Sunday 10 September 2023

Immortalised in Moth

Last night brought two very welcome visitors to the garden trap: our second Dewick's Plusia and an immaculate Blair's Mocha, one of three...

Dewick's Plusia #2 for the garden

Potted before entering the trap, this has to be the most pristine example of Blair's Mocha that I've seen. Straight in the fridge!

Dewick's, Blair's...

Once again I found myself pondering the origins of these familiar English vernacular moth names. The capture of our first Dewick's Plusia just a few days ago (see here) did prompt me to look up the origin of its name, and thus I learned about Suffolk lepidopterist Mr A J Dewick and his red-letter night in October 1951. But Dewick is just one of many names immortalised in Moth. Scan any field guide index and you will find several. Rustics seem especially to attract such monikers - we have Vine's, Duméril's, Porter's and Clancy's, for example.

This habit of naming creatures after their 'discoverers' always strikes me as a bit Victorian but, when it comes to moths, the tradition is alive and well in the 21st century. I learned that Patton's Tiger is named after Sarah Patton, who trapped the first for Britain as recently as 2005.

So, what about Blair's Mocha? We caught 20 last year, and our 2023 total already stands at 30. It is a moth I have grown very fond of, but I knew nothing of its namesake. Who was he or she? Well, whoever it was, they were a busy little bee, because we also have Blair's Shoulder-knot and Blair's Wainscot.

A bit of detective work led me to a Wikipedia entry on Dr Kenneth Gloyne Blair, former president of the Royal Entomological Society. Following retirement to the Isle of Wight in 1943, his immortalisation was assured...

1945 - Blair's Wainscot - first discovered at Freshwater Marsh.

1946 - Blair's Mocha - apparent first occurrence in Britain of this immigrant.

1951 - Blair's Shoulder-knot - ditto.

Obviously I do not know anything at all about Dr Blair as a man - his character, personality and so on -  and he was born into a world with very different values. So, what follows is completely unjustified but, sorry, I have to ask: honestly, wasn't one moth sufficient?

Perhaps it's just me, but I cannot help thinking it a bit vain to have your name given to some creature that's been around a lot longer than you have. But if you really must, at least stick to just one. Three, Dr Blair? Seriously? Ironically it turned out that Blair's Mocha had been recorded twice on Scilly, long before Ken's encounter with one in 1946. Was the name changed accordingly? Certainly not!

As you might imagine, the research carried out for this post was far from exhaustive, but I did learn that Duméril's Rustic is not named after the man who first described it, but after a close friend. Much more laudable if you ask me.

That all said, I am in no position to judge. In my youth it might have been a different story. No doubt I was sufficiently vain to have jumped at the chance to read Haig's Fan-foot in moth field guides for the rest of my days. But would I have felt a bit guilty in later life? After all, many years ago I was rash enough to give my name to a less-than-stellar blend of Scotch Whisky. Not exactly a legacy I am proud of.


  1. Rather than massage the ego of the finders Gav, ignore the vernacular and simply refer to the specimens by their Latin names.
    As for giving one's name to whisky? Would you rather be called Red Label? 😮

    1. To be honest I really like the names which include a name, probably because they hint at a tale to be told. Dewick's Plusia is Macdunnoughia confusa, so I expect there is an interesting story there too.

      Re the whisky. Our son Baz started a family WhatsApp group and knowingly called it Haig Club.

  2. Be honest Gav, you'd love to find something so rare that you get to name it. Your discovery recorded for posterity and people pondering about the man behind the find. It's much harder nowadays of course - damned internet - but, we all have unique and undiscovered bacteria in the soil in our gardens, maybe that will be your new obsession?

    1. Oh yes, agreed, what a thrill and privilege to get to name a 'first'. I would indeed love that! But no way could I call it Haig's whatever. Maybe name it after where I live though? Bridport Beauty has a nice ring to it. 😁