Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 1, 2012

Camp Moth

Having just returned from a short stay at Oldbury Hill campsite in north Kent, I am once more reminded of its entomological delights, most especially for its moths.  A weekend stay a few years back left enough of a mark with me so that I felt moved to eulogise its lepidopteron extravagancies within the pages of my 2011 book ‘Never a Dull Moment‘.  I feel inclined to put finger to keyboard once again.

The reason for this campsite being so remarkable for its moths is two-fold.  Firstly, it is surrounded by many hectares of woodland, the great majority of which is comprised of native deciduous trees.  There is much Oak and Beech, along with the likes of Hazel, Hawthorn and Rowan, all offering an ample and diverse supply of foodplant for an array of insect life, not least for moths.  Secondly, the campsite facilities are well-lit, with several outdoor lights providing the lure for a great many illumination-bemused moths.

Peppered Moth (Biston betularia). Copyright 2012 Ross Gardner

During the first stay here I think I earned more than one or two quizzical looks from my fellow campers, with my attentive staring at the lights and circling of the shower blocks, while I racked up a list of some 3o odd species.  From the cryptically marked Common Rustic and the unremarkable-looking Grey Pug, to the dazzling Large Emerald and the monstrous Privet Hawk-moth, and a great deal else in between.

With just a single night’s stay this time around, I was not expecting quite the same haul as before, and the 11 species I did see I regarded as a pretty healthy count.  These included the Lobster Moth and Brimstone Moth that I had seen previously, another pug – this time the Mottled – and a handsome looking White Ermine.  The Pale Oak Beauty and Peppered Moth were two species I had never seen before.  The latter is of particular interest for its variation in appearance in different parts of the country.  Although much less commonly now, in more heavily polluted, industrial districts a plain, sooty brown form dominated.  The mottled markings of the regular, paler form is well suited to blending in against a lichen covered background, such as on masonry or tree bark.  Lichens are absent or, at best, scarce in areas with high levels of atmospheric pollution, giving the dark form a distinct advantage against predation than the paler one.  Interesting stuff and a staple of ecology textbooks.

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