Author interview: Peter Marren

Written with Peter Marren’s usual wit and insight, Emperors, Admirals & Chimney Sweepers takes you on a journey back to a time before the arts and science were divided. When entomologists were also poets and painters, and when a gift for vivid language went hand-in-hand with a deep pre-Darwinian fascination for the emerging natural world.

Peter took the time to answer some of our questions about his new book and the origin of butterfly and moth names.

Tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in the etymology of species names?

I’m a natural history writer (in the sense that I’ve written a lot about natural history) with a background in nature conservation in Britain. I’ve loved butterflies and moths since boyhood, and I suppose I must have realised even then that many of them have unusual names. What the hell was an eggar? Or a lutestring? Probably like most people I didn’t think too much about it – weren’t names just labels? – until, out of curiosity, I went into the name of the Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, and discovered a real Vanessa and a real Atalanta. And then I realised that even Latin names weren’t randomly chosen but had a particular resonance with that particular species. Names hid a whole new world of allusion, poetry and wordplay. I discovered that those who named our Lepidoptera, in English and Latin, were equally educated in the arts and the sciences. They knew their myths, and they knew about colours and designs, and they were completely fascinated. I feel a strange empathy with that vanished world.

What was the original inspiration behind Emperors, Admirals & Chimney Sweepers?

It started as a kind of sequel to my book Rainbow Dust, about how and why butterflies and moths inspire people. Names were confined to a single chapter in that book, but there was so much more to say, not only about the names themselves but the social ambience that spawned them: the world of Georgian London with its clubs and field excursions, its gorgeous illustrated books and the sense that nature was all the more wonderful for being 1) divinely inspired and 2) almost completely unknown.

The lightbulb moment came when I thought of dealing with names not as an entomologist might do, by families and related groups, but by themes: species named after animals, birds, moods, occupations, jewels and so on, all laid out alphabetically. I loved the fact that certain fine moths were named after weddings, focussing on bridal underwear worn in eighteenth century Sweden!

Emperor, Admiral and Chimney Sweeper are, of course, names of a butterfly and two moths.

If you could name a new species of moth or butterfly, how would you go about it?

Well, it ain’t a blank slate. There are written rules for scientific names and unwritten ones for common names. I’d love to call it Marren’s Glory but it would not be approved. I’d have to stick with the established vocabulary. So if it resembled, say, a wainscot moth, it would continue to be called that, distinguished by whatever word best caught its character. Overlooked Wainscot? Lenitive Wainscot? Look-alike Wainscot?  

What would be your advice for any budding entomologist out there?

There’s more to the natural world than pure science. Keep your eyes, and your mind, open. And enjoy yourself. And don’t say, “Oh that’s a Lenitive Wainscot, a Schedule 7 species graded as Least Concern in the latest IUCN Red List.” Just the name will do.

What is your most memorable butterfly or moth name, and why?

There are lots, but let’s go with the poor little Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, whose Latin name, tityus, commemorates the most hideous giant in all mythology. The giant’s poor mum exploded at his birth and when full grown his body covered nine acres. What do they have in common? Well, the old name for hawk-moths was Sphinx, and the Sphinx was a monster. Ergo (Linnaeus thought), hawk-moths should be given monstrous names. And the bee hawk accidentally got the worst of them because of its place on the list, wedged between two other appalling creatures.

I quite like Zygaena, the name of the burnet moths which they share with the hammerhead shark. For reasons too convoluted to go into here (but it’s in the book).

Any new books/projects in the pipeline?

I will have to find another project for it’s in the DNA. I suspect it will involve nature and childhood. Trouble is, others are on to it.

Other works by Peter Marren

Peter writes frequently in as ‘Twitcher’ in the British Wildlife column ‘Twitcher in the Swamp’ and has had a string of successful publications including Chasing the Ghost (now in paperback), Rainbow Dust and the first volume in the British Wildlife Collection series. Click here for more books by Peter Marren.

