Friday, 14 August 2015

Minty moths, born of fire

Those who pop in here regularly will likely have noticed that I have a soft spot for finding moths during the day time. Doing so always feels a bit like I’ve uncovered a mysterious wormhole in the fabric of the universe because, as everyone knows, moths only exist after dark. Oh ok, they don’t vanish into thin air as the sun comes up, but there is a sense in which discovering their hiding places and roost sites is like pulling back a veil. And, of course, there are the day-flying moths, which are just as exciting to see because they hide in plain sight. Like undercover agents, they live obscured, in the shadows of the big, bright and popular butterfly community. Only the initiated seek them out.

This week, it was the pretty little Mint Moth that caught my imagination. Smaller than my lady-sized thumbnail and, as the common name suggests, the larvae feed on mints and the adults spend most of their time also on/around these herbs. Their other common name, Small Purple and Gold, sums up their main colouring but their scientific name is also worth a closer look. Pyrausta aurata. The “aurata” is fairly straightforward and comes from the latin for “gilded” or “golden” or “overlaid/adorned with gold”, just as the little moth is. “Pyrausta” or “fire-winged”, I think, is a reference to the mythical insect fabled to live in or born from fire. I’m not quite sure how this relates to the moth. Perhaps it is a reference to the rich purple-crimson colouring which is also associated with the fire-born Phoenix, rising from the ashes? I don’t know, but for a little moth it’s got a big name: Fire-born, adorned with gold!

As this moth ages, its vibrant, regal colours fade as the scales wear away. Towards the end of its life, it does look as though it's escaped the flames and has been left brown and singed.

A fairly fresh specimen

Signs of wear starting to show

A very worn specimen!

The above were all found at Roughdown Common, amongst a population of at least 25 moths, making the most of the deliciously scented Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare). The species flies by day and night.

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