This blog post is based on the introduction of an article I penned in September 2018for Atropos, an excellent magazine for British Lepidoptera and Odonata enthusiasts. It was published in issue 62 (2018).
Very hungry caterpillars
A caterpillar munching on a leaf is probably what comes to mind when most people picture the early life stages of butterflies and moths. But if Eric Carle’s classic is to be believed, caterpillars have a much more varied palette. It is certainly true that many species shun the conventional diet of leafy greens, even if lepidopterans that enjoy a diet of chocolate cake and Swiss cheese are confined to children’s storybooks.
Chimney Sweeper, Maiden’s Blush, Peach Blossom. British moths have some fantastic English names. There’s also the Drinker, the Conformist, the Sprawler, the Phoenix, and the Saxon.
Such enchanting names are at the root of the ever-growing popularity of moth trapping. They capture our imagination and stick in our minds. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by creatures with names like Brindled Beauty, Plumed Prominent, Feathered Footman, or Marbled Minor?
But not all are blessed with a common name. The majority of British Lepidoptera are known only by their scientific denomination. Many of these don’t exactly roll off the tongue (try Schrekensteinia festaliella or Ptycholomoides aeriferanus). Some are even longer than the insect itself. So why do so many species lack an English name? Is this something we should rush to rectify?
Why do we do it? It consumes countless hours of our lives. It must cost millions. Every hedge neatly trimmed, every verge carefully mown, every ‘weed’ meticulously eradicated. Obsessive Tidiness Disorder (OTD) is everywhere – and it’s choking our wildlife.