Moth Night 2017

Silver Y (Autographa gamma)
Viewed up-close, moths show a dazzling range of colours and patterns as well as a wonderful variety of wing and body shapes. The Silver Y (Autographa gamma) is named for the metallic silver mark on its forewing. Image by Oliver Haines.

What and when is moth night?

Moth Night 2017 takes place from Thursday 12th to Saturday 14th October. Organised by Atropos and Butterfly Conservation, this annual event aims to increase public awareness of moths and also to provide an organised period of recording by moth enthusiasts around the UK. The theme of the 2017 Moth Night is “Ivy and Sugaring”.

Why “Ivy and Sugaring”?

During September and October, ivy blossom provides a major source of nectar and pollen and so attracts a wide range of insects including honey bees, late-season butterflies, hoverflies and moths. Searching ivy blossom by torchlight is therefore a useful way of finding and surveying moths at this time of year and can be particularly productive between mid-September and mid-October. Sites should be scoped out during the daytime and then visited again at least one hour following dusk, using a torch to locate and identify the moths.

Sugaring is a useful technique for attracting moth species that may not be easy to catch using a moth trap. (It is also a good alternative if you don’t have access to a light trap). It involves painting a tree trunk or wooden post with a sweet sticky mixture and then going back after dark to see what has arrived. As many moth species feed on nectar, sap and honeydew, the sweet sugaring mix is particularly attractive to them. This useful guide from Butterfly Conservation includes a recipe, as well as lots of information about other methods of surveying moths without a moth trap.

How do I take part in Moth Night?

You can take part in Moth Night in any way you choose. If you have a moth trap then you can run this in your or garden or further afield. If you don’t have your own trap then you can look for moths that are attracted to your windows from the house lights, go for a walk to search local ivy blossom, or you might want to attend or organise a public event. For details of events in your area, take a look at the map on the Moth Night website.

Where and how do I submit my sightings?

Records of the moths you have seen should be submitted via the Moth Night online recording form. All of this information will be incorporated into the national dataset, helping to providing a comprehensive view of moth populations and distributions around the country. Full details and a list of FAQs about submitting your results can be viewed on the Moth Night website.

Help! What species of moth is this?

A good moth guide is invaluable for both the beginner and seasoned moth enthusiast. Below you will find a list of some of our best-loved moth ID guides:

Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Paul Waring & Martin Townsend  

Alongside the comprehensive text descriptions, moths are illustrated in their natural resting postures. There are also paintings of different forms, underwings and other details to help with identification.

 

Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Martin Townsend & Paul Waring

This is a great practical solution for every active moth enthusiast and is ideal for use in the field. Concise field descriptions written by leading moth experts Paul Waring and Martin Townsend feature opposite colour plates illustrated by Richard Lewington.

 

Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Phil Sterling & Mark Parsons

The most comprehensive field guide to micro-moths ever published, making this fascinating and important group of insects accessible to the general naturalist. It describes all the families of micro-moth and covers 1033 species with beautiful art and photographs.

 

Britain's Day-Flying Moths

Britain’s Day-Flying Moths
David Newland, Robert Still & Andy Swash

This concise photographic field guide will help you identify any of the 155 day-flying moths found in Britain and Ireland. Combining stunning photographs, authoritative text, and an easy-to-use design, Britain’s Day-Flying Moths makes a perfect travelling companion.

 

Can you recommend a moth trap?

For an introduction to the main types of moth traps and answers to our most frequently asked moth trap questions, take a look a the NHBS Guide to Moth Traps. We have also included a list here of some of our best-selling traps.

6V 12V Portable Heath Moth Trap

6W 12V Portable Heath Moth Trap

This small compact 6W moth trap runs from a 12 volt rechargeable battery with a minimum rating of 12Ah. The trap is lightweight and can be fully dismantled for easy transport.

 

 

Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap with Electrics

Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap with Electrics

Constructed from FSC certified European birch plywood, this trap slots together easily without the need for any tools. It has a 240V lighting system fitted and includes a 25W blue black bulb.

