Posted by: Ross Gardner | May 28, 2014

The sense of it all

It is a considerable understatement to say that a great deal of life goes on under our very noses without even our remotest inkling of it.  There arethe very tiny lives enacting their own secret dramas to none but the most inquisitive of human eyes, but there is also that aspect of ‘life’ literally going on all around us, but absolutely beyond the capabilities of our senses.  We will of course orientate the world around our own sensual limits, but to acknowledge those limits and have an understanding as to wait lies beyond them is perhaps to stretch a little further.

Before writing this off as esoteric nonsense, anyone who has used a bat-detector would have had first hand experience of such a minor epiphany.  Bat’s get around in the dark using ultrasound.  By essentially shouting very loudly they create an image of the landscape from the sounds bouncing back to them.  These calls are generally very high-pitched and inaudible to human hearing and the bat detectors job is to ‘hear’ them and convert them into a sound that we can actually hear.  At favoured feeding grounds (often comprising freshwater, native woodland or both) a detector might emit a clamour of noise – the many and various clicks and buzzes that constitute the calls of the bats.  Listen for a number of minutes and you will become used to this eavesdropping.  Switch it off and for a few moments you feel almost as if you have been deprived of sense you have had since you were a child and the still night air becomes heavy with the absence of something you could have otherwise never of known was there.

Far more subtle was the simple turn of events that inspired this post.  I was looking out the window into the garden and noticed a number of small moths, perhaps half a dozen, braving the drizzle.  For the record they turned out to be Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana), originally an Australian species that has since become common and widespread in the UK since finding its way here in the 1930s.  I saw one settle and rushed out to collect it (humanely) for identification.  As it happened it had settled to mate.  After bringing the pair inside I noticed that in the garden there was not a moth to be seen.  It then occurred to me why this little flurry of activity had taken place.  A female advertising her presence by wafting out pheromones had attracted a suite of potential suitors.  With her out of the way, the others disappeared from view.  What other invisible trails waft past and beyond our senses, all day every day?

Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana).  Ross Gardner 2014

Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana) – the female causing all the fuss is was the smaller lighter brown one. Ross Gardner 2014

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