Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Blood-Vein Moth (Timandra comae)

I am an amateur naturalist trying to discover everything living in my garden.

What with photography, microscopy and literature searching, my self-imposed mission to catalogue my garden's life places lots of demands on my free-time. When I've a chance however I'm still making an effort to set out my home-made moth trap at night. I did so recently (on the 22nd August for the record) and it yielded a good haul of new species to add to my garden list, amongst them the attractive moth in photo 1.

My moth's common name is The Blood-Vein, for reasons that I imagine are obvious. It is a member of the large (several hundred species in the UK) geometridae family of moths, so called because of the caterpillars of these moths walk with a measuring (=hence 'geometer'), 'inch-worm'-like, gait.

From my copy of Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (Townsend and Lewington) I understand Blood Vein caterpillars feed on dock, sorrel, knotgrass and common orache. I've not been able to find a picture of one on the web (anyone?). Price, Goldstein and Smith studied the suitability of the Blood Vein for introduction into the States as a biological control agent against 'Mile a Minute' Weed (their paper is available here). (They found it was unsuitable)

Adult Blood Vein's are fairly common in Mid- and Southern Britain, but get rarer in the North.

The Blood Vein gets but a single mention in my copy of the excellent Moths (Michael Majerus). One might expect that such small and fragile creatures as moths might tend not to fly about in severe weather such as during heavy downpours. Surprisingly this seems not to be the case however: Majerus reports setting up a moth trap during a severe thunderstorm and trapping several hundred moths, undaunted by the driving rain, within hours. A dozen or so Blood Veins were among them.

The Blood Vein's scientific name is Timandra comae. There seems to be some confusion over the the relationship between this moth and the closely similar Timandra griseata. At various times the two have been lumped together as a single species, and at other times split out as two. Current work suggests they are indeed two separate species.

In Greek mythology Timandra was one of the daughters of the Spartan King Tyndareus and his wife Leda (she of swan-fame). Timandra's sister was Helen of Troy. King Tyndareus managed to upset the goddess Aphrodite and was punished with a curse that all his daughters would be adulteresses. Daughter Timandra duly obliged, eventually marrying one King Echemus only to later desert him for King Phyleus.

Now, whether in fact my moth has a particularly adulteress streak to its nature I really can't say. Indeed, aside from the snippets of information above, I've been failed to find any significant written accounts of the biology and behaviour of The Blood Vein. Whether this is because I've not looked in the right places, or whether it is that The Blood Vein, in common with so many other insect species, has simply not been studied in detail, I do not know. I'd be delighted to find out a little more about this pretty moth however, so do leave a comment if you can help.


Maggie's Devon nature blog said...

what a beauty - I'm afraid I've pretty much failed on the moth front this summer....

R2K said...

That moth is really quite striking.