 

Mobile 15W Actinic Skinner Moth Trap

Mobile 15W Actinic Skinner Moth Trap

This trap is particularly suitable for garden use. Easily assembled, it folds flat for storage or transportation. It is designed so you can access the catch whilst the bulb is still on.

 

Twin 30W Actinic Robinson Moth Trap

Twin 30W Actinic Robinson Moth Trap

The Robinson is the traditional design of moth trap, and offers maxiumum catch rates and retention. This trap is particularly suited to unattended overnight operation.

Our full range of moth books and moth traps can be viewed at nhbs.com

The NHBS Guide to Moth Traps

Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap with Electrics
The Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap is made from FSC timber and is easy to assemble.

In this brief guide we will take a look at the main types and designs of moth traps. We will also address many of our most frequently asked questions, including why you will no longer find Mercury Vapour traps for sale at nhbs.com.

Robinson Moth Traps

Twin 30W Actinic Robinson Moth TrapRobinson Traps are the preferred choice amongst many serious entomologists because they offer the highest retention rates. On a very good night you may catch in excess of 500 moths. They tend to be more expensive that other types of trap, however, and they are quite large. They also cannot be collapsed down for storage or transport. The Robinson Trap is available with twin actinic bulbs and is powered by 240V mains electricity.

Skinner Moth Traps

Mobile 15W Actinic Skinner Moth TrapSkinner Moth Traps will attract a similar number of moths to Robinson Traps. However, they are less efficient at holding the catch. The main advantages of Skinner Traps are price and portability, and they also let you access your catch whilst the trap is running. Skinner Traps collapse down quickly and easily when not in use, making them very easy to store and transport. They are available with actinic electrics and can be provided with either 240V (mains powered) or 12V (battery powered) control panels. Lucent traps have a clever design with all components fitting neatly into a suitcase-style case.

Heath Moth Traps

6W 12V Portable Heath Moth TrapThe traditional Heath Moth Trap has a small actinic tube mounted vertically within three vanes that work together to attract and then deflect moths downwards into the holding chamber below. The traps are very lightweight and portable and are usually powered by a 12V battery, although mains powered traps are also available. Variations on the Heath Trap design include the “Plastic Bucket” model which allows the trap to be packed away and carried conveniently. Although catches from Heath Traps tend to be less than for Robinson and Skinner traps due to their lower wattage bulbs, their affordability and portability makes them a great choice for beginners or for use at remote sites.

Moth Collecting Tents

Moth Collecting TentMoth Collecting Tents provide a unique alternative to traditional style moth traps and are ideal for educational use or group trapping events. They consist of a large white fabric structure which is fitted with a UV light source. Moths which are attracted by the light settle on the white fabric and can be observed or collected for study. As the collecting area is large and accessible, it is easy for many individuals to view the specimens at the same time. However, tents and sheets do not have the same retention rates as traditional box-type traps.

Moth Trapping FAQs

What kind of trap is best for garden or educational use?
The design of the Skinner Trap means that you can access the catch without having to switch off the bulb. This is particularly useful if you are looking at your catch over the course of the evening, rather than leaving the trap all night and returning to it in the morning. Skinner Traps also have the added benefit of collapsing down, making them easier to store.

Which trap is best for unattended trapping?
The Robinson Trap is the only trap that will retain the whole catch after dawn. Some moths will escape from other trap designs.

Which trap is most portable?
Heath Traps are the smallest and easiest to transport. They can also run off a 12V battery, allowing them to be used in remote sites. The Safari and Ranger Moth Traps are the smallest and lightest traps we sell, so are ideal for travelling.

Why can I no longer find Mercury Vapour traps on your website?
Mercury Vapour bulbs have recently been phased out as part of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive. Therefore, we have removed the traps from our range and are now focusing on actinic replacements. If you have a Mercury Vapour trap and would like to convert it to run with actinic electrics, please get in touch with us to have a chat about this.

