Micro Moth

Colour too much towards the golden in this photograph. It’s more the washed out pale brown of a dried leaf or grass stem. x9 Olympus Tough super-macro setting.

THIS MICRO MOTH lives up to its name as it’s just 11 millimetres in length. It’s the kind of little brown moth that my mum always used to identify as a ‘clothes moth’ but I guess that this one had a vegetarian diet as a caterpillar. There aren’t as many woolly jumpers available in these days of acrylic yarns, so my mum’s old adversary might now be an endangered species. It certainly would be if she had anything to do with it.

I’ve got no intention of attempting to identify such as nondescript moth (although there is now a new field guide, illustrated by Richard Lewington, so that has become at least a possibility) but because I can’t come up with a name that doesn’t mean that I can’t take a closer look at it. By the way, I found it lying dead on the coffee table, so no clues to its natural habitat; garden, woodland, meadow or even pond perhaps.

It isn’t so nondescript if you’re able to zoom in closer. I’ve taken these photographs using my Traveler USB microscope (except for the macro photograph, left).

There’s so much about this moth that reminds me an owl, although its beady eyes and the beak-like appearance of its proboscis (right) remind me more of a frigate bird!

Actually that ‘beak’ has an extra twist at the end; its more like one of those ‘blowout’ party popper novelties.

This moth might be the original little brown job but switch on the LED light of my microscope and its wings glitter like a costume in a West End musical.

The feathery edges of the wings remind me of the soft edges of an owl’s wing feather but I can’t believe that the moth would need them for the same reason; to soften the sound of its wingbeats. Perhaps having those feathery extensions swishing away behind it as it flies might to some small extent muffle the sonar echo that a bat relies on to locate its prey.

Zooming in even closer, using the 60x setting on the microscope, it’s possible to see the individual scales, like tiles on the moth’s wing.

The depth of field at this magnification makes it impossible for me to get both the wing and its feathery margin in focus and when I zoom in to 200x it’s even more difficult however this blurry image (right) does pick out some of the detail on the scales. They appear to have parallel ribbing or surface markings.

Lepidoptera, the order of insects that butterflies and moths belong to, is from the Greek lepid pteron, meaning ‘scale wing’.

Links: Richard Lewington, illustrator of ‘more than 1,100 superbly detailed artworks’ drawn for The Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Irelandpublished by British Wildlife Publishing

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