Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Treacling for moths and moth books

Why moths fascinate me?
Since I was a little boy and discovered my first caterpillars, and found out how some types turn into moths that were like butterflies but different, I have been fascinated by the insects. It saddens me to know that many species are becoming much less in numbers in the modern world. Many people don't seem to know or care.

But moths are not only amazing creatures to see and study but are an essential part of the eco-system. They are the food of bats and many other nocturnal animals and their caterpillars become the food of countless birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians and other insects. If they are missing from the environment then other creatures go hungry.

The Moths of the British Isles
I recently went to visit my father in Cardiff and picked up some old and treasured books of mine. The Moths of the British Isles (Series I and II) by Richard South F.E.S. are, in my opinion, some of the best reference books on the insects available.

I say this because many a modern book only has a small selection of the more common or large and brightly-coloured species. However, these old books have all the small ones and the dull brown and grey species and even the types that were exceedingly rare many years back. There are quite a good selection of books on moths though.

Moth names
I love the names that moths have. Here is a selection: the Lunar Spotted Pinion, the Old Lady, the Lobster Moth, the Puss Moth, the Hummingbird Hawk Moth, the Chocolate Tip, the Argent and Sable, the Frosted Green, the Wood Tiger, the Vapourer, the Kentish Glory, the Emperor, the Rosy Footman, the Neglected Rustic, the Clifden Nonpareil, the Alchymist, the Rannoch Sprawler, the Brighton Wainscot, the Nonconformist, the Ruddy Highflyer, the Toadflax Pug, the Belted Beauty, the Essex Emerald and the Gold Spot.
They sound more like titles for plays or detective novels, some form of confectionery, public houses or maybe a rock band even! Anything but a flying insect!
When I was a child and later in life too I used to delight in rearing caterpillars in jars and other containers and make sure they had the leaves they needed of their food plants. When it was time for them to pupate some types needed soil to burrow in and others needed leaves or other material to fashion into cocoons. It was all a part of the learning process for me finding out about all these requirements.

Pale Tussock Moth caterpillar or Hop Dog

Some types of moth only pupate for a few weeks or months but others must go through the whole winter and spring before they emerge. Waiting patiently for the day they hatched out was always worth it when I watched the beautiful creatures drying their wings with all their colours fresh and radiant.
There are many ways of finding caterpillars too. One good way is to beat bushes and overhanging foliage with a stick or to shake it onto a tray of some sort below.
Some caterpillars are very unusual looking creatures and very beautiful in their own way. The caterpillar of the Pale Tussock Moth, or "Hop Dog" as it is also known, is a good example, covered as it is in coloured tufts of hair against a lime green background.
Some types fall off and curl up or start crawling and others like some of the "looper" caterpillars can hang down on threads if they are dislodged.
Hawk Moths
Some caterpillars can be spotted by looking out for the areas of foliage they have eaten. Big caterpillars like those of the Hawk Moths do this.
Finding moths at night is exciting too because you never know what you might discover. There are various ways. You can search around lights in outhouses and buildings where theinsects are attracted, or looking on flowering shrubs like the Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) is another great way of finding moths as they feed on the nectar.
Speaking of moths that are feeding, a very good way of tempting the insects is by an old-fashioned method known as "sugaring" or "treacling." To do this you make up a mixture of treacle and sugar and maybe a dash of some alcoholic drink and daub it in strips on walls and fences and tree trunks and then come back an hour or so later with a torch to see what is there.
On a good night it will tempt all sorts of species but not only moths. I remember getting the attention of a policeman when I was a boy so, if you try sugaring, be careful where you put your sticky treacle lure because it might not just be moths that it attracts.
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

No comments: