Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Fifty-nine

15 May 2020 | Posted in Michael Blencowe
Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Fifty-nine

Day Fifty- nine

Well, this is embarassing.

Yesterday I was all too keen to show off my rubber snake and fancy pink egg boxes and I promised you a moth trap full of moths.

But I made one stupid mistake...I didn't check the weather forecast.

The best nights for moth trapping are those warm, muggy nights when the clouds block out the moon and stars. I've had some of my best nights in light drizzle. But if it's a really cold night you can forget it, moths just aren't interested. Yesterday evening, after setting up the trap and taking some photos for you, I went out to plug the trap in. It was cold. And it just got colder and colder.

Weather

I went out to turn off the trap at 04:45 this morning and it was frosty!

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(I guess one of the bonuses of being stuck at home due to a global viral pandemic is that you don't have to scrape the ice off your windscreen).

So I wasn't surprised this morning to find the moth trap was relatively moth-free. 

Sure, there was a moth in there. There was this Muslin Moth. 

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...and that was it. Sometimes I put out a moth trap and there are 500 moths in there. Honestly, there really is.

But that's not to say I was disappointed. Because the trap was full of these gorgeous little monsters...

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Call 'em what you want Cockchafers, May Bugs, Spang Beetles, Billy Witches. I just call 'em adorable

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Awwwww - just look at them. It looks like some surreal chocolate selection box (although I'd imagine it would be a bit crunchy). 

These Cockchafers would have spent the past three years or so underground as chunky larvae and are emerging now for a life which lasts just six short weeks. 

They scramble out of the soil as one of Britain's biggest beetles (and the largest of the 80 or so British scarab beetles).  I find them so fascinating to watch. It's like they're some bizarre Victorian wind-up toy or have been invented by some eccentric genius.

The thing I love about them most is their amazing antennae. These incredible sensitive structures are used to detect food and (if you're a male Cockchafer) females. Males are therefore extra sensitive and have an additional seventh leaf on their antennae while the females have six.

Quick Quiz: Is this one a male or female?

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While I emptied the moth-less moth trap this morning I gathered a couple of dozen Cockchafers on one egg box and watched them for half an hour while I had my muesli. Every now and then one would suddenly become very active, scramble over his comrades and climb up on a pink pinnacle. Once he's reached the summit he'd unfurl his antennae as if taking essential pre-flight checks to gauge air speed and direction.

Once his flight computer had registered that he was clear for take off he'd pull down his goggles and you could almost sense him gathering the courage and enthusiasm to take off. Then the hardened front wings would mechanically flip open (and reveal that he's wearing a some cute ginger mohair underwear), engage his rear thrusters and his smoky hindwings would then unfold awkwardly. 

He'd pause for just a second, just enough time for your brain to realise that this whole contraption looks too ridiculous to become airborne, but then...he's off.  With a loud whirring hum his beating wings blur into action and lift him gracefully into the air.

And then he flies straight into a bungalow.

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Cockchafers have to be the least accomplished fliers I know. They just bumble around crashing into walls, fences and windows. Then again who, am I to judge? I can't fly so I have no idea how hard it is. 

All I know is that it put a big smile on my face this morning to watch every single one of these crazy little critters rise up into the clear blue sky.

I managed to film a few of the Cockchafer squadron as they took off . Don't forget to turn up the volume to hear that fantastic hum from their whirring wings.


I doubt it'll get nominated for a BAFTA but I've scribbled down my thank you speech just in case. I'd like to thank my colleague Richard Cobden for sticking the clips together. And all the Cockchafers of course. Richard also slowed down some of the take-offs so you can really see what unlikely aviators these beetles are (the slowed-down sound on the clip makes it even more surreal).



Well hopefully that has compensated for this morning's moth trap failure.

I'll try again next week and this time I'll check the weather forecast. 


Comments

  • Robin Harris:

    15 May 2020 10:17:00

    Great stuff, Michael. Reminded me of the evening, in the long-distant past, when cycling, downhill and at speed, in the late evening gloom after a fishing expedition, one of these jokers smacked me plumb in the middle of the forehead. I was not so keen on that particular chap (or chapess – didn’t stop to find out which)!
    Regards
    Robin

  • Mary:

    15 May 2020 11:02:00

    Apart from the comical cockchafers, I’m impressed by the Muslin moth’s posh fur coat and leggings, no problems with a cold night!

