Despite my remarks in the last bulletin about an Indian Summer, I have to stress at this point that we don’t actually have one, as this is still true summer. An actual Indian Summer is unseasonably warm, dry and sunny weather after the Autumn Equinox. This year that moment will be at just after 2 am next Tuesday, so Tuesday will technically be the first day of true Autumn. But we still have a few days before that happens, and the weather has been very good.
Last week my brother, Owen, made a little video of me on the East Coast Nature Reserve, and we actually found something I had not seen before, and in the video you can hear me doubting my initial identification. Apologies for the sound quality… a dodgy camera mic gets the blame:
As you can see from the video the creature in it appears to be all black. I have seen it again since, and it really does appear solid black in all but the brightest sunlight when seen from the right angle, something which I managed to achieve the same morning of the video:
Before continuing on the subject of moths I would just like to wish all students starting their Leaving Cert and Junior Certs tomorrow the very best of luck. Having done my fair share of exams I can tell you that the best thing you can do is close the books well before midnight, relax and then get to bed and get a good sleep. It’s better than any amount of last minute studying. And if you can’t sleep, don’t try. Just let it happen.
Now, back to the moths: we have some very heavy and moist weather at the moment and whereas we find it annoying the moths love it. You will probably see most of them near your windows at night, or the following morning, having been attracted by the light. One of the most common is this little beauty, the Garden Carpet – Xanthorhoe fluctuata:
There are also some bigger moths around, and they don’t all fly at night. A few days ago this handsome butterfly-sized Scalloped Hazel - Odontopera bidentata - flew in the door and landed on the inner side of the frame. This is perfectly natural behaviour, except the moth will usually land on a tree trunk and rely on its camouflage to keep it hidden from birds.
The largest moths found in Wicklow are the various species of hawkmoth, known to those in America as sphinx moths. It is no exaggeration to say that some of them are the size of small birds, and can be mistaken as such. The most common species that turns up in Wicklow gardens is not quite that large, but is bigger than most butterflies, the Poplar Hawkmoth – Laothoe populi – and will be about the largest moth most people will see in their lives outside of the tropics. It has a peculiar habit of resting with its hind-wings positioned level with its head, sticking out from under the forewings, as you can see in this photo I took a few days ago:
Right now Wicklow is swarming with Silver-Ys, muscular moths which migrate from North Africa and southern Europe every summer. Some years they are in small numbers, and some years in large ones, and this year they are in the latter. You will see them flying by night mostly, but individuals are very noticeable by day too, moving from place to place or perching on walls and windows. They come to garden plants by night in hovering swarms which are very impressive.
The moth’s scientific name, Autographa gamma, literally means ‘self-written y’. Both the common and scientific name are due to a silver-coloured ‘y’ marking on each forewing, as you can see clearly in the photo below.
Silver-Y moths are believed to attempt to migrate home in autumn, but some will instead opt to hibernate, and with some success as I have discovered them springing to life in sheds in springtime. It’s difficult to know how long they can live but we do know Painted Lady butterflies not only migrate from North Africa to Ireland, but also can successfully make the return journey in autumn, so the robust Silver-Y should be equally capable of this feat. As with so much in nature, however, it remains to be conclusively proven.