11 April 2014 - Moths of the Moon

Early Thorn (Selinia dentaria)

The Early Thorn (Selinia dentaria) arrives.  Selinia (the moon) refers to the little lunate shapes on the wing - in the photograph you can see that this moth's antenna is just crossing one; dentaria from dentis a tooth - the jagged edge of the wings.  This moth was named by Fabricius in 1775.  JC Fabricius was a Danish entomologist and is considered to be one of the most distinguished of the pupils of Linnaeus.  There were four Early Thorns in the trap yesterday but the other thirty or so moths were Clouded Drabs, Common Quakers or Hebrew Characters - the numbers are encouraging signs for later in the year.  

Waved Umber (Menophra abruptaria)
Menophra abrutaria is not shown at its best in this photograph - it should be resting on the trunk of a Silver Birch or even a dry-stone wall where it would be nearly invisible.  However, the black of the rim of the moth trap will have to do for I believe this moth will not tolerate being persuaded to move to a new location.  It has remained in the same position all day waiting for dusk.  Like the Early Thorn the Latin name for the Waved Umber makes reference to the moon (mene) but here ophrus (eyebrow) refers to the fringe of the wings; abruptaria means 'broken off' from the reddish-brown marks on the wings at the widest points.  This moth was christened by K P Thunberg who was the successor to Linnaeus as Professor of Botany at Uppsala.  

Early Thorn (illustration 13)

Above can be seen the Early Thorn with other Thorns - the Lunar Thorn (Fig.17) and the September Thorn (Fig.9).  The prominent caterpillar (Fig. 27) is that of the Brimstone Moth.

Below is the Waved Umber with the pretty blue flower of the aquilegia or columbine.

10 April 2014 - The Grief of War

Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata)
 It would be either a Shoulder Stripe or a Water Carpet, or at least that is what I thought when this delta-winged moth appeared this morning.  Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) was what it turned out to be.  The woody markings and upraised abdomen making a delightful picture. Look carefully and you will see how the different bands of colour on the antennae (almost hidden on the surface of the wings), mirror the colours beneath - each different section fitting exactly to each different background. Remarkable and complete in repose.  The Shoulder Stripe can be seen in many different shades but the wing patterns are always the same.  Anticlea was the mother of Ulysses.  She died of grief when her son was absent for six years during the Trojan war; badiata means 'bay coloured'.

The image above shows the abdomen when the moth is resting - or sleeping - or whatever moths do during the day.  Staying out of sight is their speciality.

Beneath can be seen an illustration of the Shoulder Stripe flitting among bedstraw, which is not the food plant.  This moth has been recorded 'drinking fluid on rose-hips'.  A worthy new species - number 330.

9 April 2014 - A Wingless Moth

March Moth (Alsophila aescularia)

The March Moth is not a new species but it hasn't been photographed at Shandy Hall before. The wing patterning is striking and the wings themselves wrap around the moth's thorax and abdomen like a North American Indian's shawl.  The males fly throughout March and April but the females have to be content with crawling up tree-trunks to ensure their pheromones are distributed into the night air.  The light from the trap attracted this specimen away from its natural purpose but it was released last night, so just an overnight pause in its life-cycle.  The Latin (Alsophila) means 'lover of groves' and aesculus is strictly a species of oak, but in post-classical times the name applied to the horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) which is likely to be the food plant.  The March is a nervy moth that doesn't stay still for very long - in fact it flew off as the trap was opened and fortunately landed on a near-by cyclamen where this photograph was taken.  The adult and wingless female can be seen in the image below. 

March Moth 

March Moth (female 19)

A cluster of flightless females of different species have gathered at the foot of a boletus (tawny funnel?) : 21 is a Dotted Border (a moth I think I have now missed this year); 28 is a female Mottled Umber; 24 a female Scarce Umber; 22 is the Dotted Umber larva and 12 (the lookout) is the caterpillar of the Waved Black (Parascotia fuliginaria), a fungus-feeder - the illustrator has got it right.

7 April 2014 - Lithophane

Pale Pinion (Lithophane hepatica)

This moth feeds on sallow catkins in the spring and ivy flowers in the autumn, both of which are to be found at the moment in the gardens - my sneezing is sufficient evidence.  The Latin name: Lithophane (Greek lithos, stone; phaino, 'to appear to be like') and hepatica 'liver coloured', give a rather inadequate description of this insect.  'Lithophane' is also the name of translucent porcelain that displays an image when lit from behind - the effect is almost secretive as the image is hidden when viewed under normal light.  The Pale Pinion is also described as having cannibalistic larvae.  It is another new Spring species and takes the total to 329.

