Suddenly there are butterflies! Seven small tortoiseshells feeding on a patch of marjoram in the garden, and, at the Otley Wetlands on Saturday, the trackside grassland flickering and fluttering with meadow browns and gatekeepers. The moth population round here is doing well too. I can confidently assert this because WNS has recently been doing a lot of moth trapping both in gardens and on Nature Reserves. What’s more – the trap was run in our garden on 11th -12th July, a perfect balmy evening at the dark of the moon.
The trap comprises a bright light mounted on a large wooden box in which are a number of empty egg cartons. The light is switched on at dusk attracting the moths which then fall into the box and hide among the cartons. Next morning comes the unpacking, identification and release. As you see, it’s the ‘morning after’ part that’s so exciting, like a child’s Christmas, full of surprises and delight.
Our trap contained over 70 individuals and we had representatives of 32 species – a very satisfactory haul. Three of our experts were on hand to do the unpacking, which needs considerable quickness and delicacy. Each insect has to be caught in a specimen jar and lifted out without losing any of the others: then there’s the identification and that requires a lot of knowledge and a seriously thick book.
The moths themselves are beautiful: the Light Emerald, a creamy jade colour; the Brimstone – pale lemon; the Barred Red, a soft fawn with a tracery of dark red; and my favourite, the Elephant Hawk moth, its large body and wings patterned in pale green and pink, like the richest fabric you can imagine! Even the apparently drab specimens, on closer inspection, have intricate patterns of lines and spots giving rise to names like Dark Arches or Muslin Footman. Of course, their colouring affords excellent camouflage. This was demonstrated when we released a Peppered Moth. It flew onto the rockery, landed on a stone and just seemed to melt into the background and vanish.
One moment of high drama – we thought we had a Double Dart, unrecorded locally for forty years – but it turned out to be a Dingy Shears! It just shows the need for a good eye and that thick book! Anyway, who cares? I can still delight in the thought of all these elegant creatures circling my dark garden for nights to come.