The sun was out,it had been raining, and that made them easier to see; sticking to the heads of rushes in an oddly random, pin-cushion sort of way, were dozens of small, white cigar-shaped capsules gleaming in the sunlight. It was as if it had been raining sticky rice. Each was about 5mm long and on close inspection with a hand lens had the uneven texture of raw silk. I presumed they had been made by an insect, perhaps a moth but I didn’t know which.
After consulting my friend Andrew Graham, who is an entomologist, I learned that these capsules are spun by the caterpillar of the Common Rush Case-bearer moth. These tiny larvae spend the winter in the cases, pupate there in the spring and emerge as a slim grey/brown, rather nondescript moth in the early summer. It must be these, amongst others, that I kick up in fluttering drifts when walking across rushy moorland in June and July – and I hardly notice.
I read recently that there are an estimated 2.5 million spiders in every hectare of countryside, and that is nothing compared to the abundance of soil organisms. Within a 200m radius of my house (as the ‘sticky rice’ capsules were) there must be billions of lifeforms of thousands of species all just getting on with their lives, and barely noticed.
You might ask who needs to know about the obscure life of the Common Rush Case-bearer moth and the rest of its kind. And I would agree, not many of us do; but what we can do is notice, pay attention to the rich and beautiful matrix of wild-life in which we are immersed. As the environmentalist Joanna Macey puts it ‘I am a member of We’ and the I is more interdependent with the We of the Common Rush Case-bearer moth and its like than it is possible to fathom.