Pale Pinion (Lithophane hepatica) illustration

The illustration (1843) showing the moth in flight gives an indication of the difficulty of identifying moths from their 'set' position - as if positioned by the collector.  The stitching marking on the edge of the fore-wing is common to both but not much else.  

3 April 2014 - Thracian Quilt

Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)

A warm day with a much cooler night - but overcast.  Last year at this time there were so many disappointing mornings with no evidence of moths but this year (not counting the visitors to the kitchen window) the first proper trap produced this beauty.  The pectinated antennae, the broad, grainy stripes of creamy charcoal next to the brown zig-zags - the first Oak Beauty to arrive in Coxwold.  This moth is not uncommon regionally, but was not listed as a possible 'flying tonight' candidate, so it was a double surprise.  The other image (above) shows both male and female above a yarrow plant (Achilla millefolia)  
Pieris japonica seemed an appropriate backdrop for the Shandy Hall moth - not because it is a food plant (Oak Beauty caterpillars eat oak, hazel, aspen and other broadleaved trees and shrubs) but to link it to a season.  The Latin name : Biston was a son of Mars and ancestor of the Bistones, a Thracian tribe which worshipped Bacchus; strataria from stratum, something spread as a quilt. The trap contained a dozen or so of Small Quakers, Hebrew Characters and Clouded Drabs, with half-a-dozen Twin-spotted Quakers and this Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) with its diagnostic clover-leaf pattern - not a new species but a clear image so worth including.  The Oak Beauty is species number 328.

Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)

14 March 2014 - Mistaken Identity

(Agonopterix heracliana)
A moth 'with a wing without an angle' (Agonopterix) whose larvae feed on hogweed (Heraclieum sphondylium) seems straightforward enough but there is more to this moth than meets the eye.  It seems the specimen in the collection of the Linnean Society of London was mistakenly identified as a Parsnip Moth (Depressaria pastinacella).  For 200 years this was the case and then, when the error was discovered and (since the type specimen takes precedence over the description), the name was transferred.

Listed on the Yorkshire Moths - Flying Tonight website this little moth was doing exactly as predicted and landed on the outside of the kitchen window. Catching it in a specimen tube was easy but photographing it was not.  When not looking moribund and rather dead, as in the photographs, it can switch into high-speed and runs about with antennae twitching most actively, making it very difficult to photograph.  It was released this morning in the garden and as I followed its speedy fluttering to safety, I managed to get some wonderful photographs. Unfortunately I had left the camera card on the table.
The wing spots are visible and I am pretty sure the bar on the hind-wing distinguishes it from Agonopterix cilella.  Or at least  I am as certain as I can be.  Either way its a new species for Shandy Hall (327).

18 February 2014 - New Year, New Moth

Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria)
Most of the lighting in Shandy Hall is from energy-saving bulbs but the spotlight in the kitchen is old and (while it lasts) still sends forth a piercing light.  Last night two beautiful, green-tinged moths were drawn by the light to the window; one a new species and the other an early awakener.
The Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) is an appropriate name for this new addition to the list of species with its attractive, stripe-patterned and flecked wings.  When I tried to photograph it this morning I thought it had given up the ghost. It seemed lifeless with its legs tucked and crossed into its abdomen and made no response to being gently handled.  I placed it on a moss carpet and it remained completely still.  It must be dead.  However, one leg suddenly shot out from beneath its wing canopy as I was considering what to do with it - proving it's fine and so will be released tonight.   The Latin name has changed from Apocheima pilosaria meaning the 'shaggy coated one that flies in winter' to Phigalia pilosaria where Phigalia is a town in Greece.  Identifying a new species to the gardens in February is a good start to the year - number 326.

The second moth that was drawn to the domestic window was a Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata).  This moth was just as freshly coloured and must have emerged from hibernation that evening.  Consulting the list of species on the wing in Yorkshire, the Red-green Carpet isn't listed - it should still be asleep.
Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) illustration

Overwintering 2014

Overwintering on clematis stalk

It's difficult to know how anything survives - the rain, the cold, the wind all conspire to drown, freeze and blow all apart.  This example of resilient fragility was spotted by Chris in the quarry garden.  The colour of this pupa is similar to that of the clematis shoots that are already appearing - somewhat optimistically.  Is it a moth?  The Calderdale site has an image of a chrysalis which looks very similar to this one and that is thought to be a Green-veined White (Pieris napi).  The silk threads anchoring the pupa to the stalk are clearly visible.

