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Moths, Mics, and Hearing Hidden Sounds

Following on from the Marvellous Moths event hosted at Knowetop Lochs Nature Reserve back in May, we were enthusiastic to see what wonders awaited us as we held our second moth trapping event on 28th August.

The night had been wonderfully calm and still, perfect conditions for attracting moths to light traps. These conditions are usually perfect for midges too - but the event was mercifully free of wee bitey things!

Seventeen pairs of eager eyes gathered as Jack and Alison carefully unveiled the moths that had settled on the eggboxes within the traps.

At this time of year Knowetop Lochs is thronging with delicious Blaeberries, a sure sign that Autumn is in the air, and the moths that we caught were a good reflection of the season too.

Identifying Micro Moths

Summer moths such as July Highflyer were beginning to look faded and worn, but Autumn moths were crisp and fresh. The appropriately named Autumnal Rustics, with their velvety grey appearance, were one of the more abundant moths of the morning.

Autumnal Rustic

The curiously named Ear Moth, which have no obvious resemblance to the body part, were also abundant. The unfortunately named Neglected Rustics, so called because of their plain appearance, feed on heather and so there were plenty of those to be found!

Ear Moth

The caterpillar of the Heath Rustic also feeds on heather, so it was no surprise that we were treated to several of the small and delicately marked adults.

Heath Rustic

Some moths are ‘crowd-pleasers’. These are generally ones that are large or brightly coloured. The Canary-shouldered Thorn was our top crowd pleaser for this event. As the name suggests the Canary-shouldered Thorn has a stunning lemon-yellow head and abdomen, which is offset against its brown leaf-coloured wings. It has large comical eyes and even a little ‘beak’!

Canary-shouldered Thorn

We spent an hour captivated by seeing the diversity of moths close-up, learning how to name identify them and discussing their life-histories.

Some of us were fascinated to learn that some moths only live for very short periods of time – a matter of days – while some larger moths will live for months and even hibernate overwinter!

Clouded Border moth

With the moths safely released back into their habitat, it was time for sound artist Lee Patterson to reveal some of the mesmerising sound recordings that he had captured on the nature reserve the previous day.

Lee, fascinated by the hidden sounds of the environment, took us on an audio tour around the reserve, starting with recordings from the Lochs which included water boatmen and minnows – one of which was thumping the microphone! To hone in on the hidden, Lee has a collection of specialised, self-made microphones, which he deployed around the reserve: in the lochs, beneath grasses, among heather roots, and on peatland plantlife. The recordings he played back to us - unedited - were of sounds that we don’t usually get to hear, let alone appreciate with our naked ears.

Lee Patterson introducing us to insect stridulation sounds

We were all excited to hear the final recording that Lee had taken by attaching a microphone to the base of a hummock of grass. Within the grass was a rhythmic tapping, rasping noise. Lee theorised that this was produced by the stridulation (rubbing together of body parts) of a tiny bug hidden amongst the vegetation! As we were listening to the recordings we noticed these little bugs in the vegetation around us.

Lee attempted to amplify the sound live. It worked! We were treated to a live eavesdrop of a 'concert' that we were totally unaware of beforehand. It certainly made us more aware of micro world of communication happening beneath our feet and amongst the vegetation around us.

Lee is currently in the process of editing his field recordings Knowetop Lochs Nature Reserve and will be retuning in November to perform his sound art – so watch this space!

Thanks again to Alison Roberson for providing and setting the traps, to the Scottish Wildlife Trust who manage the reserve, to Lee for his amazing recordings, and to everyone who came and shared this marvellous morning with us.

Phots credits: K Morrison

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