Moth-er love gets its reward at last

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At long last, we moth-ers have had something to get excited about after a long lean period due to the pathetic weather.

Last Friday, I trapped about 50 moths, of 28 species – a record for my garden. It took me some time to wade through them all prior to release, but it was well worth it, as one of them was a new record for Selkirkshire. It rejoices in the uninspiring name of dingy shears and is more often recorded south of the border.

On Sunday, it was warm but breezy when I went to Hare Moss reserve between Selkirk and Ashkirk to replenish the visitor leaflets in the bird hide. The wind was a bit too strong for the butterflies, moths and damselflies but as ever, there was plenty to keep me amused.

I sat on a tree stump for a while in the middle of a dry grassy area to see what transpired and I didn’t have to wait long. A nearby tree proved to be a favourite perch for a pair of spotted flycatchers as well as chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch and a small flock of redpolls. The resident swans were near the island on the lochan, where the surface of the water was covered in white feathers. They were obviously well into their annual moult.

The recently-strimmed path was literally alive with tiny froglets, making walking a very slow and careful process.

As well as the whinnying call of the local little grebes, I heard the unmistakable call of an elusive water rail – a secretive, skulking wading bird which is often heard but seldom seen.

As I sat taking all this in, I noticed what looked like a brown fly on my exposed sock. As I watched it started “digging” trying to part the fibres. I knew immediately that it was a “cleg” – a biting species of horse fly which has human blood on the menu and it was trying to reach down to my skin for a meal. I swatted it off but a few minutes later it landed on my bare arm. My camera was at my side, so I decided to try and take its picture before it bit me – the sacrifices I make for this column! I was fortunate in getting the snap before it could draw blood, then I immediately swatted it away. Five minutes later, however, it returned, landed on my other arm and bit me before I knew it was there.

The bite from a larger specimen can be quite painful, especially considering the light, agile, and airborne nature of the fly. Unlike insects that surreptitiously puncture the skin with needle-like organs, horse flies have mandibles like tiny serrated scimitars, which they use to rip and/or slice flesh apart. This causes the blood to seep out and the horsefly licks it up. They may even carve a chunk completely out of the victim, to be digested at leisure.

The horsefly’s modus operandi is less secretive than that of its mosquito counterparts, though it still aims to escape before pain signals reach their victim’s sphere of awareness. Moreover, the pain of a horsefly bite may mean that the victim is more concerned with assessing and repairing the wound, than finding and swatting the interloper.