14 September 2014 - Moth Progress

Mouse Moth  (Amphipyra tragopoginis)

We are seen as being a bit soft at Shandy Hall - we use humane mouse-traps.  The old house is seen as a welcome place to hide by shrews, wood mice and house mice and they are happy to inhabit the roof-space or the outbuildings.  Fortunately the traps are generally successful and, as long as they are checked first thing every morning, we can release the captured creatures at least a mile away on the road to Byland Abbey.  (Apparently they find their way back otherwise.)  The moth above has been humanely trapped and released as well and its common name refers to its habit of scuttling into hiding rather than flying.  Amphipyra means 'flying round the fire' and tragopoginis is the name of the food-plant : goat's beard (Tragopogon pratensis).  The distinguishing marks can just be seen on the photograph - three black spots on each wing, one higher than the pair beneath.

Another moth that has been recorded but not photographed is Celypha lacunana or Common Marble (see below).

Common Marble (Celypha lacunana)

This micro-moth took a while to identify as I used as a starting point the fact that in the photograph it has a green eye - which was pretty stupid.  Dave Chesmore gave me a near certain identity when I emailed the image.

Common Rustic agg. (Mesapamea ....)

The final moth - again already recorded but not posted with an image - is the Common Rustic (Mesapamea secalis).  It could be a Lesser Common Rustic (Mesapamea didyma).  It could also be a Remm's Rustic (Mesapamea remmi), but it would seem this is unlikely.  I couldn't work out which species this is without expert help.  The moth was very clearly marked but the pages depicting the Arches, Brindles, Minors, Rustics and allies (pp. 261-267 of Lewington's guide) are the Slough of Despond for the moth enthusiast, who can sink under the weight of possibilities.    

6 September 2014 - Notch-wing Button

Notch-wing Button (Acleris emargana)
Acleris emargana had made itself virtually invisible and I was fortunate to see it as it clung to the wooden frame.  The deep notch in its wings is not shown as clearly as it could be, but it is a restless moth and not easy to photograph.  The scientific name 'the unallotted one that comes out of (e) the margin' seems suitable for a moth that is not straightforward to identify.
A separate species existed when Humphreys and Westwood published British Moths and their Transformations.  The second species was known as  Acleris effractana (The Common Notch-wing). Later lepidopterists reached different conclusions and the two species were merged into one.  As recently as 2003 opinions changed and effractana was granted full scientific status.  You can see both as illustrations beneath.    

The Chequered Notch-wing (Acleris emargana)

The Chequered Notch-wing and the Common Notch-wing flutter over plate 95 of the 1843 edition with a caterpillar of the Mallow Notch-wing dangling from the painted grass-stem.
Effractana is also referred to as the Hook-winged Tortrix - so that gives us a number of possible names for this nearly invisible insect. 

I can't say with any degree of certainty whether it was emargana or effractana or which Notch-wing it was that visited Shandy Hall gardens, but whichever one it was we can now record 357 species.  Until another similar turns up, of course.

Common Notch-wing (Acleris effractana)

4 September 2014 - Orange Sallow

Orange Sallow (Xanthia citrago)

A Sallow Kitten (Furcula furcula) caused a flurry of excitement as I thought (briefly) that it was an Alder Kitten - but it turned out not to be the case.  In the trap, among the underwings, the thorns and at least ten sexton beetles, the theme of sallowness continued with the discovery of a Centre-barred Sallow and an Orange Sallow (Xanthia citrago) - a new species for the gardens.  The scientific name is straightforward : xanthos meaning yellow, citrago - the citrus (citron-tree with yellow or orange fruit) and ago meaning an affinity. The enormous lime tree close to Shandy Hall is probably why this species (number 356) has appeared as lime leaves are the caterpillar's source of nourishment.

Orange Sallow (illustration)

31 August 2014 - Woven Carpets

Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta)

The Shuttle-shaped Dart has been seen in York Museum Gardens over most of the summer, but hardly at all in Coxwold.  This is a particularly bright example showing the pointed-ends to the pale oval marking that has been interpreted as a shuttle - the weaving kind.  The meaning of the scientific name is open to interpretation: agrotis - from the Greek for 'of the field', or 'a countryman'; the second part of the binomial is puta which has a variety of possible derivations: 1. Puta - the goddess who oversees the pruning of trees; 2. pure; 3. from puto - to think; or perhaps from puteus meaning a well.  (There is another meaning in Spanish.)  Take your pick.

