Posted by: Ross Gardner | December 14, 2016

Unseasonally seasonal

At work this morning I noticed a smallish grey moth, at rest on a window pane on the outside face of a classroom door.  It was a northern winter moth (Operophtera fagata), measuring not much more than a couple of centimetres across and which are active throughout November and into December.  It was early in the morning and amid the condensation covered sheet the moth had encircled itself with a round patch of clear glass, the life processes of its appatently frail being evidently sufficient to generate heat enough to influence its immediate surroudings.  The small interactions of small things.

I showed the moth to some of the children in my class and enjoyed a short discussion with them on the life-cycles of moths and butterflies and how we might not expect such creatures to be active through the late-autumn and winter months.  We have been enjoying some very mild weather for December, but this little moth nevertheless turned my mind towards those other species that keep the lepidopteran wheel turning throughout the year.

Moths may arguably be more evocatively named than butterflies.  Many impart their seasonal behaviours without a need for a formal introduction to the actual insect, namely the july highflyer (Hydriomena furctata) or the spring usher (Agriopis leucophaeria) to name a pair.  More appropriate here though, are those such as the winter-flying species, the December moth (Poecilocampa populi) or the winter moth (Operophtera brumata): while uncharactistically mild winter days will doubtlessly be welcomed by them, I have seen these last to be active on decidely cold, even frosty evenings.  Some may even be active during any month of the year, like the cryptically beautiful angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa).

Unseasonal as they may seem, there are still to be found the small lives for the small spaces, even in winter.


Camouflaged as a crumpled leaf, angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) can potentially be seen all-year round. Ross Gardner 2012.


The aptly named winter moth (Operoptera brumata) flies from October to January. Ross Gardner 2011.

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