Overwintering (close-up)

18 December 2013 - Who is who?

Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata)
Last week it seemed all was done for this year.  Then this tiny moth was seen in the porch - no attempt to hide itself away - motionless.  It was much smaller than the Winter Moths already seen in the garden, outside the window and in the woods down the road.  Consulting UK Moths and Essex moths mentions of the Northern Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) as well as the Winter Moth (Operophtera fagata) were found.  The Northern is recorded as being larger and doesn't fly as late in the year as the plain Winter.  The only conclusion I can come to is that both species have been seen, but I am still a little confused as to who is who.  This delicate little creature must be the Winter Moth and the ones mating in the woods might be the same - but the one at the window (nearly a third again the size of the others) must have been a Northern Winter Moth.  Does this sound plausible?
The advantage of this photograph is that the moth positioned itself just beneath the fruit of the Cuckoo Pint - or Lords and Ladies - or Jack in the Pulpit - and the image takes on a Christmas feel.  Pulpits, Lords and Cuckoos are very Tristram Shandy which is appropriate as on this day (18 December) Tristram Shandy was first published in York in 1759.  A fitting conclusion to this very confusing post.   

13 December 2013 - Old Year's Final Post

Male and female Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata)
Each night I have searched the trunks of the trees in the garden in the hope of finding the wingless female Winter moth.  Males of the species have settled on the porch door and the kitchen window, with their wings closed over their abdomens like cobweb-coloured butterflies.  They move slightly in the breeze, tacking like little toy boats as they try to maintain their grip on the wood.  Last night, coming back from the east of the county, there were moths aplenty in the headlight glare.  Not strong fliers and more plentiful in the dips in the road where the trees were close to the tarmac.  Could they be Winter moths?  Collecting the camera, I drove back to the spot where there had been half-a-dozen or so flutterers, and parked.  With the headlights off it was black.  Ten yards from the road the torch picked out a gate-post and there they were -dozens of Winter Moths clinging to the post and to the trunks of the trees and branches - anywhere that would give them purchase.  But all males. Finally I found a female.
Male and female Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata)
Balancing the torch and the camera the images above record the sighting.  
Gazing before and behind like Janus, the end of 2013 is represented by the Winter Moth.

27 November 2013 - Night Traffic

Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata)
The night-drive back to Shandy Hall is as twisted and contorted as one of Sterne's plotlines. Barn owl, fox, badger and stoat can occasionally be glimpsed disappearing over or through the hedgerows, but the air is virtually moth free now. 
Each night the trap has been set and each morning there has been nothing to be found.  On Wednesday, however, on a sheltered bend near Oulston, there was a flurry of tiny wings in the headlights.  On arrival home the temperature was around 6 degrees. Promising for moths, but again, in the morning nothing.  However, at the kitchen window a moth put in an appearance - the Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata).  The last time this species was spotted was under the same circumstances two years ago but the photographic record was poor due to the electric light distorting the colours. Here, above, is a more accurate version. I have searched the apple tree trunks with a head-torch in search of the wingless female without success. Harvest-men, leopard slugs, wood-lice, earwigs and centipedes in abundance, each species purposely concentrating on its own particular path across the moss and bark.   

Winter Moth illustration

Winter Moth (wingless female illustration)

Scarce Umber (Agriopis aurantiaria)
And then another moth appeared at the window - once again not a new species but a particularly fine example - a Scarce Umber, attracted to the kitchen light but not to the mercury vapour lamp.

Scarce Umber (Agriopis aurantiaria) illustration

1 November 2013 - One out of Five

Juniper Carpet (Thera juniperata)
This is the first time the trap has been put out specifically with the hope that one of a small number of possible species might appear.  Consulting Yorkshire Moths - Flying Tonight website reveals that there are five common species on the wing that have yet to appear in the gardens at Shandy Hall.  The Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana), Juniper Carpet (Thera juniperata), The Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx), Autumn Green Carpet (Chloroclysta miata) and the Rusty-dot Pearl (Udea ferrugalis).  They all seem quite distinct and recognisable. 