Our countryman is found in a plastic palace amidst Autumn crocuses until its release this evening. 

Flame Carpet (Xanthorhoe designata)
The other already recorded moth (but not photographed before) is the Flame Carpet.  This moth wouldn't stay still for a moment so had to be snapped in a collecting tube.  The Latin name can be interpreted as 'clearly defined yellow stream' - which doesn't really apply to the Flame Carpet.

28 August 2014 - Marbled Page

When I made Marbled Page (with Simon Elvins) a large print that includes all the names of the macro-moth species identified at Shandy Hall hitherto, I hoped that I would be seeing many of them in the trap during my fortnight’s stay. But the cold, damp nights have not been kind to moth trappers.

At 6am on Thursday morning we left for the York Museum Gardens in driving rain. The moth trap was under a chestnut tree, on a sodden white bedsheet, and apart from a solitary Angle Shades, its only occupants were lots of sleepy wasps and sixty-six Large Yellow Underwings.

If this weather persists, the print will have to act as a surrogate – a year-round, paper moth trap - with the moths’ names evoking the absent creatures. Marbled Page lies flat on a large table in the gallery and can be viewed from all sides. The moth names – carefully typeset in ‘Mrs Eves’ – are randomly dispersed across it and cluster together on ten circles of varying size and colour. Some of the circles have lines or grids drawn across them, just like the pages in an amateur moth recorder’s notebook.

Marbled Page (detail)

Post by: Alison Turnbull (artist in residence)

24 August 2014 - Moth Koyaanisqatsi?

Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner (Cameraria ohridella)

The nights have been chilly over the last week and although traps have been set in the York Museum Gardens and at Shandy Hall we have seen only a very few of the usual suspects that are to be expected at this time of year.  The beautiful Centre-barred Sallow has been seen on two occasions in Coxwold along with Feathered Gothics, Flame Shoulders, Flounced Rustics, Square Spot Rustics, Large Yellow Underwings and Straw Dots.  A lone Poplar Hawk (freshly emerged from its pupa) added another to the significant total of that species this year. 

In the gardens in York, however, there is a sight to be seen.  There are two chestnut trees near the Marygate entrance, both magnificent mature specimens.  I've noticed a number of tiny moths flying around one of these trees - the one with brown and curling leaves.  (The other tree [a red chestnut] seems untroubled and untouched.)  On closer inspection it appears there is hardly a leaf that is unaffected by the mining of tiny caterpillars - the Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner (Cameraria ohridella). The caterpillars feed between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf. The adult moths seem to be most active at 7.am when I arrive at the gardens - the image above shows them in flight.  This moth was first recorded as a new species in Macedonia in 1985 and it arrived in England in 2002.  It seems it has no natural predators in this country...

A number of moths use the chestnut as a food source - Brown-tail, Yellow-tail, Common Emerald, Feathered Thorn, Engrailed and Satellite to name but a few. Now, attacked by the Leaf Miner, the chestnut tree suffers another onslaught. Can it support so many species?  Is this an indication of 'life out of balance'?  

It's warmer this evening - we'll see if there is anything to be found in Coxwold. A return to the Museum Gardens on Thursday morning all being well.  

Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner

17 August 2014 - Dread-of-the-Sun

Feathered Gothic (Tholera decimalis)

The new exhibition in the gallery at Shandy Hall includes a contemporary print that celebrates all the moths so far recorded here by listing their names in a dispersed arrangement across the paper. On the very day of the opening a new species visited the moth trap – too late, unfortunately, to feature in the show but otherwise slightly earlier in the year than might be expected. The flight season of the Feathered Gothic (Tholera decimalis) normally begins in late August. Before it was renamed in the mid 1850’s, the Feathered Gothic was known as Heliophobus popularis, a member of the genus that meant ‘Dread-of-the-Sun’.

Perhaps it was blown here by a particularly wild gust of wind for this was surely one of the breeziest weekends of the year, certainly not the sunniest (our moth would have had no worries on that account). As we opened the moth trap egg-boxes flew across the lawn and the pages of our field guides flapped in the wind. In amongst countless Underwings was this early new arrival.

