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.
I went out to turn off the trap at 04:45 this morning and it was frosty!
(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.
...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...
Call 'em what you want Cockchafers, May Bugs, Spang Beetles, Billy Witches. I just call 'em adorable
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?
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.
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.