Juniper Carpet (Thera juniperata)
Overnight was damp and cold and on first inspection at 6.30am it seemed the only moth to be found was a Silver Y (Autographa gamma).  Just one moth - admittedly perfect and quite beautiful - but one seemed a rather churlish response on behalf of the natural world.  A couple of hours later, in daylight, the egg-boxes were cleared out of the trap. On the plastic rim at the bottom was a carpet moth with wings spread, just in the position where it was impossible to see its markings.  It was transferred to an inspection tube where it resolutely kept its wings closed over its back, like a butterfly.  Fortunately there was one image on the internet of a Juniper Carpet moth with wings closed and the markings on the underside matched.  Success.  Accordingly a similar image has been posted as the identifier of the species.  The Shandy Hall moth did unfold its wings later to display the pebbly cross-band pattern that makes identification certain. 

The illustration shows the larva of the Juniper Carpet moth nibbling at the food plant.  The species used to be quite scarce but has now spread the length and breadth of the country as juniper plants are bought from garden centres and planted in new locations.  The Latin?  Thera - an island in the Aegean which has no immediate connection;  juniperata - the juniper food plant. 
I'll put the trap underneath an apple tree and see if another of the remaining four species appears.

24 October 2013 - Brick-coloured Brick

The Brick (Agrochola circellaris)

The Brick (Agrochola circellaris) should have been an easy moth to identify, but the one found in the trap is either a paler version of the species or, perhaps, a bit care-worn.  The two spots at the centres of the wings are diagnostic points, but illustrations in books and online show a generally richer colouring and clearer markings.  However identification is now verified.  The Latin name is a bit of a puzzle though.  After scouring British Moths and their Transformations I can find no mention of The Brick or Agrochola circellaris - there is no index so a search can be quite lengthy. There is a Brick-coloured Moth (Orobana ferruginea) depicted flitting next to a collection of Sallow moths but is this the same insect?  Both parts of the binomial altered?  Orobus tuberosus is the name for the Bitter Vetch - no great help there.  Finally it seems it must be the same moth as I discover that circellaris (small ringed) replaces ferruginea (iron-rusty) in 1775.

Here below (fig. 13) is the image of the Brick-coloured Moth (aka The Brick).  It is shown in flight and the dark circular blots and the circles just above them can be seen quite clearly on the photograph as well.  The Flounced Rustic is shown beneath - but it's unlikely that it will turn up in North Yorkshire at this time of year.  The Brick takes the total to 324.  

Brick-coloured Moth (fig 13) & Flounced Rustic (fig 11)

20 October 2013 - Rush Veneer

Rush Veneer (Nomophila noctuella)
Ten minutes after putting out the trap (warm evening, no wind, bats flying, owls hooting, moon conveniently below the horizon) came the most tremendous downpour.  The light was quickly extinguished, for I am not certain it will tolerate torrential rain, and then re-set an hour later.  This morning a Feathered Thorn, a (small) Golden Y, a Dark Sword-grass, a Green-brindled Crescent, half a dozen bouncy saw-flies and a wasp seemed to be the total catch.  However, perched on the last egg-box was a moth I hadn't seen before. All five reference books were consulted along with UK moths, Essex moths, Norfolk moths (all on-line and all excellent) and the moth that seemed most likely was a Rush Veneer (Nomophila noctuella).  The antennae were certainly swept back over the folded and slightly rolled wings, but I couldn't distinguish the strong markings that appear in the available images. The emphasis was on the narrowness of the wings in all the recorded descriptions and that seemed to be the determining factor. Dave Chesmore confirmed the above photograph - where the markings seem to have been picked up by the macro lens, although not clear to the naked eye. 

Nomophila (lover of pastures) and noctuella (of the night) is the Latin translation.  In 1843 the moth was Nomophila hybridalis so there's another with an adjusted identification.  The Rush Veneer is a migrant and there aren't too many records for it in North Yorkshire - at Shandy Hall it is species number 323.

Rush Veneer (Nomophila noctuella)

17 October 2013 - Hop-dog

Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda)
 There are apples all over the grass but thanks to Cameron in Husthwaite (the next village) the fruit gets pressed and turned into delicious juice.  Gathering the apples can be a bit of a chore, so when an apple with a Mohican hair-cut took my attention it turned the labour into delight.  Although the Pale Tussock Moth (Calliteara pudibunda) is common this was my first sighting of the larva.  Everything about it warns 'Don't touch'.  I picked up the apple and watched the caterpillar march around the circumference of the fruit.  Every now and again it stopped and raised its fore-legs from the surface of the skin and searched for an alternative route or support.  A gentle questioning movement.  What colours it has - the lime-green body and clotted-cream, shaving-brush tufts; the deep black clefts between, and the bright red, trailing tongue.  Put it amongst the leaves and the outlandish colours disappear, blending with the apple-leaves and the hawthorn, the greengage and the damson. 