  • Grace Brindle:

    15 May 2020 11:33:00

    Wow! You’re right – they do sound like a wind up toy. Also, love the action shot…

  • Julie McNamee:

    15 May 2020 12:00:00

    Fascinating critters. I think David Attenborough should be doing the voiceover for that fantastic film.

  • Ginny-Vic:

    15 May 2020 12:07:00

    PLEASE bring out a range of SWT sunglasses with these antenna on! They would be cool! They really do sound springy! I think the slow motion one could be a horror film. They could chase the shrew! Ha ha!

  • Dee:

    17 May 2020 12:03:00

    Been getting these on the balcony a lot last week. So cute. I’m just outside Carlisle.

  • Paul Grivell:

    21 May 2020 10:43:00

    Beautiful! Your filming is lovely and your writing’s a joy! So good to see these bumbling critters so appreciated. As above I’ve been smacked in the head by them at twilight – painfully weighty on impact.

  • Alex:

    21 May 2020 11:31:00

    Great movies!!! We did a moth trap last night and got one..very sleepy cockchafer and 11 moths! Identified a couple of pugs and a lovely brimstone! All on irecord now!!!!

  • margaret riche:

    21 May 2020 11:37:00

    My husband loved Maybugs. He died 9 years ago and that evening possibly 50 Maybugs appeared bumbling against the front door attracted by the lamp. I thought it a fitting tribute to him He would have loved it.

  • Jo Bruggenwirth:

    21 May 2020 11:43:00

    Great stuff Michael
    I now realise one of these critters was the thing that sent my husband and 9 yr old daughter rushing for cover yesterday in the garden, while I watched on bemused from my sun lounger. The words “A couple of Big Girl’s Blouses” may have been spoken. I am surrounded by wusses. These bugs are great, can’t wait to see one close up.

  • Sue Wilson:

    21 May 2020 12:23:00

    I’ve just had one sitting on a rose stem. It seemed to shuffle round to remain in the shade. I only have a very small garden in the centre of Tunbridge Wells and it’s surprising how many different insects I get. I loved your post Margaret.

  • juliette harris:

    21 May 2020 12:49:00

    Is it just me or is this a really good year for May bugs? Im in mid sussex?

  • Sue Rayment:

    21 May 2020 13:47:00

    Brilliant filming, especially impressed by the description then the slo mo take offs. Really amazing creatures, until they come banging into the sitting room window in the evening, frightening the life out of me!

  • Frances Horton:

    21 May 2020 23:12:00

    I’ve never seen such an interesting insect in my life…! Two sets of wings, plus those antenna with “hand” structures, and big eyes, goodness me what a lot of evolution has produced those! While New Zealand has it’s own indigenous insectivora, those May Bugs and their other names are fascinating. Well done!

  • Sue Wilson:

    22 May 2020 06:52:00

    I’ve just had one sitting on a rose stem. It seemed to shuffle round to remain in the shade. I only have a very small garden in the centre of Tunbridge Wells and it’s surprising how many different insects I get. I loved your post Margaret.

  • Richard Bushell:

    22 May 2020 12:43:00

    we set our moth trap on 20/05 and had at least 7 in the trap the next morning (Tunstall ME9 8DX)

  • jessica m sacret:

    22 May 2020 14:38:00

    Just fabulous! (I learnt something too.)

  • Celia Cadwallader:

    23 May 2020 06:00:00

    I always used to enjoy May Bugs ‘celebrating’ when we lived in North West Kent. Their crazy antennae used to remind me of those drum majorettes waving tasselled canes on parades.

  • Elaine Parkin:

    23 May 2020 12:58:00

    They are very endearing, though when one flew into my bedroom one night I’m ashamed to say I screeched and jumped onto the bed. I don’t remember seeing one before, but now I know what they are – and they’re very endearing!

  • Cornelia:

    08 Jun 2020 10:36:00

    Hi – Only just watched your brilliant film of the may beetle performances. I haven’t seen these beetles in decades!
    Thank you so much for filming and posting.

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