13 October 2014 - Cryptic Moths

Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii) and Brick (Agrochola circellaris)

The Chesnut is easy to see but the Brick has almost disappeared into the leaf.  Two good examples of moths that fly in October and on landing, merge into the background of dun and sallow colours and so break up their visual outline.  The moon was near full last night and the skies clear - the worst combination for moth-trapping.  The temperature dropped to below 9 degrees after midnight and the heavy, chilled dew all combined to make the species count a small one.  A Snout, Beaded Chestnut, November Moth, Angle Shades and the two above was the total. Sexton beetles and dor beetles have been common all year but even they seem to have moved into another stage of their life-cycle.  No more underwings.

Another trap in York - where it might be warmer at night - will take place very soon.


6 October 2014 - The Most Beautiful of Moths

Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina)

The forecast warned of heavy rain at 7am so the trap had to be gathered in by 6am. Fortunatley  the relatively warm night had brought a reasonable catch of moths.  A visit to the museum and gardens had been booked by a group of German 'garden tourists' and it seemed sensible to draw their attention to the beauties of our little environment after seeing the splendour of Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx Terraces.  What we lack architecturally we make up for entomologically.  The Berliners were impressed with the Green Brindled Crescent and the Orange Sallow and were suitably enchanted by the Merveille du Jour - the one that everybody loves.  Mouths were opened in surprize and delight when they realised the stick of wood had more than lichen attached to it.  

It has been recorded and photographed before (see September 2011) but this is only the third time for Shandy Hall. 

Marvel du Jour (illustration)

The illustration (above) is an excellent record of 'this fine species'.

4 October 2014 - A Hard Return

Gold Triangle (Hypsopygia costalis)

The warmer evening and night of the last day of September brought dozens of moths to the trap and a total of twenty species.  I am certain I missed a couple of shapes and colours that I hadn't seen before - gone with a whirr of wings.  Of those that remained there were Beaded Chestnuts in abundance with Canary Shouldered Thorn, Common Wainscot, Red-line and Yellow-line Quaker, Sword-grass, Green Carpet, Green Brindled Crescent and varieties of Garden Rose Tortrix. 

That spell of warm weather has now gone and this morning's investigation of the trap in York revealed a Yellow Underwing, a Setaceous Hebrew Character and a Garden Rose Tortrix.  A hard return for an early rising.  Fortunately the trap that contained the Pinion-streaked Snout also offered up two little jewels in the form of a pair of Gold Triangles.

By chance each showed itself in a different attitude of rest.  Triangular as in the example above and pug-like (with raised abdomen) in the image below.  The Gold Triangle is recorded as a common moth but this is the first time I have seen it.  Found in haylofts and stacks or in the drey of the squirrel or the nest of the magpie, this little moth feeds on dry matter, especially clover hay. The fringes of the wings are metallic gold and the richness of the plum ground colour is sumptuous.  

The scientific name refers to the costa (the anterior margin of the insect's wing, where the two gold spots are positioned) and the Greek words for a 'high rump' when the moth is at full rest.  Like many of the carpets and pugs, this moth settles quickly on landing after flight - two gentle adjustments of little wing-beats and it then stays as still as stone.
A new moth for the garden brings the total to 359.

The Gold Fringe (as it was once called)  is shown below, frozen in flight, from the MDCCCXLIII edition of British Moths and their Transformations.

Gold Fringe (Hypsopygia costalis)

2 October 2014 - Mystery Moth & National Poetry Day

Pinion-streaked Snout (Schrankia costaestrigalis)

A mystery moth both scarce and local.  What is the mystery?  No-one knows anything about the life-cycle of the Pinion-streaked Snout.  It is seen near fens and marshy meadows, perhaps often overlooked, and has only been recorded in the adult (imago) state in the wild. The larvae have been reared in captivity and have grown to maturity feeding on lettuce, but what constitutes the normal food-plant is yet to be determined.  This small moth was very active (the photograph had to be taken while it rested in the plastic tube) and after ensuring the image was good enough, I had to release it before it damaged itself.   

Releasing moths is one of the pleasures of moth-trapping.  When the fastening on the cage is unhooked after dark, the entrapped moths can be seen at their most dynamic and purposeful.  Their antennae are cocked and almost bristling with the information they are taking in.  The movement  required to take them to a good launch position is direct and unhesitating.  The take-off flight is fast and invariably upward into the dark sky.  A sense of complete liberation.

Scorched Wing 

Awoken too soon 
to a flame that drew him close
here lies Icarus

A moth haiku by Maura Dooley for National Poetry Day   

1 October 2014 - Overlooked but not Forgotten

Nutmeg (Dicestra trifolii)

At the end of July - think back to the summer for a moment - a large number of moths were trapped and identified in Coxwold and in York.  This one was temporarily forgotten.  Our UPenn intern, Bowen Chang, was stumped (he thought it might be Grey Arches) and I was stumped too.  It was in a batch of images of micros that were sent to Charlie to confirm and give a name to and it just got overlooked. Fortunately it was remembered and sent to Dave Chesmore who pronounced it 'Nutmeg'. According to the scientific name it should eat clover (trifolium) but it prefers orache.  The dicestra part is from the Greek word meaning 'a pointed instrument', a reference to a 'post-thoracic fine crest'.  

