Tag Archives: camouflage

High Summer Beauties

Although the Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, summer doesn’t really mature until the end of July when it becomes High Summer, and this is the best time to see moths and butterflies. This year the warm and sometimes moist conditions have greatly helped the blooming of flowers and growth of foliage, in turn supporting insects, especially moths and butterflies. One of the most beautiful moths is the toxic Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) which is usually seen flying in daytime, but this year a significant number came to the lighted windows at night. You might still see some. They are red and black and about the size of a butterfly:

These moths love meadows. They can fly in daytime because they are distasteful to birds, and they advertise their toxins with bright bold colour patterns.

However, most moths much prefer night time, such as this Small Magpie (Anania hortulata), which likes to come to lighted windows, but can be disturbed from long grass in meadows and along hedgerows:

This species is called ‘small’ magpie because there is another, larger Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata), which looks very like a butterfly and feeds on honeysuckle and other night-blooming flowers. Many flowers close up for the night, but not this lot. I encountered one a few days ago and it landed on my hat just long enough for me to get a bad selfie with the moth before it flew off into the night sky:

Why do I wear a brimmed hat at night? Spider-webs. Spiders spin their webs mostly by night and there is nothing worse than walking through a fresh one and getting the web in your eyes. Back to the moths – keep an eye out for the lovely Grass Emerald (Pseudoterpna pruinata), which is on the wing right now and comes to window light. Here’s one I found a few days ago:

For all of the brightly-coloured species many are more drab, and better camouflaged, but are beautifully-patterned, such as the Mottled Beauty (Alcis repandata), which comes in a number of variations, such as these two which arrived side-by-side by the porch light to perch below the Grass Emerald, which stayed put for a few days. These Mottled Beauties were very handsome, despite lacking the colour of some moths species.

   If you have fruit trees, even small ones in pots, you have a very good chance of finding Herald Moths (Scoliopteryx libatrix ) at these time of the year. I found three feeding on Logan berries this week, and two were sitting on the same berry, eating from opposite sides of the fruit:

   These moths are so-called because they will hibernate and overwinter, reawakening in late winter to herald a new spring. They are very beautiful and unusual moths, quite chunky and appearing to have a luminous orange “H” mark on their backs.

Not all moths are quite so easy to find. Some require you to look for them, in the undergrowth, and one of the most handsome of these species is the Bordered Beauty (Epione repandaria ). I was very fortunate to get some good shots of one of these moths this week, and carefully used flash so as to illuminate it without causing it to panic and flee:

Early May, Flowers and Insects

The spring blossoming continues, with the next wave of flowers coming out in succession, as happens every year. But now, thanks to the first blooms and blossoms and warming temperatures there are many insects around. Some are less welcome than others, but are very important to the food chain, such as the Rose Aphid (Macrosiphum rosae) , the original ‘Greenfly’ which gardeners detest although they’re not as destructive as they’re supposed to be. Here’s a winged female which has landed on a tulip blossom and given birth to two live young, which stand behind her.

A winged female Greenfly with two newborn babies standing behind her.
A winged female Greenfly with two newborn babies standing behind her.

Greenfly reproduce mostly asexually, meaning they are females and don’t require a mate to fertilise them, although there are occasionally males which do mate with females. And Greenfly give birth to live young. These ones disappeared soon after I took this photo, probably because the tulip wasn’t to their taste, or because a predator spotted them. Aphids are eaten in huge numbers by some flying insects, such as this female Large Red Dragonfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) , which I photographed nearby:

A female Large Red Damselfly perched on a leaf. These are highly-predatory insects and will eat anything they can catch, including small spiders.
A female Large Red Damselfly perched on a leaf. These are highly-predatory insects and will eat anything they can catch, including small spiders.

Of course, even damselflies don’t have it all their own way. They have to be careful where they land. Take this dandelion flower for example – can you see the predator lying in ambush?

The white dot is a white death - a Flower Crab Spider waiting to kill anything small enough that comes near.
The white dot is a white death – a Flower Crab Spider waiting to kill anything small enough which happens to come too near.

This predator, the Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) can also turn yellow and this one soon did, making it impossible for me to photograph it in any meaninful way, as it simply could not be seen against the flower. In the close-up below you will notice yellow flecks on its abdomen, the first signs of the colour change it underwent.

Beautiful but deadly, the Flower Crab Spider as seen up close, and already starting to turn yellow. Even the biggest bumblebees fall prey to these little terrors of the garden jungle.
Beautiful but deadly to all insects, the Flower Crab Spider as seen up close, and already starting to turn yellow. Even the biggest bumblebees fall prey to these little terrors of the garden jungle.

Longhorn Moths and Silver-Ys

I said it before, and I’ll say it again, you really do not know what you’re going to find round the next bend in the road in Wicklow. Here’s something really remarkable I found feeding on the Cow Parsley – a Longhorn Moth:

Longhorn Moths, just like Longhorn Beetles, get their name from their extremely long antennae, which in this species are truly immense.
Longhorn Moths, just like Longhorn Beetles, get their name from their extremely long antennae, which in this species are truly immense, being almost twice the length of the moth’s body.

And the excitement didn’t end there – this particular species is one of the two most colourful species found in Ireland, known only by its scientific name of Adela croesella.  It is (as far as I know) only found in the Burren, on the west coast of Ireland. So to find it in Wicklow is very exciting. Only the males have such long antennae, apparently to impress the females with, as is often the case with extremely exaggerated bodily appendages.

A Silver-Y moth, named after the beautiful 'y' shaped mark on its wings, which is upside down when the wings are folded, as in this photo.
A Silver-Y moth, named after the beautiful ‘y’ shaped mark on its wings, which is upside down when the wings are folded, as in this photo.

Today I was very glad to find my first Silver-Y of the year, which had to be rescued from a polytunnel. Silver-Ys migrate to Ireland from southern Europe and North Africa, and it seems they also attempt the return journey, although some will attempt to survive the winter in greenhouses. This one might actually be a larva which hatched out in the polytunnel itself.

Finally, a word about camouflage – for anyone who doubt species of white butterfly have adequate camouflage, just look at this female Green-veined White feeding on a cystus flower – truly impressive camouflage as it feeds:

Just another petal on one of many flowers unless you look more closesly.
Just another petal on one of many flowers unless you look more closesly.