What are actinic bulbs?
Actinic bulbs produce a small amount of UV light alongside the visible light which makes them more “attractive” to moths. They are not as bright as Mercury Vapour bulbs but because they don’t get as hot they are much safer to use, particularly for public and attended trapping events. They are also much less of a disturbance to neighbours if you are using the trap in your garden.

What is the difference in catch rates between the different traps?
The Robinson Trap and Skinner Trap will attract a similar number of moths but the Robinson has the highest retention rate of the two. Heath Traps will retain fewer moths but will still attract the same range of species. You can therefore obtain similar results trapping for a longer period or over several nights in the same area.

Do different traps attract different species?
No, all traps using actinic electrics will attract the same range of species. However, species of macro-moth from different families have been shown to vary in the extent to which they are attracted to a light source. This means that care must be taken when estimating local abundance from the relative abundance of species in your trap as some species will be attracted from a wider area than others.

A full range of moth traps and other entomological equipment is available at www.nhbs.com

Butterfly Conservation shop finds a new home at NHBS

Butterfly Conservation and NHBS have recently launched the new Butterfly Conservation online shop in partnership. You can browse and buy from a fantastic range of books, gifts and equipment. Every sale raises funds to support conservation work to protect vulnerable butterflies and moths across the UK.

Butterfly Conservation shop at NHBS
The brand new Butterfly Conservation shop, hosted by NHBS

The popular Butterfly Conservation Christmas Cards are available now. Spread some festive cheer this Christmas and help protect butterflies and moths at the same time. All the cards are printed on FSC recycled card and are blank inside so you can add your own greeting.

Butterfly Conservation 2016 Christmas Cards
Butterfly Conservation 2016 Christmas Cards

About the Butterfly Conservation and NHBS partnership

Butterfly Conservation is the UK charity dedicated to saving butterflies and moths. Butterflies and moths are key indicators of the health of our environment. They connect us to nature and contribute to our wellbeing. With over 30 nature reserves across the United Kingdom, Butterfly Conservation works in many ways to conserve butterflies and moths and improve their habitats, creating a better environment for us all.

Butterfly Conservation:
“NHBS offer the world’s largest selection of wildlife, science and conservation books, and have expanded their range to include ecology and biodiversity survey equipment and gifts. They have a fantastic reputation for customer service and quality items, and we are thrilled to be able to offer our members and supporters the chance to purchase a wider selection of items whilst still being able to raise vital funds for our conservation work.”

Visit the Butterfly Conservation shop

Ecology gifts raise money for key UK conservation charities

Creature Candy mugsLizzie Barker is a working ecological consultant, and the creator of gift and homeware design company, Creature Candy. This newly-launched enterprise produces quality British-made products featuring hand-drawn illustrations of wildlife. As well as raising profits for the Bat Conservation Trust, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and Butterfly Conservation, Creature Candy also intends to raise awareness around the conservation of our endangered and protected wildlife. We asked Lizzie how it all came about:

What are your background and current interests as an ecologist?

I studied Zoology between 2007 and 2010 at Aberystwyth University and graduated with a first degree. I then went on to work at Darwin Ecology in September 2010 as a consultant ecologist and have been there ever since. It’s a great company to work for and my job is very varied, although I specialise in bats. I hold a Natural England bat and great crested newt survey licence, but I also survey for dormice, badgers and reptiles. I love the spring and summer months so I can get outdoors and explore the English countryside for wildlife.

Creature Candy printsWhat’s the story behind Creature Candy?

I wanted to take more of a proactive role in wildlife conservation and raise money for the charities that I work so closely with as a consultant. Two years ago (whilst sitting on my sun lounger in Portugal) I came up with the idea of Creature Candy. I not only wanted to raise money for the charities, but also raise awareness of Britain’s declining & protected wildlife species, and to inspire people to take active roles in conservation. It was also incredibly important to me to change perceptions of bats, which is why my first design was a beautiful, charismatic brown long-eared bat illustrated in its true form, not a typical black silhouette with red eyes and fangs! It was also a priority to produce all our products with a “Made in England” stamp on them, which I think is very appealing in today’s market dominated by mass produced imported products.