The white lines on the forewings of the Feathered Gothic might recall the tracery and architectural details of a Medieval church or, more fancifully, the soaring spires of a Gothic cathedral but its modern scientific name is more down to earth - from the Greek ‘tholeros’ meaning ‘muddy’. The Latin decimus – the tenth – makes it probably the tenth in a series described by Poda von Neuhaus (1723-1798) an Austrian entomologist and Professor of physics at Graz.

The strongly feathered antennae of the male help to distinguish it from the Bordered Gothic that flies much earlier in the year - we will have to wait until next year to see one here if, indeed, goths are to become regular visitors.

Heliophobus popularis 

Post by Alison Turnbull

15 August 2014 - Secluded in the Eye of the Storm

Dusky Sallow (Eremobia orcholeuca)

If I had seen this species before, I couldn't remember it.  It's not new to the garden in Coxwold as Dave Chesmore had identified (but not photographed) it on a moth-trapping evening here some years ago.  A strikingly attractive moth, it was quite easy to recognize although this was quite a worn and battered example.  The checked pattern to the edges of the wings had nearly disappeared and the thick hairs on the head can be seen to be worn - but this individual had survived the dregs of Hurricane Bertha so it is worthy of respect.  

The scientific name is particularly interesting in this light.  The Greek 'eremos' means solitary or deserted and 'bio' to live - this moth lives a secluded life and was originally scarce enough to be considered a rarity.  The latter half of the binomial refers to the colouring of the moth's wings: okrhos [pale yellow] and leukos [white].

11 August 2014 - Crossing the Alps

Elephant Hawk-moth (larva)

A surprise for Sterne scholar, Helen Williams, who spotted this creature trundling across the gravel in the garden at Shandy Hall..  Only the second one I have seen and in exactly the same spot as the previous time.  We put some enchanter's nightshade, willow herb and fuchsia into a large container (food-plants in case of hunger) and some leaves and soil which within 24 hours it had burrowed beneath.  So now the wait ...
The trunk-like appearance of the caterpillar gives the moth its name.  There are plenty of the brightly coloured adults that come to the trap over the summer, so it isn't a scarce species.

Hopefully now the trailing hem of Hurricane Bertha will have whisked off into the North Sea and we can get back to trapping.

Reducing the scale from the enormous to the scarcely visible - here is a rather attractive micro caught at the York Museum Gardens last week - Phyllonorycter harrisella or the White Oak Midget.  I'm not sure if it is the oak that is white, or the moth; or perhaps the oak is the midget.  Anyway it is a particularly stylish insect and can be seen below.

Phyllonorycter harrisella 


10 August 2014 - Harbinger of Autumn

Scalloped Hook-tip (Falcaria lacertinaria) 
The first week of August is already behind us, which means summer is nearing its end. It might be too early yet to declare the arrival of autumn, but we're certainly starting to see signs of fall all around us – the harvested fields and lofty hay forts, yellowing grass in the field and hairy thistledown.

The moth trap yesterday was colored with a tint of autumnal brown. Perched on the side of an egg box was a Scalloped Hook-tip (Falcaria lacertinaria). This specimen must be the second generation of the double-brooded species that appears in spring and early fall. It is immediately recognizable with its characteristic arched wings. Twin diagonal lines partition the wing surface; a central black dot looks like a period to finish a sentence. The jagged outer edges of its yellow wings are trimmed in black and resemble burnt paper from an old book, or a withered-away leaf.

The Scalloped Hook-tip is named after the reaping hook (Falcaria) that trims the harvest; it is also compared to the lizard (lacertinaria) that scurries across the dusty hay-field. It seems to embody every autumnal metaphor available. Its appearance in the trap yesterday is just a gentle reminder that we won't have to wait long for the arrival of other autumnal species.

The Scalloped Hook-tip is moth number 354 found at Shandy Hall - and the last from me. My time at Shandy Hall is at an end...

Scalloped Hook-tip at rest

Scalloped Hook-tip (illustration)

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

8 August 2014 - Disquieting Melancholy

Flounced Rustic (illustration)

The colors and markings  of the Flounced Rustic are immediately apparent. The moth's wings display a beautiful procession of shades: from the dark, black fur around the thorax, to the white lace above the central grey band, and finally to the milky ribbon skirting the edge of the wings, like a river. The contour of the wing is framed by a checkered band, evocative of the trimmings on a vintage dress.

