Tag Archives: toxic

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:

More Beautiful Fungi

Unfortunately autumn has brought with it colds and flu, felling people when they least expect it, including yours truly. It tales away the desire to blog. Anyhow, I’m back with some more fungi photos. I’m a relative newcomer to the study of fungi, or mycology as it is known to the scientific community, so if any experts want to weigh in, please feel free to comment.

Firstly, I need to warn people to be very careful when it comes to fungi. Just because it looks edible doesn’t mean it is edible. The innocuous-looking mushrooms in the shot below look like very many harmless species, but are known by the common name Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata) because they are so deadly. So never assume the dangerous mushroom or toadstool is going to look sinister or wear a gaudy uniform. Fungi are a law unto themselves.

Funeral Bell, a harmless-looking, but extremely dangerous customer.

But if you prefer to admire them for their beauty, rather than because you want to fill your belly with them, mushrooms, toadstools and other fungi are extremely beautiful creatures. I say “creatures” simply because it’s very hard to know how to describe them. Fungi are not plants or animals and are in their own kingdom of organisms.

Bog Bell (Galerina paludosa) a very handsome mushroom.

Fungi are mostly parasitic and tend to be associated with certain trees and shrubs. You can even see where a tree has been by the presence of fungus.

Where a tree used to be, the remains of the trunk are underground and shown by the fungus still feeding on them. Although there are many individual mushrooms, these are all only the fruiting bodies of a single organism, kind of like flowers or apples on a tree.

There are many different kinds of fungus and some are very handsome, such as the Dark Honey Fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) which is studded with spines.

Dark Honey Fungus looking very handsome in a cluster.

But some fungi are absolutely massive. One of the most spectacular in Wicklow is the Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) seen below on a piece of dead wood. The name of this fungus comes from the similarity of its shape to that of a saddle, and its similar size. A spectacular giant, especially common on old sycamore trees.

A Dryad’s Saddle with a €2 coin resting on it, giving a sense of both the size and strength of this massive fungus.

Find a nice sunny day, take your camera and go out and get some photos of these beautiful subjects which stay nicely still while you compose your shots. They are part of what makes autumn such a special time of year.