Seeing the moths from the trees

Flanders Moss NNR

Our moth trap is still working hard and is the gift that keeps on giving. As the year progresses we are seeing a changing crowd of participants and some of the summer moths are now looking pretty ragged. They have been out doing their thing for a number of days and weeks and the wear and tear of moth life knocks the scales off the wings.

But as we are now seeing some of the late summer / early autumn moths making an appearance and some of these are very easy on the eye. It is interesting that a number of the later moths are orange or yellow in colour and it is only when we started releasing some of these individuals from the trap onto surrounding vegetation that it becomes obvious why.

There are several Ear Moth species and they are very hard to separate without having to kill the moths and dissect them. So we don’t do that but group them together as Ear moth species – we don’t need to know individual species numbers that much! They all have a beautiful mesh pattern on their wings which is a perfect camouflage when put onto bog myrtle plants. But the end of the summer the bog myrtle leaves have been munched by all sorts of different invertebrates, often with the top layer being chewed off leaving the network of veins underneath. Exposed to the air this turns a russety brown colour that perfectly matches the Ear Moth wings. You do get Ear Moths where bog myrtle doesn’t grow but you can’t help but think that their wing pattern has developed to match partially eaten leaves that are about at the end of summer.

Ear Moth
Ear moth amongst insect chewed bog myrtle leaves.

We are along way off autumn yet but if you look at some trees they are starting to have some leaves turn yellow and drop off. In spring a bright yellow moth would stand out and be easily eaten but in late summer bright yellow can help a moth disappear in a tree with turning leaves. Canary-Shouldered Thorns, Sallow and Centre-Barred Sallow moths have started to appear in our traps and again you wonder if their flight season and colouring is perfectly timed to match with the turning leaves.

A canary-shouldered thorn hiding in the turning bog myrtle leaves.
Now do you see it?
A Sallow moth – very obvious in among the green leaves but disappears in the turning ones.
Centre-barred sallow – stands out like a sore thumb, until it finds a tree with turning leaves.

But still one of the best camouflaged is the beautifully patterned Silvery Arches caught earlier in the year against the Silver Birch bark.

When it comes down to nature nothing is like it is for the sake of it – there is always a reason why creatures are the colour they are or have developed a particular behaviour. So, though moths might have dramatic looking colours that might be very obvious, they can still be remarkable well adapted to their surroundings. The fun is being able to sometimes work out the reasons for those adaptions.

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