6-spot Burnet Moth, 6-spot Burnet Moth pupa, Antler moth, cinnabar moth larvae, emerging 6-spot Burnet Moths, mating 6-spot Burnet Moths, small skipper, sulphur beetle
Some days the intention of a walk is at the forefront of my mind, then ‘stuff’ crops up and before I know it the day is almost over and the momentum needed to get me out of the door is fading fast. This was almost one of those days, when at six thirty-something I was still preoccupied with getting things done in the house. Luckily I finally acknowledged the little nagging voice in the back of my mind that was insisting I got out for some fresh air. I almost ignored it, then gave in, grabbed my camera, put on walking shoes and headed out with no real idea where I was heading for.
At around seven I arrived at the Little Orme. I knew before I arrived that by this time in the evening most of the area on this most accessible side of the headland would be in the shadow of its bulk, as the late sun slips down and slides around it to set just about behind its tip. There were quite a few people about too; dog walkers of course, some holidaymakers dressed up for the evening, maybe taking an evening constitutional before dinner & a couple of groups of teenagers, one lot jumping, diving, shouting and laughing from a rocky ledge into the sea. I quickly judged that this was not a scenario I would normally enter into if hoping to spot any wildlife and on that basis decided this outing would be for the purpose of exercise. So a brisk walk to the cliff edge, an about turn and a concerted effort to get to the top of Rabbit Hill with minimum stops to catch breath, back down again and home ought to do it.
A group of people with two dogs was heading toward me, so to avoid them momentarily I stepped off the main path onto a narrow track that leads around the cliff, skirting what is currently a large patch of long grass. It took less than a minute of being there to spot that a good number of Meadow Brown butterflies were flitting about amongst the grass stems and settling there. It took slightly longer to realise they were there to roost for the night.
I tried to approach several butterflies, treading slowly and carefully through the grass, but I couldn’t get close enough to them to photograph and hadn’t picked up my more powerful zoom lens when I left the house as I didn’t expect to need it. I continued to try until following one individual led me to discover a cluster of Six-spot Burnet Moths on a single grass-head.
It was clear that the Moths were in differing conditions, with one n particular looking a bit battered and with most of the colour gone from its wings. I assumed that as with the Meadow Browns the Burnets were also seeking to roost for the night and turned my attention to a passing Small Skipper that settled obligingly on another nearby grass-head.
I was happy now, especially as in the cool of the evening the butterflies and moths were not as mobile as they are during the day and were allowing me to get quite close to them with the camera.
As I moved through the grass and further towards the cliff edge I began seeing more Burnet moths. And more.
It slowly dawned upon me that although the butterflies were roosting, the moths were not. They were out intent on mating.
I could hardly believe the numbers of moths that were gathered here in this relatively small area of long grass. I have been to visit this reserve many times and felt lucky to see half a dozen individuals on a sunny afternoon, now I was surrounded by them. They were literally everywhere I looked. It still took a further while though to realise that even more amazingly, I had arrived at exactly the time the new moths were almost simultaneously emerging from their cocoons.
I had begun to spot the yellow cocoons with something black and alien-looking emerging from them, but couldn’t quite imagine it ending up as a moth at all, so at first thought they were something else. I don’t what, just something else.
It was only when I spotted other Burnet moths perched on top of cocoons from which another was emerging that I was convinced that somehow these crumpled black forms would indeed eventually look just like them.
I began to wonder then why the moths were sitting on top of the pupae. I’m afraid the only theory I could come up with was that they were male moths staking a claim on emerging females to mate with them as soon as they became viable. Not pretty, but probably not far off the mark. (more about 6-spot Burnet Moth)
I tried watching an emergence for a while, but it seemed like a lengthy process, so still marvelling at my luck in witnessing this epic event, I left the moths to their nuptials and moved on. I would have been happy to have taken my previously outlined walk now and returned home, but it turned out there were still a few things to see in the gathering dusk.
Ragwort is in full vibrant bloom now and I just had to look for black and yellow striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth. I was not disappointed, there were plenty in sizes varying from very tiny to very large.
I was also fortunate to spot a prettily marked moth : this is an Antler moth, so called because of the distinctive antler-shaped markings on its forewings. One of the species that flies in daylight.
On the cliff above Angel Bay is another patch of long grass, but here it is mixed with wildflowers such as hogweed, ragwort and a sprinkling of knapweed, all important nectar plants for insects. This evening there were still a few to be found out dining including bumblebees and one little Sulphur beetle.
I left for home happily and exercised – I made it up to the top of Rabbit Hill, admittedly pausing a couple of times, but why wouldn’t you when the view is so spectacular and the sun is setting so beautifully over the sea?
Paul Seligman said:
Nice. Your theory is correct: Male 6-spot Burnets wait for the females to emarge and immediately mate with the, The Burnets are very pretty and easy to photograph especially when they are focused on reproduction. Here is one I took with my phone recently: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_seligman_cardiff/14818314681/
Most people believe all moths are dull and boring; I love showing them such pictures or, better still, the real thing. Several colleagues were impressed when I showed them these creatures which they were walking past every day on their way home from our office.
I recorded and photographed by first Antler Moth as well very recently:
Thanks Paul, and thanks again for confirming my theory about the waiting male Burnets. I’m no longer surprised by people’s lack of awareness of what is going on around them; just sorry they are missing so much. That’s a good image to get with a phone & a pretty impressive moth collection too.