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410 Views 2 Replies Last post: Jul 17, 2013 8:35 AM by kirsty teenie dancer RSS
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Jul 16, 2013 10:56 PM

is this a moth or a butterfly?


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    Jul 17, 2013 7:30 AM (in response to kirsty teenie dancer)
    Re: is this a moth or a butterfly?

    Hi Kirsty,


    Nice one!


    It is a magpie moth, Abraxas grossulariata


    It is a common species, but one which I never saw very often when I was a youth studying moths in my parents garden in Surrey. I didn't know until just now, reading that page above, that

    "It was a favourite with early collectors, who used to breed it to obtain unusual coloured and patterned forms."


    It is a funny thing about collecting generally (whether collecting physical specimens or photos of them) that we tend to strive for perfection, yet we also get excited about aberrations (small/large/pattern/colour). That applies to insects, shells, fossils, minerals, stamps, antiques, cars - pretty much anything humans collect. Maybe the aberrations are interesting to us because they seem special.

    I suspect these collecting traits arise from a base instinct in humans to select mates, food and materials for both perfection and special qualities. I think 'perfection' needs little explanation, though we as individuals do not all have exactly the same idea of perfection. Concerning the 'special qualities', I am thinking along these lines:

    - The special qualities for human mates could include large size (to win fights, reach more food), small size (if living in small caves, perhaps), smartness (to make fire, solve problems, find food, win fights, avoid risks), dark colouring (for camouflage in forests), etc.

    - The special qualities for food could include high energy content (to make it easier to find enough food), unusual properties (to protect against illness or help healing), quickness of growth, tolerance of poor soils, etc.

    - The special qualities for materials could include resistance of wood to insect and fungal attack, fissibility of stone (which enables slate to be split into pieces for roofing), richness of soil, smeltability of minerals to obtain metal, etc.


    There now Kirsty - you've set me thinking in a direction I never have before, though it seems obvious now. Thank you.


    Coming back to moths, now...

    I suspect we are inadvertently selecting special individuals. The specimens we see and pay attention to are ones that come to light or come into our homes. Doing so may be unusual for the species. For instance, there are species of moth that are not very much attracted to light, yet now and again we find one that is. The temptation is to assume it is a rare species, but in fact it may only seem to be rare because of the way we come across it (our sampling method). Also, we tend to ignore small and dull-coloured species, preferring the larger and more colourful and/or interestingly-patterned ones (unless extremely small, which makes them interesting again). And we naturally tend to notice less the ones with good camouflage, so if we do happen to notice one of these, it may be atypical (special) in that its camouflage is deficient in some way.


    In many realms of natural science (and science, sociology, geography, and other disciplines), our sampling methods create bias in our observations. We would do well, as scientists and natural historians, to bear that in mind.




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