Sugru in space

There are only really two types of important problem out there: the first can be fixed with gaffer tape, the second with WD40. It’s an old engineer’s joke that has circulated on the internet for many a year. It plays on the idea that if something out to be moving and isn’t then a low-viscosity, sprayable petroleum product will be the answer whereas if something is moving that ought not to be then it can be bound in place by a high-adhesive polymer-textile composite tape.

In recent times, I’d add a third solution to the world’s problems, Sugru. It’s marketed as mouldable glue and most readers will no doubt have heard of its ascent and widespread adoption among scientists, hobbyists and makers, plumbers, and amateurs and professionals alike, who need to quickly replace a component, fill a hole, adapt a product for a new use all without the need to invest in a 3D printer.

Sugru came to mind this morning in listening to a report on the radio news that the International Space Station (the ISS) has sprung a leak. Apparently, a tiny chunk of space rock, presumably a millimetre or two across has slammed into the body of the spacecraft and punched a hole clean through. The astronauts on board have repaired the damage with thermo-resistant tape. Sounds like the gaffer tape approach to their problem.

But, it also seems to me that while the tape may hold and NASA has announced that the crew are in no immediate danger, such a problem could have been remedied with a little piece of mouldable flexible more effectively. I suppose the issue would be whether or not the makers of that product produce a thermo-resistant, space grade version.

A piece of poo moth

UPDATE: 20 Jul 2021, NFY

UPDATE: 16 Apr 2020, NFY

UPDATE: 20 Apr 2019

First of the year

Regular Sciencebase readers will, by now, have realised that moths and butterflies (lepidoptera, meaning scaly wings) have become a focus of my macro photography in recent weeks. Indeed, I’ve photographed and identified about 80 different species of lepidoptera, mainly in our back garden over the last month or so (23 July onwards, with a week off in August and a few missing days to give the moths a rest from overnight actinic light trapping).

Anyway, you will also have realised that many moths have some rather outlandish and intriguing common names: Elephant Hawk-moth, Angle Shades, Dark Arches, Yellow Shell, Canary-shouldered Thorn, Setaceous Hebrew Character to name a few that I’ve photographed over the last month or so. I hadn’t seen the species known as the Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata) despite it being relatively common and flying at night at this time of year. It is found in Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa.

Its common name you might imagine alludes to some feature of its patterning. The moth has what might be described as China-white wings, which are flecked with a series of small grey spots along the outer edge of the fore-wings. The inner edge has a dark brown “stain” that has areas of yellow and grey towards the middle of the wing. Nothing would suggest Chinese character, other than the porcelain colour of the wings, perhaps. Although a closer inspection and a whistful perception does reveal that the edge of the blotches resemble brush-and-ink markings that one might see in traditional Chinese script (apparently).

However, that colouration and patterning do serve a purpose. When the moth is at rest, with its curvy wings in a tent-like configuration it resembles nothing less honourable than a dollop of avian guano. It looks like bird poo, in other words! This is a highly evolved state, most predators will avert their taste buds and mouths when confronted with something that looks like poop.

The etymology of the word Lepidoptera

Lepidoptera are the insects with scaly wings – the moths and butterflies, in other words. 160,000 species of moth worldwide, 20,000 butterflies. 2500 of the moths in the UK and a mere 52 butterfly species. Incidentally, the only truly distinguishing feature between moths and butterflies being that butterflies have club-like antennae and the majority of moths don’t.

Anyway, lepidoptera from the Greek “lepis” meaning scale” and “pteron” meaning wing (or feather). As in the flaky mica mineral lepidolite and the prehistoric winged reptiles, the pterosaurs.

So, anyway, here are some lepidoptera


You can see more of my lepidoptera photographs on my Imaging Storm website.

Lakenheath Revisited

We visited RSPB Lakenheath for the first time back in snowy February. They were just setting up a photography hide with naturalistic perches and feeders and a reed bed for Bunts, Tits, Kingfishers, and the like. In fact, first shot I got there was of a beautiful Kingfisher who popped in stared at the camera and disappeared within the space of about ten seconds. This visit, we had numerous Tits (Great, Blue, and Marsh), Reed Bunts, Goldfinches, and a few others, and a male Great Spotted Woodpecker, but did no spotted Kingfisher at this site this time.

Below Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) fishing

Great Tits (Parus major) feeding

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) bunting

Juvenile Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) just starting its facepainting

There were plenty of caterpillars of Aglais io, the European Peacock, writhing on a nettle patch near New Fen Hide at RSPB Lakenheath. They are late, as this species usually lays eggs in June from which caterpillars soon emerge. Despite their defensive spines, many of them are eaten by parasitic wasps.