The meaning of the moth's scientific name, Lupertina testacea, is more difficult to comprehend. While testacea simply means 'brick colored' (describing the orange color of a certain European variant of this moth), lupertina could mean two different things. For one, it might originate from the word 'lupus', meaning 'wolf', giving the moth a wild, ferocious association. One the other hand, lupertina could have been derived from Lyperina, a word associated with sorrow and pain. This word makes reference to the black and grey palette of the moth's intricate wing patterns.

Having discovered the connotations behind the name of the Flounced Rustic, I suddenly begin to see the moth in a different light. What at first appeared so charmingly elegant, could be ferocious as a wolf, and silent and melancholic at the same time. 

It reminded me of the song Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands by Bob Dylan, with a tone, it was said, that is 'at the same time a wedding march and a funeral procession':

With your sheets like metal and your belt like lace...
And your basement clothes and your hollow face...
With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims.

Flounced Rustic (Lupertina testacea)
The Flounced Rustic is species number 353 to be discovered at Shandy Hall.

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

5 August 2014 - The Footman Stripped Bare

Spot the difference - moth or melon pip?

The scientific name of the Dingy Footman – Eilema griseola – means 'a veil of grey'. This name fittingly describes the cloudy color on the back of the moth's wings, encircled by a faint yellow border.

The color composition is similar to that of the Common Footman (Eilema lurideola), but the grey is softer and more veil-like; the yellow border is thinner; the moth is more ovular in shape.

It was not in this guise, however, that the newest visitor to the gardens appeared. While the ovular shape of its wings was nearly identical to the picture in Richard Lewington's Field Guide, its wings were uniformly straw-yellow colored, without any hint of grey. It seemed as if the grey veil had been ripped off from the moth's wing, revealing its bare skin; or the way the moon emerges from behind dark clouds.

As it turns out, the specimen discovered in the garden was the ab. stramineola variety that is known only in Britain. In other parts of the world this variant of the Dingy Footman is unheard of, but in England it is relatively common. In fact, it's so familiar that it earned its own nickname, the 'melon pip'. This is a rather good simile – in the pictures above, can you tell which one is the moth and which one is the melon seed?

Dingy Footman (illustration)
In the illustration the moth (here seen dancing between forget-me-not and quaking grass) is recorded as the Dun Footman.

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

3 August 2014 - A Small Void

Common Roller (Ancylis badiana)

When the Common Roller (Ancylis badiana) was first discovered in the light trap, all that was immediately discernible was the silver ring around the edge of its wings. When the wings are folded, the back of the moth is covered by a dark, oval shaped mark. Under sunlight, the dark patch appears to be chestnut colored (hence the scientific name, badiana. 'Ancylis', on the other hand, means a hook, a barb). In shade, the central patch seems darker, murkier; almost like a void.

When the Common Roller rests on a leaf, the chestnut mark looks like a small hole looking through the leaf's surface. It reminded me of the old well in Shandy Hall Gardens - a sudden and deep sink surrounded by a carpet of greeneries and a low stone barrier. When you throw a pebble into the well, you can hear the splash of the water many seconds later. You cannot, however, ever see the water's surface.

The colors of the Common Roller's wings are difficult to represent. Artists and entomologists throughout the years have drawn this moth in very different ways. In Richard Lewington's most recent volume of Micro-moths, Ancylis badiana is portrayed from a side view; the drawing doesn't fully represent the prominent chestnut mark. In the much earlier volume of British Moths and their Transformations illustrated by H. N. Humphreys, the representation of the badiana (the only moth named 'badiana' in the entire volume) is even less convincing compared to the actual specimen. In fact, the illustration shown below (which is titled 'Chestnut Straw') bears little resemblance to the Common Roller from the garden.

Is there an error somewhere? Or is it a different coloration of the Common Roller that we're not aware of?

The Common Roller is the 352nd species of moth to visit Shandy Hall Garden.

Common Roller [aka The Chestnut Straw] (illustration)

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

2 August 2014 - Yarrow Conch

Yarrow Conch (Aethes smeathmanniana)

Some moths have names that are repetitive and confusing, while others are named rather exquisitely. It is a delight to pronounce the name of the newest Shandy Hall moth – the Yarrow Conch (Aethes smeathmanniana).

