All of us will have a particular moment or sign which signals the transition from summer to autumn. For some it will be the swallows leaving our shores heading south, for others the first fairy-tale fly agaric toadstool popping up. Some may watch for the ripening of fruit and thinking of sloe gin or blackberry jelly. But for many it will be the changing colour, the transition from green to golden that announces the arrival of autumn.
But it is not the changing colour of autumn leaves on the trees that I’m thinking of today, it is the changing colour of moths!
I suspect that my first encounter with the wonderful world of Lepidoptera – butterflies & moths – might well have been a childhood reading of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Since then I have always admired butterflies; the splendidly colourful Peacock nectaring on the garden buddleia, lace-like Marbled Whites flitting across flower-rich Downland and glorious Silver-Washed Fritillaries gliding powerfully through a sunshine-dappled woodland glade. My love of the other half of the family – moths – is more recent.
Moths come in an astounding range of colours, shapes & sizes; there are 2500 species in the UK and we’ve now recorded 560 of them here at Pulborough Brooks nature reserve. We benefit from a powerful moth trap with a bright bulb that ‘draws in’ moths from across the many habitats, but you’ll be amazed at the diversity you could find in your garden by shining a torch on a white sheet or searching around your porch light.
It is the hundreds of tiny scales with different pigments and light-reflecting properties that give this family their Latin name of Lepidoptera, meaning ‘scaly wing’, and that give them their incredible colours and patterns. Some of these scales possess a metallic sheen which decorates the Burnished Brass and the Gold Spot.
Others give us the most incredible examples of camouflage in the natural world. The Buff Tip moth has disguised itself as a broken off silver birch twig, and the Chinese Character looks just like a bird dropping!
And now, in our first moth trap of September, the moths were signalling that autumn has arrived with fabulous colours and patterns designed to perfectly mimic autumn leaves. Our pick of the bunch today; an Angle Shades who looked just like the crumpled teasel leaf we placed it on
and the August Thorn who possessed the ragged outline and rich golden and yellow colours of an autumn oak leaf.
And finally, the Feathered Gothic; not so colourful perhaps but what intricate patterns and what a great name!
I hope that I have painted a picture of intriguing colourful creatures but I must admit that the world of moths has its ‘little brown jobs’ too, but with names such as the ‘Uncertain’, ‘Confused’ and ‘Suspected’ even these are not without their charms!
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