How do you find the time to be an ecologist and an entrepreneur?

It’s a very hard balance to achieve. On a typical day, I switch off from the ecological consultancy world at 5pm, make myself a cup of tea and re-enter my office as the Director of Creature Candy. I then usually work for a few hours each night on marketing, processing orders and accounting, before spending some time with my husband before bed. It’s very important to find time for a social life and to relax, and I’m sometime guilty of over-working. However my husband is very supportive and I couldn’t manage the business without that support.

Can you tell us more about the artwork, and what’s to come for the range?

Our illustrations are hand drawn by my friend Jo Medlicott. Jo is a very talented artist and draws inspiration for our designs from photography and the natural world. Our next design is likely to be a red squirrel or a bird and we would like to introduce aprons and fine bone china jugs into the product range. The rest is top secret!Creature Candy moth tea towel

Browse Creature Candy products at NHBS

NHBS at Birdfair 2012: our biggest Birdfair yet

This year we are gearing up for our biggest Birdfair yet!

NHBS has a bigger and better stand this year featuring a new workshop area with a full schedule of events all weekend. Come along to find out more about ultrasound bat detecting, pond-dipping, wildlife photography and more. And join us in the main Birdfair Event Marquee daily for a big screen live moth-trapping event with Phil Sterling and Richard Lewington on Friday, and a ‘Virtual Pond Dip’ with Nick Baker on Saturday and Sunday. As always we look forward to meeting you there, out of the office and in person!

Here’s the full ‘NHBS at Birdfair 2012’ line-up – click to enlarge:

NHBS events programme fro Birdfair 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Birdfair 2012: Friday 17th – Sunday 19th August, Rutland Water Nature Reserve, Egleton, Rutland, LE15 8BT

“Informative” guide to Brazilian Hawkmoths reviewed in the Bulletin of the Amateur Entomologists’ Society

 Review published in the October 2011 Volume of the Bulletin of the Amateur Entomologists’ Society

A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil
(Guia dos Sphingidae da Serra dos Orgaos, Sudeste do Brasil)

Alan Martin, Alexandre Soares and Jorge Bizarro

Published by REGUA

A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil - jacket imageHawkmoths have an enduring appeal for their attractiveness, size, sheer power and their breathtaking diversity, particularly in tropical regions. This attractive volume deals with the 110 Neotropical species found in a small reserve which is part of the Atalntic Rainforest in south-eastern Brazil, and an additional 4 species that have been recorded close by. The introductory chapters are written in both Portuguese and English, and cover a preface, checklist of hawkmoths, introduction to the region, hawkmoth taxonomy, life history and development. The main text of the book deals with the individual species and is written in English only. For each species there is a reference to the original description, synonyms, type locality, common name where applicable, size, notes on world-wide distribution and tips for identification. There then follows 37 pages of colour illustrations showing both upper and under-sides of set specimens, illustrating both sexes where they are known. There are four pages of habitat photographs, and a final 10 pages of colour photographs of living moths. The work concludes with a number of appendices covering notes on an historic collector, the reserve, some details of key species, and notes on the host-plants of Neotropical Sphingidae, distribution of species by Province, a phenology table and detailed bibliography.

A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil - internal imageOne of the appendices is a brief biopic of Henry Richard Pearson (1911 – 2004), an Englishman who was one of the first entomologists to study Lepidoptera in the region. He amassed a collection of more than 12,000 specimens, which he donated to the Museo Nacional of Rio de Janeiro.

There are many books available on world hawkmoths, a good many of them substantial monographs that are very costly to purchase. By comparison, this is a modest volume but very well produced, well written and packed with information. The qualities of the colour reproduction are adequate for the set specimens, but very good for the habitat and live moth pictures – and the price is very attractive! The authors and staff of the Reserva Ecologica de Guapiacu are to be congratulated on producing an inexpensive and informative guide to these moths, which will be of great help to visitors to this region of Brazil, as well as those in other parts of Neotropical South America and those with a general interest in the world Sphingidae.