'Yarrow Conch' does not only read well, it describes the moth perfectly. 'Yarrow' indicates the moth's main food plant (the larva feeds on knapweeds as well). The white and yellow flowers of the yarrow plants also match the palettes of the moth's wings. The wings display a backdrop of shimmery white with patches of light yellow. Two dark-brown bands cut through the moths' wings diagonally. The prominent bands are interrupted in their paths by areas of white scales.

'Conch' has two different meanings. Most commonly it is a tropical marine mollusk. The mollusk has a spiral shell with a flared lip. The wings of the Yarrow Conch are far less flamboyant, to be sure, and folded in a simple arch. The space shielded beneath the wings houses the moth's body; it is in this regard comparable to the shell cavity that houses the mollusk. 'Conch' also refers to the roof of the apse of a church. The apse is usually semi-circular in plan. The conch, therefore, is shaped like a half-dome. This imagery reinforces the architectural quality of the arched wings of the Yellow Conch.

The moth's scientific name smeathmanniana pays tribute to H. Smeathman, an entomologist who traveled from Britain to Sierra Leone in the late 1700s. 'Aethes', meaning unusual and strange, describes the moth's yellow colored wings. However, at Shandy Hall, yellow colored moths are anything but unusual – Barred Straw (Eulithis pyraliata), Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum), just to name a couple. But in any case, we can now add to that list with Shandy Hall Moth number 351. 

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

Yarrow Conch (illustration)

30 July 2014 - Dark Spinach

Dark Spinach (Pelurga comitata)

Patrick and I had different opinions this morning regarding the identity of a rather bulky moth with fan-shaped wings and uplifted abdomen. Patrick reckoned it was a Shaded Broad-bar (Scotopteryx chenopodiata), just like an earlier visitor to the garden three days ago. I believed (and hoped) that it was a Dark Spinach (Pelurga comitata), which would be completely new to the garden.

Superficially, the two moths look alike. Both hold their wings spread out like a carpet; both display semicircular bands expanding outwards from the thorax to the wingtips. On a closer look, however, the decorations on their wings  display different characteristics.
The patterns on the wings of the Shaded Broad-bar are silky soft. The yellow band at the edge of the wing melds into a dark orange stripe; the orange, in turn, dissolves to a sea-green color. The wings of the Shaded Broad-bar form a graceful design, like the smooth curves carved out on a sandy beach.

Instead of the soft sandy shore, the wings of the Dark Spinach resemble the hard shoals on a rugged coast. The dark brown bands on the moth's wings are sharply divided from the beige background. The lines of division are harsh and uneven. The Dark Spinach's wing-pattern resembles the geological layers on the body of the rock, preserving the fault-lines as well as the scars of deep erosion. 'Pelurga', in fact, describes to the moth's earthen, clay-coloured appearance. ('comitata', the second part of the scientific name, means 'a companion'.)

Following a consultation with Dave Chesmore it was confirmed that the specimen found was indeed the hardy, rocky Dark Spinach. This means Shandy Hall Moths now increases to 350.

---Post by Bowen Chang

25 July 2014 - Knot-horn and Groundling

Phycita roborella

This week we set traps in York on two consecutive days, hoping to take advantage of the warm July evenings. The results recorded no less than ten new species for the York Museum Gardens. Of these new findings, two haven't been recorded at Shandy Hall so they haven't yet appeared on this blog. I will take this opportunity to introduce them here.

The first is the Dotted Oak Knot-horn (Phycita roborella). It is a micro-moth that belongs to the Pyralidae family. Phycita is a type of seaweed once used to prepare red dye. The moth is appropriately tinted red on its wings. The red patches mingle with brown and grey bands to cover the length of the moth's wings, creating a rather busy picture. Roborella, on the other hand, means oak, indicating the moth's food plant.

Bryotropha affinis

The second species new to this blog is the Dark Groundling (Bryotropha affinis). It is also a micro-moth and a member of the Gelechiidae family. Bryotropha means moss, indicating the moth's food plant. Affinis is the Latin word for 'akin' or 'similar'. In the picture, the black wings of the Dark Groundling are sprinkled with white speckles. A more prominent white stripe cutting across the wing completes the pattern.

