Friday, June 20, 2014

Winter's Coming

Giant Blue-eyed Grasshopper awaiting winter in the basil
In that very Australian way of taking the sun for granted, Winter has been officially here since the 1st of June and chilly nights started soon after. In the upside-down Home Bug Garden in Alberta, today is a day of mixed emotions: summer starts, but then the days start getting shorter in their inevitable slide towards the next winter. Weather is more lag than slave to the calendar and the upside-down North American tradition of using the solstices and equinoxes to begin seasons is an interesting tradition, but not especially logical. We still celebrate today in the Pie Creek Home Bug Garden. The 21st of June 2014 at 8:51 PM AEST will be the official Winter Solstice and the time at which the days start getting longer instead of shorter. Today will be the shortest day of 2014: sunrise 6:36 AM and sunset 5:06 PM.
Four Fruit-piercing Moths (Eudocima phalonia) ruining a mandarin
That means long nights. By the time the Solstice arrives it will have been dark for almost 4 hours with Scorpio overhead along with the Southern Cross, Milky Way and myriad other stars. Well, if it isn't cloudy. If it is, then it will be time to go moth hunting. The largest around at the moment are the beautiful but noxious fruit-piercing moths (Eudocima spp.): almost as large and even more annoying than House Sparrows (none of the latter here, thankfully).
Another Fruit-piercing Moth Eudocima materna
Mothing at the black light has not been particularly good. Most of the moths are small and seemingly impossible to identify, except for one small and all too numerous member of the leaf-mining and tying family Gelechiidae: Dichomeris capnites. This small (1 cm long) moth swarms the black light, crashes into the camera, and infiltrates the house.
Carpet moth (Scioglyptis cf lyciaria) & 4 party pooping Dichomeris capnites
Although small, this moth is easy to identify because of its aggregative desire: it forms giant clusters (up to 20 m in length have been reported) on vegetation of many thousands or perhaps millions of moths. Each tries to huddle together as close as possible (head to bum, side to side) so that the adorned leaves look as if they were coated in plate chain-mail.
Daytime aggregation of the Autumn Cluster Moth Dichomeris capnites
Appropriately, these moths have attracted the common name of Autumn Cluster Moth, although the clusters do persist into winter. The species name is also appropriate; 'capn+ites' from the ancient Greek words for 'smoke + like'. When disturbed, day or night, the resulting fluster is very much like dense smoke.
Native Bee (Tetragonula cf carbonaria) & Monarch share the basil
So that's the Home Bug Garden in Winter. A time of bugs big and small. Some good, some bad, most indifferent. The garden is bursting with salad greens, basil and assorted brassicas. I suppose I should make some pesto before a frost gets the basil.
A pair of Tawny Frogmouths snooze away a short winter day.


  1. Very interesting stuff with the clustering moths, haven't seen them here. Love the wanderer and butterfly, great shot.

  2. Love the clustering moths. Very cinematic. :)

  3. Dear Home Bug Gardener,

    I am writing a book on gardening for bees (in Canada) and would like to ask permission to use a couple of photographs of bees you took in Alberta. I would appreciate if you could e-mail me so I can let you know the details of my request.

    Many Thanks,


  4. They are awesome! Thanks for showing them to us! Cheers!