Bulletin of the Amateur Entomologists’ Society

Available now from NHBS


Four great books for wildlife gardeners

With wildlife conservation high on everyone’s agenda, here are some recommendations to introduce you to the natural diversity of your garden, and help you to create a haven for wildlife on your doorstep:

Four great books for wildlife gardeners

Guide to Garden Wildlife, by Richard Lewington, is a field guide to all the wildlife you might expect to encounter in the garden – from mammals, birds and insects to invertebrates and pond life. The species descriptions are full of useful detail, and Lewington provides the intricate illustrations that make this a real treasure of a handbook. There are informative sections on garden ecology, nest-boxes and bird feeders, and creating a garden pond.

Gardening for Butterflies, Bees and Other Beneficial Insects, by Jan Miller-Klein, homes in on practical techniques for encouraging insect diversity in your garden. A large-format tour through the seasons, with additional sections on tailored habitats, and species-appropriate planting, this beautifully photographed guide is perfect for every bug-friendly gardener looking to provide a good home for the full range of insect life.

RSPB Gardening for Wildlife: A Complete Guide to Nature-friendly Gardening, by Adrian Thomas, is a fantastic encyclopaedic introduction to how best to provide for the potential visitors to your garden, while maintaining its function for the family. A species-by-species guide to the ‘home needs’ of mammals, birds, insects and reptiles is followed by a substantial selection of practical projects, and helpful hints and appendices, to get your garden flourishing – whatever its size.


Dr Jennifer Owen’s Wildlife of a Garden: A Thirty-year Study, is a rare and illuminating book, in which is recorded – in scrupulous detail – the evidence of dramatic changes in populations in a single suburban garden in Leicester over a thirty-year period. An abundance of beautifully presented data, discussed in the context of wider biodiversity fluctuations, is balanced with numerous colour photographs, illustrations, and descriptive natural history of the residents of the garden. Modest in one sense, but unbelievably grand in timescale – and in its completeness – the rigorous effort and expertise that have been applied to the task of collecting and interpreting these data make this study a real one-off in the field of natural history writing.

“Best, most user-friendly moth ID guide on the market”

Doug Mackenzie Dodds, from the UK, reviews the Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Martin Townsend and Paul Waring, illustrated by Richard Lewington

Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland jacket image

“Best, most user-friendly moth ID guide on the market:

This book might not catch your eye on the shelf – small, paperback and easily hidden between larger, more attractively-designed moth ID books, but if you are into your moths, I’d thoroughly recommend it.

It’s perfect for the bookshelf but comes into its own in the field. It’s small, light, covered in a waterproof layer, the moths are well-ordered in the book, lifesize and in the two years I’ve owned it it’s not let me down once.

Its very comprehensive – ie. if you trap a moth (or find one!) – you will find it in this book – and so much easier than other, larger, showier, less waterproof, less well-ordered books.

I thoroughly recommend this book if you own a moth trap or even if you don’t.”

Available Now from NHBS

Visit this reviewer’s website

Read our blog post about Robinson moth traps

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Customer reviews can be read in the ‘Reviews’ tab on each product page and here on the Hoopoe

Colour Identification Guide to Caterpillars – new reprint edition in stock

The Colour Identification Guide to the Caterpillars of the British Isles jacket image

This comprehensive guide remains the most thorough source of information on the larval stage of the majority of the lepidoptera of the British Isles. This new reprint edition maintains the photographic quality of the original, and continues to be an indispensible companion to Bernard Skinner’s Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles. Also new from Apollo Books this week, Microlepidoptera of Europe, Volume 6: Gelechiidae II (Gelechiinae: Gnorimoschemini) carries on the excellent series of European micro-moth identification guides.

Butterflies of Britain and Ireland: A Field and Site Guide jacket image

Coming soon… Butterflies of Britain and Ireland: A Field and Site Guide which covers all residents and vagrant species in Britain and Ireland and includes a site guide and accurate maps. Illustrated with hundreds of colour photos.