Saturday, 16 July 2016

The day of the hornet that was really a moth.

Disheartened by the summer stretching out in front of it, and knowing the abuse it was going to take, my mower had given one last exhausted phut and died. The mower man came and looked at it, sucked his teeth and shook his head. The mower had moved on to pastures new.

So I had to buy a new mower, which was very expensive. Although I was slightly mollified to find that the new machine had- and I am not making this up- a beverage holder. Every man's dream.

Anyway, to keep the new purchase in tip top condition, I decided to build a little house for it to live in. And while I was doing that, I noticed this, sitting on the fence post that I was about to hammer into.


It's a hornet, right?

That's what I thought as I ran away. A nasty incident some years back has left me with a healthy respect for bees and wasps, even singly.

But then curiosity got the better of me and I crept back with a camera for a closer look. And that's when I realised that this wasn't a hornet at all. On closer inspection, this was unmistakably a moth.

Never having come across anything quite like it before, I did some googling and came up with a bit of background.

This is a Lunar Hornet Moth (Sesia bembeciformis) which must surely be one of the all time great Batesian mimics- species that evolve to look like dangerous or distasteful species in order to protect themselves from predation. The Lunar Hornet moth even moves like a hornet when it flies.

Now I know it's a moth, it's all fine.

It's a reasonably common moth but seldom reported because everybody thinks it's a hornet instead of one of the Clearwing family of moths. Thus proving the effectiveness of its cunning disguise.

It emerges in July and the larvae are burrowers, feeding for 2 years internally on the wood of sallow and poplar trees, of which there is a lot in North Devon.

Once I'd realised there was no imminent danger to me, I became quite fearless and rather fascinated with this little moth.

Hopefully, I'll come across it again, perhaps in a more photogenic position than my fencepost. And maybe I'll say to myself 'Why, that's not a hornet- that's a splendid example of Batesian mimicry' and not run away.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

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