The Nutmeg is a perfect example of the difficulties of moth identification.  Until a species has been seen and correctly identified in real life, it can be easily confused with moths that are similar. Until the marks, shades or shapes of the newly found species have been absorbed into your personal picture-library, it could be any one of three or four varieties. New to the gardens at York (and not seen yet in Coxwold) this late addition is welcome.

29 September 2014 - Virginia Woolf the Lantern Bearer.

Red Underwing (Catocala nupta)

This is a near perfect specimen of a Red Underwing (Catocala nupta), a moth I have been hoping to see for a number of years.  Common in Nottinghamshire when I was young, I have only seen one other here in the last five years.  I read that it tends to be attracted to the lure of wine-ropes rather than the glare of mercury vapour light, but 'sugaring' (another term for the mixture of rum, absinthe, schnapps and whatever other boozy liquid there happens to be around mixed with treacle and demarara sugar and then soaked into rope and hung in the garden) is a method that has never worked for me.  Compared with all the other moths I have seen in the garden, this one is impressively large.  I wasn't completely sure of its identification until it opened its wings and then, the bridal (nupta) petticoat is displayed.

The underwings disclosed

Virginia Woolf wrote a gently satirical account of a moth hunt in her 1899 "Warboys" diary. It tells of VW (as lantern bearer) 'lighting the paths fitfully with a Bicycle lamp of brilliant but uncertain powers of illumination' in the company of the Leader wrapped in brown plaid and looking 'picturesque & brigand like; ... a female form in evening dress' and completing the company 'Gurth the dog member, whose services are unrequired & unrewarded; being the first to investigate the sugar & having been convicted of attempts to catch moths for no entomological purpose whatsoever'.   The young enthusiasts manage to trap a 'rare red underwing' which Virginia identifies before 'with a gleam of scarlet eye and scarlet wing, the grand old moth vanished'. 

23 September 2014 - The Greek χῖ

Narrow-winged Grey (Eudonia angustea)

Fore wings narrow, elongated, ashy-brown, with darker clouds and three whitish streaks, -the first near the base, broadly edged on both sides with brown; the second, strongly incurved beyond the middle (and between these three indistinct dusky marks, the outer one somewhat resembling the Greek chi, placed on a dusky space); the apical portion of the wing brownish, with an outwardly curved white streak, and a marginal row of black dots. Taken in London and various parts of Kent in June.  British Moths and their Transformations 1845.

Does that help?

Narrow-winged gray (Eudorea angustea) Fig 1.

Two moths from the last catch were new to me so Charlie Fletcher was given the task of identification.  The first remains a mystery - only dissection would have resolved the problem and the moth is no longer in captivity.  The other moth was easier though.  It had to be a eudonia or scoparia but I couldn't work out which one it could be.  The description in British Moths and their Transformations confused in its attempt to clarify and illustrations and photographs on the internet made it difficult to be absolutely sure.  Charlie gave the answer: Eudonia angustea (Narrow-winged grey) - the scientific name meaning 'the narrower one that rests on trees'. The other moth above (3) is Eudonia mercurella which we trapped last week.  

The other mysterious leaf-miner below represents one of over a hundred Nepticulidae, a family of moths that can often be identified by the tracks that are visible on the leaves of the food-plant.  This moth was tiny - not much more than 2mm - and very active and had to be photographed in a plastic tube.

A Nepticulidae

19 September 2014 - The Fields are Wearing Clear

Pale Mottled Willow (Caradrina clavipalpis)

The weather has changed.  Yesterday evening was warm and the relative increase of species to be found in the trap is encouraging.  More moths in the headlights on the drive back from the station. Bats, a fox, little owl and barn owl all to be seen on the six-mile country trip home.
In the York Museum gardens the results were better as well.  I have been placing the trap in a bed of shrubs near to the main entrance - partly for convenience and partly because all of the locations that have been tried, that one seems to be be most productive.  Moths that don't quite make it to the trap will crashland into the vegetation, so we will be missing a few as they will be too difficult to spot, but on the whole it's the best.  The Pale Mottled Willow (Caradrina clavipalpis) is a new moth for this blog - not trapped at Shandy Hall so not to be added to the list - but welcome all the same.  The scientific name includes a reference to the Caradrina - a river in Albania.  Perhaps a favourite holiday spot for Herr Ochsenheimer, who gave this moth its name.  (That river is now called the Black Drin.)  

The moth is delicately marked in quite a distinctive pattern - sufficient for me (with help) to be able to distinguish it from the Beaded Chestnut - and is generally associated with harvest time.  All is pretty much gathered in around here - the late-night lights in the fields have disappeared for another year.   

Pale Mottled Willow (illustration).

A couple of micro-moths were found in this catch - I've sent images to Charlie Fletcher in the hope that he can identify them.  His response will be posted as soon as I hear.  There will be traps in York on two nights next week, including one to coincide with Researchers Night.

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 regarded 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.