I went looking for big, bold Dark Green Fritillaries (Argynnis aglaja) on Ivinghoe Hills yesterday but was actually more excited to find the wonderfully named Chimney Sweeper moths (Odezia atrata). As with most insects you’ve only seen in photographs, I’d imagined them to be bigger, but their wingspan is just 23-27mm, similar to that of a Small Blue butterfly. These are sun loving moths, flying during June and July over chalk grassland, limestone hills and damp grassy meadows. The larvae feed on the flowers of Pignut (Conopodium majus).
Up close, they are smart little creatures, sporting white fringing on the tips of the all-black forewing. But, it’s the name that captures the imagination and infuses the sighting with a child-like thrill. In the midst of the great outdoors, “there’s a Chimney Sweeper!” and, even if not consciously, you “see” a wide-eyed waif, wings smothered in soot, carrying an appropriately-sized chimney brush. I do love the fact that somewhere along the line, the rationality of the scientist couldn’t stifle the imagination nor the desire to make meaning and express affection... even for a little black moth. It’s all in the name.