Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Mind that forkful...

Summer holidays mean family visits. My mother-in-law's a teacher, so long summer breaks mean she and her husband are able to come over and visit in what should be the nicest part of the year. The last couple of summers an old friend of Na's has also been visiting England to help her children learn English - and they've just been over. Typically, after a lovely hot summer the weather's been playing up a little whilst they visited and a couple of weekends back it was particularly foul: heavy overcast and steady rain: more like October than August... Naturally enough, having five small children in a small house together on a rainy day means that adults are constantly looking for something to occupy them and when Bina wandered into the kitchen ans started pulling pasta out of the cupboard and rattling it around, music came to mind (sort of)!

Various jars, packets and boxes were brought out which made a variety of sounds when shaken and all was going nicely when my nephew pointed out that there was 'a moth in that jar'. Sure enough, in a jar of red Camargue rice, a small moth was wriggling energetically across the grains. I'd not long put the rice into the jar (the plastic packets that the rice comes in aren't particularly baby-proof, but good jars are) and the previous occupant of the jar had been some very nice banana chutney made by our friends on the Isle of Man - so I knew the moth had to have come in the rice.

The moth itself, before its trip through the post

I gently encouraged it out of the jar and into a small box, where Basti and I took a good look at it. Seemed innocuous enough and also depressingly anonymous: fairly plain brown above and below, though with rather pointed wings. So, I enlisted the aid of the experts - why have 'em if you can't?! First of all, I took some photos and sent them on to the county moth recorder, who's been kind enough to identify some of my photos in the past. He wrote back saying that he'd in turn enlisted the aid of a national micro-moth expert who happens to live locally, who thought that the moth might possibly be Sitotroga cerealella, a.k.a. the Angoumois Grain Moth: but that this would be a first record for Devon and he couldn't tell for sure from the photos - could I perhaps post the moth on to be scrutinised in more detail?

I duly did and the species was duly confirmed, though the unfortunate moth had to be dissected to clinch the identification. Going back to the jar a couple of days later, I was interested to see that a few more had hatched out: in fact, no fewer than 63 dead moths were lurking in the jar, along with five apparently healthy larvae (carefully transferred to a small container of rice and posted on to the micro-moth expert, who particularly wanted to see them) and nine very lively weevils: their identity yet to be confirmed, though they might just be Rice Weevils Sitophilus oryzae! All in all a productive packet of rice, though not perhaps what I'd anticipated when I bought the stuff. All goes to show though - if I'd been quicker about cooking it, we'd never have known what was stowing away amongst it. All makes you think - and perhaps a good job we're not squeamish too!

Though the species is a grain pest (link takes you to a pdf), it's confined to warmer regions and so perhaps unlikely to become established here in the UK - perhaps fortunately: we have more than enough non-native problem species as it is!

Male genitalia of Sitotroga cerealella (© R. Heckford, 2013)
With many grateful thanks to Barry Henwood and Bob Heckford for taking on the identification of this specimen.

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