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The Eyes Have it.

When I lie in my bed looking at the patterned curtains or the knots in the wooden ceiling, I see faces formed by triangles of marks, which my brain tells me are eyes and noses.  There are cats, weasels, humans, other apes and many more – all animals with forward-facing eyes. We seem to be programmed to notice and recognise such faces, and this is useful for communication within our own species and probably also for recognition of potential predators.

Work this week has put me in mind of this.  Bird scarers erected in newly planted crops in fields by the Forth have owl-like eyes painted on them but they have been surrounded by avidly feeding Rooks and Jackdaws.  It is my belief that a ‘beak’ or ‘nose’ is needed  to create the magic triangle which would truly look like a predator worth these birds avoiding – and I think the nose needs to be below the eyes rather than above them.

Emperor Moth (Saturnia pavonia) - © Darius-Baužys

Emperor Moth (Saturnia pavonia) – © Darius-Baužys

While surveying with colleagues on nearby moorland, we became aware of a cluster of dancing orange gems over the heather.  They were fresh male Emperor Moths flying upwind and low over the heather, following a pheromone stream released by a much larger and greyer female, also newly emerged and already found and claimed by the fittest (or luckiest) of the males.  These are insects with large eye-spots on both fore- and hind-wings.  The female, settled in the heather and viewed from behind, showed the eyes on the fore-wing but to me she did not appear particularly ferocious.  However, when turned around, so that she was viewed head on, her black thorax and wing bases formed a perfect ‘nose’ in relation to the eyes, making the whole insect appear like the head of a fearsome mammal or owl that an insectivorous bird would think twice about before attacking.  Now I need to know whether, when about to be attacked, the Emperor, and other similarly ‘eyed’ insects, habitually turn to face their predators in order to present the most frightening image.

Long Eared Owl and chick in the nest - © Scott Smith

Long Eared Owl and chick in the nest – © Scott Smith

Finally with regard to eyes experienced this week, three territories of nesting Long-eared Owl have come to my notice; two in sites where AEL has on-going survey work, and another in woodland on a golf course near Linlithgow.  The young are just out of the nest and uttering their ‘squeaky gate’ call, which makes these secretive birds a bit easier to find than usual.  Seeing photos of the adult birds, I was struck by the similarity of their faces to the ‘eyes and beak’ markings of the Emperor Moth.