MEI is an early month for moths. Butterflies are often seen on the wing, but while daytime temperatures are warm, and my shorts make an appearance after their winter hibernation, the nights remain cold. In early spring, nectar from food sources such as sallow catkins provides life to many moth species. Once upon a time, such kittens went on to sow the number of moths flying feathers. It is not until the night temperatures improve, along with the abundance of flowering plants, after the sudden end of May, that most of our summer moths begin to emerge.
Attracted to the light, a fairytale insect that can often break into the moth trap at this time of year is the cockcha beetle or, as they are also known, may bugs. Cockchafers have a lifespan of about three years and spend most of it underground. First as larvae, off-white in color, and then as a beetle ready to emerge in the spring. Life above ground is short in just a few weeks, but there is plenty of time to feed and lay eggs from which the next generation will emerge.
When I first found a cockchafer in the moth trap, I was both intrigued and alarmed. They are similar in size to an inch. While harmless, cockchafers have a hard shell that is deep red in color, sport white crocodile teeth marking on their flanks, expose antennae to compete with the antlers of a heart, and are adorned with a somewhat intimidating belly that resembles a stake. Over the course of the days, children would tie a long line to the cockchafer’s leg and watch it with outstretched arm as they cared for entertainment.
Moonlighting in Airedale last week, I joined an evening of mote catching at Bingley St Ives. While worries were sent out about clear skies and an almost full moon (which moths preferred above the artificial light of a moth trap), four traps were set. 96 moths of 37 species were recorded with pebble hook-tip, water carpet and burning wing among the highlights and names that seemed fascinating. The cockchafers were also involved. More than the moths by a small margin. In as miniature helicopters whistling I watched with interest the reaction of others. There were photos taken, but I could not convince the others to let someone wander over their hands.
Sometimes it can feel like a bit of a mission to convince people about the miracle of insects. They will not hurt you, you are just too big. And six legs are beautiful, unlike the two of us.