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Miranda Hodgson

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Peppered moths and their curious means of camouflage

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 06 Nov 2013 at 01:05 PM

There is an interesting caterpillar to look out for at this time of year, the caterpillar of the Peppered moth (Biston betularia). It’s very easy to miss, because it has such good camouflage and looks almost exactly like a rose stem, being just the right shade of green, the head seemingly the start of die-back on a broken stem and the legs looking like rose thorns. Other protrusions mimic leaf scars and stem buds. The caterpillars are just starting to appear now and I saw the first one this week, cleverly hidden during its daytime resting period.

 

I had seen the moth before, but it wasn’t until I started working with roses that I came across the caterpillar. I remember being up a ladder one day in late autumn – a common habitat at this time of year – cutting back the whippy growth of a rambling rose, reaching out for the next stem, when my eye lit on something that at first resembled a rose stem, but suddenly wasn’t one. It was quite startling and fortunate that my little camera was in my pocket, ready for one of those up-a-ladder photo opportunities. 

Peppered moths were, and are, of great interest to researchers because in polluted industrial areas the moth’s usual camouflage pattern of grey speckled with white became dark. It is still believed by many moth researchers to have been an adaptation; the dark coloured moths were better camouflaged against sooty background and less likely to be eaten by birds. In unpolluted areas, they appeared to retain their usual colours and since cleaner air standards have been introduced, the number of dark coloured moths has declined. This isn’t to say that the moths did change colour because of adaptation/natural selection, and there are still many discussions on the matter, but that the colour variations coincided with sooty and then cleaner environments. 

Anyway, if you’re out and about and there are roses nearby, have a closer look and you could be in for a treat.

Bird news, hopefully good bird news. Whilst fiddling about amongst some plant pots a couple of days ago, a familiar sounding rustling came from near the hedge at the back of the courtyard. What should I see but a very healthy-looking young male blackbird busily throwing leaves about. He seemed quite unconcerned at my presence, giving me a quick glance before getting back to the leaves and, most importantly, not flying off in a shrieking panic as some blackbirds will do. Could this be Son of Blackbird? I like to think he could be. 

Comments

pushkin said:

Fascinating caterpillar, first time I'd heard of it.  And excellent photo.

Do hope he's Son of Blackbird!  Name sounds piratical...

on 06 Nov 2013 at 02:51 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I hope he's Son of Blackbird, too, pushkin. Will keep you posted!

on 07 Nov 2013 at 04:51 PM

GROWMORE said:

Once again, a really interesting post.  Along with 'pushkin'  I hope your wishes come true.  I find it truly great, to find another gardener who also shares an interest in a wider aspect of the natural world.  Miranda, your photo of the caterpiller.  Perhaps a caption might apply.  All stretched out. It really is amazing, the difference between butterflies and moths, apart from one being a day flier and the other a night flier.  The metamorphorsis between the two is often so different.  Many moths actually go through their change, beneath the ground.

Anyway.  Congrats to Miranda for providing us with some very interesting blogs.

on 08 Nov 2013 at 09:56 PM

Phot's-Moll said:

That really is amazing camouflage!

on 29 Nov 2013 at 05:46 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thank you, Growmore. It's good to know that others find wildlife as fascinating as I do!

on 02 Dec 2013 at 02:50 PM

SEO Ft Lauderdale said:

Peppered moths and their curious means of camouflage - Miranda Hodgson

on 11 Nov 2014 at 06:34 AM