Country diary: a moth that has thrived despite a cold summer | Country diary

Country diary: a moth that has thrived despite a cold summer | Country diary

Langstone, Hampshire: the Jersey tiger has dramatically expanded its natural range and is now well established

This summer’s unseasonably cool weather has been bad news for butterflies and moths, but some species are efficient heat-seekers, well adapted to tackling the thermal challenge. I’ve grown used to finding peacock and red admiral butterflies adorning the bonnet of my car, like decorative decals. As heliotherms, they use solar radiation to regulate their body temperature, sunbathing with their wings held wide open for maximum exposure – behaviour known as dorsal basking. By pressing their bodies against the sun-warmed black metal, they also display thigmothermic behaviour, absorbing conducted heat.

One overcast morning, I found the bonnet bare, but my attention was drawn to a flash of vermilion down by the bumper. Tucked in by one of the front fog lights, was a Jersey tiger moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria). As it settled, it closed its forewings, displaying the bold black and cream markings that give the species its name, though to my eye the pattern is more reminiscent of zebra stripes than tiger. The moth was seeking refuge rather than warmth, the dark paintwork providing the perfect background substrate to camouflage against.

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