Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Of Moths and Manses

Mostly for my own amusement I make occasional mention of my house as being called "Trowelsworthy Hall".  It is of course a very real place, and as it is past the century mark expensive repairs and upkeep are always lurking. 

On a recent Saturday morning as I sat on the front porch swing I was dismayed to see what looked like a bit of peeling paint on one of the pillars.  

Zooming in nice and close we see that it really is this:

The wee chap is doing his or her best to blend in.

I got a sense of deja vu because I have seen very similar photos in old science textbooks when I was young.  It seems that one of the early studies lending experimental evidence to Darwin's theory of Natural Selection came out of the British Midlands in the 19th Century.  It was noted that as industrial soot poured out of Manchester and its environs, all the trees out in the countryside got dark and sooty, the light colored lichens (which really do look like moths..or paint chips) having died off.  Soon dark colored moths, previously quite rare, became the norm as hungry birds gobbled up all the poorly camoflaged lighter variants.

A few observations.

1. Manchester has been cleaned up a great deal.  We spent a short time there in May and I saw no soot at all.  Also no moths but I was not looking specially for them and they are good at hiding.

2. British scientific studies generate an enormous amount of amusing commentary.  In looking at this question I found not only the sensible issues of how many moths you need to extrapolate for all of Insectkind, but some highly entertaining accusations of moths glued to tree trunks to fudge data, and one author comparing his disappointment in having to reconsider his position as being similar to finding out at age six that his father, not Santa Claus, was the bringer of Christmas presents.

3. I don't need to paint the porch this year.

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