Meanwhile, we also saw all three of the site’s celebrity spiders: Wasp Spider, Crowend Orb Weaver, Marbled Orb Weaver. More about those in this post. But missed the Common Heath butterfly (plenty of Small and Large Whites, and one Comma).

The Toadflax (Butter and Eggs plant, Linaria vulgaris) was dying off but there were a few flowers still in bloom

There were countless airborne dragonflies and quite surprising not to see the local Hobbies (Falco subbuteo) chasing and eating this fast food supply, especially those distracted by their mating rituals.

More snaps from today’s trip to RSPB Lakenheath here.


A slight detour from the mothematics and the feathered aviators. If you’re an arachnophobe now is the time to look away or if you’re trying aversion therapy, start staring at the screen and scrolling now!

The first three photos are of a Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) which had spun its orb web on the edge of the footpath leading from the Visitors’ Centre to the Photography Station:

The two archno photos below are of a Cross Spider, or more formally a Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus). In the lower of the two one spider is about to drag the more prominent one up and under the nettle leaves (not entirely sure whether the lower one was dead at this point):

The final spider of the day is a male Marbled Orb Weaver (Araneus marmoreus). The abdomen of the female resembles a swollen orange pumpkin giving the species its other common name of the Pumpkin Spider.

Heidelberg Thingstaette

The Heiligenberg is a wooded hill overlooking the town of Heidelberg in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It rises to around 440 metres and has been the site of several historical buildings: a Celtic hilltop fortification, a Roman sacred precinct, several mediaeval monasteries, modern lookout towers and a Thingstätte, built by the Nazis in the 1930s. The latter is a rather chilling place, despite a hot, sunny day with lots of tourists and dogwalkers.

During the Third Reich, the Heidelberg Thingstätte open-air theatre was constructed in 1934/5 on the ridge between the Heiligenberg and the Michaelsberg as part of the Thingspiel movement. It is one of four hundred such venues planned, but only forty built. Today, it is once more in use as a venue for open-air events.


Iron Prominent – Notodonta dromedarius

The Iron Prominent (Notodonta dromedarius) is fairly common across Great Britain, turned up in the trap a couple of times in the second week of August. Got better photos of the specimen on the morning of 13th where it sat on the back of my hand after jumping from its overnight resting place on a cardboard egg carton in the trap. It walked a little and then quickly fired up its wings to high-speed before flying off.

Two broods fly each year May-June and then again in August. Except in the North where they brood only once June-July, according to UKMoths. The humps on the green caterpillar’s back give rise to the second part of the scientific name. But, it’s the protruding tuft of hair on the trailing edge of the forewing in many species of the Notodonta moths that gives them the “prominent” of their common names. Although there are only four Notodontids in the UK, there are 3,800 known species in this family around the world, mostly in The Tropics.

Orange Swift – Triodia sylvina

Orange Swift (Triodia sylvina) – A first for the garden 13th August 2018 in three weeks or so of moth-ing with Rob’s homemade actinic Robinson trap.

Given how brightly coloured this specimen is compared to other photos of the species on UKMoths, for instance, I am assuming it is a male. The males are also smaller than the females, such sexual dimorphism does not seem to be a common trait in the moth world, although it does occur (viz some females are wingless and the Emperor Moth females are like a desaturated version of the male). The species is a member of the Hepialidae of which there are, it seems, only five members in the UK: Orange Swift (Triodia sylvina), Common Swift (Korscheltellus lupulina), Map-winged Swift (Korscheltellus fusconebulosa), Gold Swift (Phymatopus hecta), and the Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli). Update: 11 May 2019, first Common Swift to the trap. Not seen any of these others yet.

The Orange Swift flies later in the year than the other Swifts, July-September (in the British Isles), so spotting one in the middle of August is about right, although UKMoths explains that it inhabits waste ground, moorland, and other wild places. Doesn’t say much for my gardening skills.

The larvae (caterpillars) feed on the roots of bracken, dandelion, dock, hop, and viper’s bugloss. It overwinters twice as a larva.

Cat Zero by Jennifer Rohn

Cat Zero by Jennifer Rohn: the best novel I’ve read in a long time. Gripping, engaging…infectious from start to finish. It’s all here from timeless issues of the human condition to modern problems, disease, ethics, activism, terrorism, diversity, science. All written with mesmerising imagery and humanity from the pioneer of lab-lit. Excellent.

Cat Zero by Jenny Rohn
Cat Zero by Jenny Rohn