I worried that the bright light might disturb our new neighbours, but it’s only one night in the year, hardly a firework party every week. The trap stood in the middle of the lawn, a drum-shaped plastic container packed tight with old egg cartons and, above it, the bright bulb that would attract moths – night-fliers we usually never see.
Early next morning two WNS experts arrive and the unpacking begins. This is the thrilling part. Each egg box is lifted out – a delicate operation for, until they’ve been counted, we do not want to disturb the moths that have rested there. Next we identify and put the rarer ones in containers for later scrutiny.
Today I was excited to see two peacock butterflies and one comma on our buddleia: the morning after the moth trapping we counted 202 separate moths (and a few got away!). There were 28 different species, a slight reduction on last year (32) but not a bad haul. While there were crowds of Large Yellow Underwing (a common, but handsome large brown moth with, of course, yellow underwings – very pretty in flight) we had lots of others to admire before release. There were pretty ones – a primrose yellow Brimstone, a large Swallow-tailed Moth, filmy white as though made entirely of muslin, a Burnished Brass, rather like a small brown twig on which someone had stuck four patches of gold foil that glittered in the sun, and even the apparently dull brown ones, when examined closely, have delicate patterns in varying shades.
I had two favourites: first, the Scalloped Oak – a pale fawn with a darker richer brown wavy stripe across its wings and, secondly, The Snout. Our specimen was distinctly worse for wear, its brown wings tattered, but its nose reminded me of Concorde. Not really a nose of course, actually its palps, and on a better specimen we would have seen the end divides like a fork. Not a beauty then, but it has character! There is actually a species called The Beautiful Snout – I’d like to see that.
The early entomologists who gave moths their English names had real flair, but sometimes they were stumped. Our catch included a Common Rustic. This might be confused with the rarer Lesser Rustic. There’s also a Rustic and this can be confused with – and here, one guesses, the namers gave up – The Uncertain!
Jenny Dixon, Wharfedale Naturalists Society