Post by Bowen Chang

23 July 2014 - A Second Coming

Pearl Grass Veneer (Catoptria pinella)

Earlier in the week I mentioned that I had neglected to photograph one particular nocturnal visitor to the gardens. We had shown this species to everyone who was curious as to what we were doing in the gardens in York at 7am in the morning, to demonstrate that moths are very special creatures.  Where else (except perhaps at a Venetian carnival) could you find such vibrant, gloriously coloured strangeness?  The Pearl Grass Veneer (Catoptria pinella) is not something you can see every day -'uncommon and thinly distributed' is its status in Yorkshire - but once seen it is unlikely to be forgotten.  However, because of an oversight, we had no visible evidence.  We don't like to trap in the same location on successive nights - the moths need a breather - so trying to catch the released specimen was not an option. Fortunately, on the following night, another appeared from a different part of the gardens, as crisp and fresh as its predecessor.
The moth's scientific name comes from the Greek katoptron: a mirror; pinella: from pinus, a pine tree.  Named by Linnaeus in 1758, he attempted to change the name in 1761 to pinetella, but the rules of nomenclature insisted that the original name must stand.

So here it is, along with a photograph (below) which captures the moment of verification - thanks to Lewington's indispensable guide to micro-moths.  

22 July 2014 - Where's the Yellow Underwing?

Least Yellow Underwing (Noctua interjecta)

Martin Handford's 'Where's Wally?' series of books for children has been one of my favourites while growing up.  In the book, the reader is asked to find the protagonist (Wally) dressed in a red and white sweater and light-blue jeans, in a setting filled with hundreds of other people.  The sheer number of characters in the illustrations can sometimes be a little overwhelming, but one (and only one of them) is special.

Yesterday I had to solve a 'Where's Wally?' puzzle of my own - in the moth trap.  The trap was packed with Yellow Underwings, including the Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba), the Lesser Yellow Underwing (Noctua comes), the Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (Noctua fimbriata) and the Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing  (Noctua janthe).  I counted 130 Yellow Underwings in total.  However, only one was a newcomer to the garden.  It perched quietly under the clear plastic covering of the trap, its distinctive orange black-banded wings hidden from sight.  The new moth was a Least Yellow Underwing (Noctua interjecta caliginosa) adhering to the stringent hierarchy of the Noctua genus where  Noctua refers to the night, being also the name of the goddess Athena's owl. Interjecta means 'in between'; caliginosa means 'dark and obscure' - both words affirming the Least Yellow Underwings humble status in the family order being the most recently named, and smallest in size of the Yellow Underwings.

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

21 July 2014 - Like a Hare at Nightfall

Miller (Acronicta leporina)

The title of this blog refers to the first moth - Miller or Acronicta (nightfall) leporina (like a hare [in winter]).  The moth was on the outside of the trap and close to a Dagger (Acronicta psi) but was sufficiently different to warrant a closer look.  In fact it was a case of looking very closely this morning as the number and variety of moths was very encouraging.  We are waiting for confirmation of some of the species photographed before posting on the blog, but both of the traps (Shandy Hall and York Museums Trust gardens) were full.  A Ruby Tiger and a Catroptria pinella were highlights - but how did I neglect to photograph them?  Visitors to the York gardens were mightily impressed to see such splendid moths - we will trap again tonight and hope more turn up. 

Batia lunaris

The New Tawny Tubic (Batia lunaris) is a most attractive micro.  The origin of the scientific name is unclear - it is thought to be named after the thorn-bush (batos), but isn't connected in any way; or after Batia, daughter of Teucer, who founded the royal house of Troy.  I think the latter -it is more impressive.  

Both of these moths are new to the gardens at York.  We will be there tomorrow from 7.30am until around 10.30am if you want to come along.

16 July 2014 - Blackneck Moth

The Blackneck Moth (Lygephila pastinum)
For a long time, Jean-Francois Millet's painting, The Gleaners, formed my perception of the life of the countryside. In the painting, the peasant women are hunched over a wide expanse of field, picking up the remains of a harvest. Their clothes, from the brown apron to the dark-blue dress, seem to blend into their surroundings. You can see the evening receding in the background; you can almost feel the stillness of the air; and everywhere you can smell the odor of the earth.

