out if there is something I have done in the garden that has encouraged this one to arrive.
And, yes! It seems that there is a good chance that I am the reason it is here. You see, it turns out that their caterpillars feed on Garlic Mustard, also known as Jack-by-the-Hedge, a wildflower that I sowed about three years ago because it is the foodplant of the caterpillars of the Orange-tip butterfly.
(In fact, both Orange-tips and Meadow Longhorns also feed on the beautiful Lady’s-smock, but I haven’t been able to get that established in the garden yet).
Armed with this new knowledge, I then headed out the next morning to look at my patch of Garlic Mustard to see if my moth had any friends. Lo, a whole gang of them having a merry little dance over the flowerheads, their cute longhorns waving about. This photo shows three of them - one flying in and the other two on the reverse side of the flower but with their longhorns poking out. They clearly wouldn't be very good at hide and seek.
These moths may be small, but they are day-flyers and their flight is slow and bobbing as the males go wafting about in search of females, and yet I just hadn’t noticed them before.
From now on, of course, I will look for them each year, but it was another reminder that so often not knowing about something keeps our eyes firmly closed. With just a little bit of knowledge, suddenly a whole new world opens up.
So, if you haven’t done it yet, why not pledge to grow some Garlic Mustard in your garden. It’s really easy from seed, and with Orange-tips and Green-veined White butterflies likely visitors, plus maybe a troupe of dancing longhorns to boot, how can you resist?
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