There was a time when I would have been thrilled to find such a spectacular, colourful and rare moth fluttering around the mercury vapour light. But I’ve grown blasé about the Jersey tiger, Euplagia quadripunctaria. Ever since it was first discovered in Lewisham, in 2005, it has appeared increasingly regularly all over south-east London. There are more of them here than in Jersey now.
It is a pretty insect, and both hind-wing colourways were there, yellow on Tuesday, orange-red on Wednesday. The cats were pretty interested too, and I had to keep shooing them away with a broom. We had a few other moths too, the least carpet (Idaea rusticata) is apparently quite local in southern England, the dun-bar (Cosmia trapezina) is very common, and the old lady (Mormo maura) is big and black and irresistible to cats.
It is never the moths, though, for which I put out a mercury vapour light. The flies and caddises came first, then a swathe of water-boatmen, one of the smaller Corixa species. Amara bifrons is an attractive little ground beetle, and not all that common. The lesser earwig (Labia minor) is much less common than a century ago, something to do with the lack of horse-drawn vehicles in the metropolis and horse-dropped manure in the streets.
But the most interesting insects were two beetles. Prionychus ater is a handsome black tenebrionid beetle, nationally scarce, and associated with ancient woodland, where it breeds in fungoid wood. There is lots of old woodland in Dulwich, and I’ve also seen this beetle in Dulwich Park. Trox scaber is a short squat chafer that breeds in carrion and seems especially attached to owl nests in hollow trees. All the old books describe it as common, but it is certainly scarce nowadays, though probably still widespread. It seems unlikely that there are many owl nests around here and the suggestion seems to be that it is breeding in compost heaps where unwary householders are prone to dump roast chicken carcasses and bones from the Sunday lunch leg of lamb. We were guilty of this too, I’m afraid, until the rat-eviction clear-out.
Oh, by the way, don’t search on Google for images of Labia minor, it comes up with some very disturbing pictures of another sort of labia.