2014 - May

Chilbolton & Wherwell Wildlife - 2014 May

20680 Scarlet Tiger small

The month of June is a good time for me to write about the Scarlet Tiger moth. The Scarlet Tiger is a very beautiful moth, with white and yellow spots and blotches on the iridescent black forewing, and a bright red scarlet hindwing. It’s a locally distributed species that only occurs in southern and south-west England, but we’re fortunate that it’s abundant in the Test Valley. We’re also fortunate that it’s one of the moths that you can easily find during the daytime. A few fly about in the sunshine in the middle of the day, and you might even be forgiven for thinking that they are some kind of butterfly. But the best time to see them, is at dusk on a warm evening in late-June. Down near river at that time, when they are just emerging, huge numbers can sometimes be seen in the twilight, performing wild ritual mating flights.   Many years ago, the Scarlet Tiger was described as being found only on river banks and wet meadows, but more recently, it seems to have spread to gardens, and even onto chalk downland. So in Chilbolton and Wherwell we can often see odd ones visiting and flying around in our gardens, especially if there’s a small pond. And if you have suitable food-plants, they may even lay their eggs and breed. Their favourite food-plants in their wild habitat are Common Comfrey and Hemp-agrimony. But they seem to readily take to any garden plants that are vaguely related, or even to completely different plant species where nothing else is available. The caterpillar is very conspicuous and quite colourful – black with a white-spotted yellowish-orange stripe down the back; by the time you read this, it will be too late, but look for it in your garden next year in April or early-May.  

Next West Down events: Next is National Moth Night combined with our Annual Glow-worm hunt, on Friday 4th July - meet at top car-park at 21:30. As we walk round the Down we should hear some late-season evening bird-song, and if it’s a warm evening, it’s a good time of year to see Scarlet Tiger moths flying at dusk. And once it gets dark, we’ll look for the tiny lights of the female glow-worms, and see what variety of moths might be attracted to our moth-lamps. If it’s a warm night, we’ll stay till midnight.

Finally, as Jenny Hamilton has written elsewhere in this month’s magazine, do let the Open Spaces Committee know if you have ideas about work that should be done on West Down, or ways in which we can make better use of this lovely area that’s on our doorstep.    

Glynne Evans (hantsbto@hotmail.com)

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