If I were tasked to reproduce The Gleaners, but to incorporate a moth to the scene, I would no doubt choose the Blackneck (Lygephila pastinum) as my subject. The specimen we found in the York Museum Gardens this morning would fit the picture perfectly. 'Lygephila' means the love of darkness. It tells us the Blackneck will arouse from its daytime slumber to fly at the earliest glimpse of dusk – as if in restless anticipation of night. 'Pastinum', on the other hand, describes farmland that has been dug and tilled ready for planting. The wings of the Blackneck, saving for two prominent black spots at the centers, display parallel venations that resemble the fine furrows for planting seeds.

The only irony is that I first encountered this moth in the middle of a bustling city.

--Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

13 July 2014 - A Moth of Contrasts

Marbled Beauty (Cryphia domestica)

Yesterday we recorded a visit from the Marbled Beauty - a moth already listed but not photographed before.  The moth's scientific name, Cryphia domestica is a strange juxtaposition of words.  Domestica describes everything that belongs to a house : the hearth, the fireplace, the dinner-table, the softly glowing lamp and perhaps even the lichens on the outside walls which the Marbled Beauty feeds upon.  Cryphia, in contrast, describes the hidden, mysterious and arcane.  The somber colours of the moth's wings and body are the likely inspiration for this.  The outer edges of the moth's wings are defined by a distinctive band of black and white segments, like railway lines on an old map.  

The overall wing pattern is largely geometrical and reminds me of a Roman tiled floor I once saw in an exhibiton about Pompeii.  The mosaic had once decorated the interior of a sumptuous Roman household, but had been unearthed from the depths of volcanic dust.  It had witnessed vibrant society but had also endured years of silence and neglect - the mysterious and the ordinary combined. 

Marbled Beauty (illustration)

The moth (illustrated above) tends to run if disturbed - an unusual tactic.

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

9 July 2014 - New to Yorkshire

Denisia albimaculea

A new species for Yorkshire - that statement has a satisfying ring to it.  Thanks to Charlie Fletcher, Harry Beaumont and John Langmaid, the Yorkshire Museum Gardens can welcome a new species to the Yorkshire list.  The trap was set again last night to see if there might be another specimen to be found but, despite a good catch, Denisia albimaculea didn't appear again.  The main attractions (out of sixteen different species that workers on their way through the gardens could observe on our stall) were the Shoulder-striped Wainscot and a beautiful Swallowtail Moth. 

White-spotted Black (Denisia albimaculea)
The White-spotted Black (Denisia albimaculea) was originally known as Anacampsis albimaculea and it was reported as being scarce in 1828.  The illustration above is from Plate 107 of British Moths and their Transformations where the moth is shown very close to the gutter of the book, away from the other moths all gathered around a stem of yellow wort (Chlora perfoliata).

This moth might be just a speck but it is a considerable one.  

6 July 2014 - Small Dingy Tubic

(Borkhausenia fuscescens)

Last night we had an impressive catch at Shandy Hall's gardens – not bad after recording an impressive fifty-four species for National Moth Night the night before. This morning a Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi) was seen perched on the side of the trap; a Garden Tiger (Arctia caja) displayed its high-contrast patterned wings; a Regal Piercer (Pammene regiana), with its remarkable yellow crown, also caught our attention.

What almost escaped our notice became the most important catch of the day. On the side of the trap's transparent lid rested a miniscule moth that is hardly remarkable in any way at all – besides, perhaps, being one of the smallest moths we've recorded since my arrival. It was a Small Dingy Tubic (Borkhausenia fuscescens). 'Fuscescens', or 'fuscuous', means to be dark and somber in color. Indeed, the moth's wings appeared muddy and brown. Little distinctive patterns could be made out besides two pairs of dark spots along the middle of each wing. What finally betrayed its identity was the long hairy edge of its wings. In contrast to the elegant 'trimmings' on the wings of, say, a Silver Ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata), like an ornate Victorian dress, the hairy wings of the Small Dingy Tubic reminded me of the furry coats of a steppe rider. It's important, I suppose, for a moth this small to carry a somewhat hardy appearance.

So far, we've recorded 348 different species of moth. We hope July will continue to add new species to the list.

On Wednesday morning (9 July - from 7.00am until around 10.30am), if you are near the Museum Gardens in York, the moth catch from the previous night can be seen on our stand near the observatory.

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)