'Light Tussock' (Dasychira pudibunda)
 Here (fig.19) is the still-life illustration of the larva, on the stem of a late-flowering dandelion amongst the blackberries.  The moth is named differently here though - Light Tussock instead of Pale and Dasychira ('shaggy hand' - from the hairy fore-legs that the moth thrusts forwards when at rest) instead of Calliteara (a difficult derivation, possibly 'Spring beauty'). Pudibunda is included in both names but the meaning is again not clear - 'immodest' or 'descriptive of a thing of which one should be ashamed'.  Most peculiar.  The adult (male) moth is fig. 17.

Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda)
 This image shows the thick black divisions between the tufts and the fine hairs that cover the caterpillar.  When Kent was the Garden of England it was not welcome as it fed on hops and was called Hop-Dog.

Caterpillar disappearing
 Perhaps the larva was marching with such determination as it was intending to pupate.  Caterpillars seem to get restless when their second transformation is about to take place.   Let's hope it makes it through the winter to become another Spring beauty. 

7 October 2013 - Bespattered and Bedewed

 (Acleris sparsana)
Leaving Shandy Hall late in the afternoon meant the light was positioned in the garden and turned on much earlier than usual.  As a result, next morning, the number of midges and wasps was high, but the bonus was a new moth, a dusk flier Acleris sparsana or 'Ashy Button'.  The moth's wings have spatterings of tiny rust-coloured dots on a grey ground

This illustration of Acleris sparsana shows a form of the moth with a large triangular blotch on the forewing.  It is attracted to ivy blossom (the trap is often set close to ivy and the flowers are covered in bees and butterflies at the moment), feeds on beech and sycamore and is depicted next to red campion. The Latin introduces the idea of the moth being 'bespattered' (sparsus) or 'bedewed' - the wings appearing to have been dipped in the dawn.
This catch takes the species total to 322.

6 October 2013 - Flame-keeper

Vestal (Rhodometra sacraria)
Linnaeus thought priestesses wore saffron robes; or perhaps the simple and beautiful rose-coloured (rhodon) pattern suggested to him that this moth was the embodiment of chastity.  Either way this elegant moth is an unusual visitor to this part of North Yorkshire and new to the garden.  The colouring varies considerably - some adults are bright pink - and the variation is caused by the temperatures experienced by the pupae.  The higher the temperature the more lemon the wings and rosier the pattern - the lower the temperature and the ground colour changes to straw yellow and the cross-band is brown.  It is an immigrant and cannot overwinter, so I hope it enjoys the last few warm days of the year.

November Moth (Epirrita dilutata)
November Moth - or not?  It could be a Pale November Moth or an Autumnal Moth or even a Small Autumnal Moth (unlikely).  There were eight in the trap this morning and this was the one with the brightest markings - and the clearest V mark in the centre of the forewing.  We had recorded the moth last year but hadn't posted an image so here is one of the members of that four-strong Epirrita family.  The Latin means 'to flow' or 'to stream onwards' from the Greek epirrheo and dilutata refers to the washed out colour of the forewings.

5 October 2013 - Snouts and Liquorice Papers

Dark Sword-grass (Agrotis ipsilon)
When the trap was inspected, this moth was rolled-up like a charred liquorice-paper (the wings wrapped around the moth's body making a sort of tube) and was sheltering in an egg-box.  The Dark Sword-grass (Agrotis ipsilon) is an immigrant and its Latin name means 'of the fields'. It is identified by the Greek letter Y (ypsilon) that can be seen as part of the kidney mark.  Can you see it? 

The illustration beneath seems to indicate that the hind-wings are blue, which is certainly not the case in Skinner's Colour Identification Guide to the Moths of the British Isles (Plate #25).  The 'Y' is clearly visible in the illustration so perhaps the C19 colourist wearied of pale-cream under-wings (correct) and decided to liven up the image with a touch of sky (wrong).  I was unable to check as it promptly took flight after this photogpraph.
Either way that takes the total to 320.


The photograph beneath is of a 2nd generation Snout (Hypena proboscialis).  This moth is much smaller and greyer than the first generation version - but its nose is still as big.  I'd better write a chapter on noses.
The Snout (Hypena proboscidalis)