Wildlife Wednesday – Sith Lords and other Cloaked Beauties

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Sith lord with light sabre … OK it’s really a Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) on a grass stalk

There’s been plenty of drama in the meadows this year from the Cinnabar moths (Tyria jacobaeae). Cinnabars are a day flying moth and tend to disturb easily. This results in startling flashes of red as their hindwings are revealed when they flit about. There seem to be more than usual I’d say.

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The Cinnabar moth’s food of choice is ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), which is widespread around here and is just coming into flower now. Soon the plants will be covered in those very noticeable, squirming black and yellow caterpillars. Apart from their bright colouring, the toxic, bitter alkaloids in the ragwort help make the larvae unpalatable and reduces the risk of consumption by predators. So you might wonder why we aren’t awash with sith cinnabar moths and the answer is simply that not many make it through to pupation because they often run out of food before maturity (and they are not averse to cannibalism).

I’ve been toiling away over the last few weeks making what seems like endless, but in reality is only nine, table centres for my son’s wedding this weekend. He’s keen on a woodland theme and somehow I’ve found myself up to my elbows in papier-mâché, turning glass vases into tree stumps. These subsequently have been ‘colonised’ by ivy and moss and so it was not a surprise yesterday to find a green leaf lying around on the carpet … except that when I went to pick it up I discovered that it was alive and was in fact a Large Emerald moth (Geometra papilionaria).

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Large Emerald moth  (the camera colours are dreadful though)

Doesn’t it look doe-eyed,  colt-legged and super cute? The colours in the photo against our mossy green carpet are awful though. A better idea of how green the moth really is, is given in this second picture (below). This was taken in brighter light when I returned the moth to the garden.

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The Large Emerald is indeed a large moth, with a wingspan of about 50mm. Its favourite food source is birch and since we have several in the garden, it is not too surprising a ‘spot’.

Skipper butterflies are just starting to appear in the garden and, continuing with the Star Wars theme, I love the way they rotate their forewings away from the hindwings so that they look like X-winged fighters. I am not totally sure which kind of Skipper this is, but the chequered pattern on its wings (admittedly not visible in this photo) points to its ID as a Large Skipper. In our garden they are most often seen supping on linaria, verbena and red valerian (Centranthus ruber).

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But my favourite visitor to the red valerian, is the Hummingbird Hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum), which I eventually managed a fairly clear shot of last week.

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This migrant is a sporadic garden visitor, but the best chance to see it is at this time of year, while the red valerian is in full flower.

This butterfly is a Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) and is the last one I will share in this post. I’ve spent most of June on the look out for these butterflies on our dog walks, but the species seems to have emerged, either in smaller numbers than usual or just later than last year.

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I’ll end with a couple of bird shots. Our patio area is currently the preferred training grounds for some young robins and wrens. It’s noisy sitting out under the wisteria-covered pergola currently, because there’s a lot of high-pitched chirping and alarm calling overhead. Here is one of the juvenile robins on the ground:

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Already he has that sturdy, chesty posture, but his youth has gifted him with spots/speckled feathers rather than a red breast (it will come).

On the other hand, I’ve only detected the baby wrens as silhouettes moving about the virburnum bush, but I did manage a shot of a hard-working parent, beak full of goodies, checking me out worriedly, before moving on to feed the kids:

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This is my contribution to Tina’s monthly Wildlife Wednesday meme. I recommend clicking over to her blog to see a completely different set of birds and creatures (she’s Texas based). Perhaps you’ve got some wildlife to share?

Happy Spotting!

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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17 Responses to Wildlife Wednesday – Sith Lords and other Cloaked Beauties

  1. Shirley Fox says:

    Your moth looks a good bit like a Sith lord and was good for a fun laugh too! Interesting description of how they manage to avoid predators yet succumb to a food shortage anyway. Oh that adorable Robin.

    Wonderful views of the Large Emerald moth with beautiful color.

    Your centerpieces sound beautiful too.

    • Thanks Shirley. I might post the table centres for In a Vase on Monday. Yes I’ve been discovering that there are plenty of lovely moths to find, it is just that I rarely look! Must try harder.

  2. Tina says:

    A month for moths! (And other critters, too.) Love the sith lord with light saber–chuckled at that, but what a flashy moth the Cinnabar is. The Emerald is stunning too, in such a different way. I’m impressed with your hummingbird moth shot; I’ve had no luck with catching that one–just too fast for me. The robin and wren are darling; your wrens are similar to ours (duh!) but the robin is so different. Congratulations on the upcoming wedding. The table center pieces sound sweet. I wonder where your son got his interest in woodlands?? 🙂

    • Ha, I think from Lord of the Rings or some such Fantasy epic! But seriously, both sons appreciate being surrounded by the countryside and having a green space to retire to, so that is good. Yes I must make more effort to search out moths, ‘cos I am miss out on some lovely creatures!

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    Splendid wildlife surrounds you – great post, Allison!

  4. shoreacres says:

    I have no idea what a Sith Lord might be, but that moth is amazing. And the large emerald is impressive, too. How in the world did you get it to stay on your hand? I’m always amazed by people who can get that up close and personal with such beauties.

    I just re-read your post, and answered my own question about the Siths. I never saw any of the Star Wars films — that explains that!

    • Sith lord Darth Maul was a Star Wars character whose face was a dramatic combination of red and black. He wore a black cloak … so his red is revealed in the same way as the moth. He was a villain, so toxic too!! It was a disappointing film though. On the other hand, the Large Emerald moth was very calm and easy to move. The only problem was working the camera with my left hand!

  5. Great post! Looked like the moths and birds were posing well for you. At least for a few seconds. 🙂

  6. pbmgarden says:

    Terrific images. You’re in tune with some amazing creatures. Love the color of the Cinnabar moth. Congratulations on the upcoming wedding and much happiness to all.

  7. Jess T. says:

    I can’t believe anyone makes their own crafts for weddings anymore! That sounds like a ton of work, you have a world of patience. The nature I have to share is the birds who were too lazy to build a nest but instead live INSIDE an electric box outside the window of my apartment complex. I’ve kept my windows shut most nights because they chirp like crazy starting at 3 am or so. They aren’t as cute as the one you have pictured here!

    • That’s funny. Nature finding it’s way for real! Sorry about the chirping though. Luckily, it should be short lived! Wedding successfully completed on this end and now life returns to normal.

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