Friday, 30 August 2013

Beauty of the night

Dusk is about to wrap itself around the penultimate day of August - a balmy evening following a warm and sunny day on the prairies of South Lincolnshire.

As the evening quietens there is the distant drone of combine harvesters flat out as they have been all day in fields of wheat and barley, creating a dusty plume and the sweet, husky smell of freshly mown sheafs.

It’s barely 8.30 pm, twilight is fading fast and the local birds embark on a last cacophony of celebratory singing and chirruping before acquiescing to the night.

By now, the garden is alive with insects of the dark, a myriad moths flitting amongst the fading lavender heads and the bright open yellow blooms of evening primrose.

The warm air is rich with heady scents, a toxic mix for our undersung flying heroes of this hour who thrive and live their short lives by the smells of late summer evenings and early autumn nights.

Apart from this transitional time of the year when we might still find occasion to wander through our garden or local park as dusk falls, we tend to largely ignore these night-time creatures - perhaps we fear them, or just prefer to squish them without so much as a second thought.

No one knows exactly but there could be 250,000 different species of moth worldwide, so no matter where we live they inevitably share our space.

Their existence, a somewhat peculiar affair when compared to higher forms, is nevertheless an integral and important part of our natural eco system.

A moth emerges from its cocoon in leaf litter, then mates and lays eggs within the first 48 hours of life. With no more eating or drinking for the rest of its life, existence takes on a self-less and higher calling - pollinating flowers and crops, and maybe becoming a tasty snack for those further up the food chain.

Though an individual may live just a week or two - and a tiny percentage may have serious implications for some forms of agriculture - collectively they pollinate some 80 percent of the world’s flora.

Its largely nocturnal habit, however, means they are largely un-noticed by ourselves, except perhaps because of their fatal attraction to our ever-spreading arrays of artificial lights in backyards, streets and driveways.

Blinded by that same light, we all too often miss the delicate beauty of these nocturnal butterflies. Like bees, the humble moth does much to keep our world alive.


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