For what seems like months now I’ve been drawing blanks in the campus moth trap, or nearly doing so. Since our spectacular haul on a hot All Hallows’ Eve moths have come in ones, twos and threes if they have come at all; none of them spectacular, and none new to the site. I persist in putting out the trap, for like I always say to the Ricebirder when he helps set it up and bring it in, if we don’t, how can we be sure we wouldn’t have caught anything? Still, the daily emptiness of the moth trap has become a bit of a running joke between us in the run up to Christmas.
It’s a shame that moth trapping is so uneventful at this time of year, for it seems to me a most Christmassy activity. What could be more festive than a constellation of ornaments circling the light, or the anticipatory thrill of opening a trap to see what gifts have been deposited during the night? So in the absence of much real-life moth action I’d been contemplating a Christmas moth post for this blog based on which moth seemed to have the most festive appearance or name. Red-green carpet would be a good example, for its seasonal colour scheme, or Hark! Did somebody mention Scolipteryx libatrix, otherwise known as ‘The Herald?’ Both hibernate as adults so their appearance at Christmas would not be a total surprise.
There is, though, a fairly common, rather attractive species whose flight season actually does incorporate the Christmas holidays: the December moth. As its name suggests, it rules the nocturnal airspace at this time of year, perhaps sensibly choosing to debut when the skies are largely empty of competitors, save for a small handful of other winter wanderers, and – crucially – when they will be safe from predatory, moth-munching bats too. I’ve wanted to catch one for, well, as long as it has been December, though in fact they often start flying earlier, much as the November moth generally first appears in October. This morning my wish was finally granted. During one of the mildest nights for some weeks – the weather had given me a little hope – not one, not two but 10 found their way into the trap.
It may be the lack of other moths to look at that casts them in such a complimentary light, but December moths are even smarter than I’d expected. With their extraordinary fluffy faces and big, fern-like feathered antennae, they’re quite frankly rather cute too. They’re also beautiful enough to inspire an alternative folk character to the commercial neo-capitalist Santa. We’ll call her Mother Christmas. Dressed in a shimmering, translucent black-brown cloak lined with gold and dusted with snowflakes, she emerges from larval slumber in the trees every Advent to bring relief and just a touch of magic to moth lovers everywhere. Bless you, Mother Christmas. And thanks!