Double six every time

What are these ghost-like cases in Oak Meadow? This summer they have been on nearly every stalk and stem you can see. They have been stuck to grass, knapweed and anything growing there.

Then a week ago, I could see holes in the flimsy transparent cases, they were suddenly empty. And I saw a bright, red-winged creature. It is a burnet moth and it had just come out of its chrysalis skin. Normally, we think of moths as grey, brown or white, flying surreptitiously in the night. But this one flies in the daytime and against all our expectations, it is startlingly bright red.

Soon there were hundreds of them on Oak Meadow feeding on the hard heads of purple knapweed. They fly as soon as the sun comes out, searching for the next nectar filled flower. At first, when I walk through the grass, I can’t see them. You see, when their wings move up and down, they fly so fast that they are just a blur. These creatures are like dark bullets rushing about, with so much energy, without a sound. It’s only when they stop that you can see shining wings covered in blood red spots. I count six spots to each forewing, and I see wings underneath of plain red.

They settle in groups on the purple flowers with their wings sparkling. Their colour stands out and surely a bird will snap them up for a lovely meal? But I remember being told that in the animal world, red spells danger and poison, so our moths are left alone to get on with their lives.

They will find a mate and lay eggs in the grasses, which will hatch into tiny caterpillars before the season ends. The caterpillars love eating bird’s-foot trefoil and I can already see it here with its bright yellow flowers.

In a few weeks the grass will be cut for hay. But all will be well, because the tiny caterpillars hibernate safely by burying themselves in the soil for the winter. The six-spot burnet moth is lucky every time.

 Vicky will be at Willow Gallery Nature Festival with her books based on her Tizer column – Friday 9th August 7.30pm.