27 October 2015 - Wormingford Moths

Bottengoms Farm, Wormingford

Shandy Hall dates from 1430.  Bottengoms Farm is probably earlier, probably Saxon.  A period of time that allows a wide enough margin to encompass the ancient feeling of this spot, in this dell, down a track.  The day had been glorious with warm sun and not a breath of wind, winding down to a perfect, early Autumn evening. But the forecast was for a cold night.  The trap was set with the hope that surely something mothy would be attracted to the mercury vapour lamp.  Ronnie Blythe had kindly agreed to let me to introduce the moth-trap to this wonderful, luxuriant wild place.  I was anxious in case nothing was to be found the following morning. 

Deep-brown Dart (Aporophyla lutulenta)
The Deep-brown Dart was the first to be seen, clinging to the white sheet that had been laid on the grass.  It was new to me. I wasn't certain that this was the correct identification but I was sure that I hadn't seen one like it before. Charlie Fletcher confirmed and told me that there is possibly a Northern version of this species.  The scientific name refers to 'difficulty' (aporos) and 'muddy' (lutulentus) which pretty much sums up its appearance.  But it was also a new moth so was imbued with that special quality of not having been seen before.

Merveille du Jour (Griposia aprilina)
This moth is the complete opposite to the Deep-brown Dart.  I had already seen one in Monks Eleigh about an hour before and of all the possible moths that might be found I had hoped this would be seen at Wormingford.  Anxiety dispelled, the rest of the egg-boxes were examined and a total of fifteen species was recorded - not brilliant but far, far better than I had expected.

Turnip Moth (Agrotis segetum)

The Turnip Moth looked very spruce with its distinct decal markings on the forewings.  Not a common moth in the shadow of the Hambleton Hills but much more common down in Suffolk.  This earthy moth is seen as a pest of root crops - the scientific name making reference to the 'Countryman of the crop-field'. 

Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa)

The Lunar Underwing has been seen in all of the gardens visited this Autumn but this must be the most sumptuous of all of them.  The thick plush around the head and the beautiful palette of browns and creams made this one stand out.

Brown-spot Pinion (Agrochola litura)
'A smearing on a wax writing tablet' is the meaning of litura. A good example for a writer's house.  And 'of the field' agrochola. The author of Akenfield, Under a Broad Sky and The Circling Year (to name but three of Ronald Blythe's brilliant accounts of life in the countryside) has the perfect companion flitting around the old long house on Autumn evenings.

Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria)

The Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria) is a handsome moth and always a pleasure to see. The other species trapped that evening were: Setaceous Hebrew Character, Rosy Rustic, Red-line Quaker, Chestnut, Beaded Chestnut, Yellow Underwing, Sallow and Common Marbled Carpet.  I thought there was a Common Rustic as well but the flight times don't correspond with Suffolk Moths 'What's Flying Tonight', so one moth is unidentified.  [Wormingford is in Essex but only just over the Stour so apologies to the excellent Herts and Essex Moths.]

Ronald Blythe and friends with moth lamp

15 October 2015 - Suffolk Trapping

Feathered Ranunculus (Polimixis lichenae)
Sunday night was spent in Suffolk, just down the road from Lavenham, in the village of Monks Eleigh.  The weather forecast made no promises and even though the afternoon was warm, after a spectacular sunset, the evening turned chilly.  The trap was set close to a stand of bamboo next to a river with hundreds of willow trees on the opposite bank.  A check was made at midnight but the only sign of life was a small group of caddis flies using the rain-shield as a ballroom floor.

The morning brought good fortune and the sight of a Merveille du Jour in the grass a few yards from the light made the journey from the north worthwhile.  Some moths never quite make it to the light-trap and the M du Jour is one of those that can often be found on the sheet or just close by.  

The next moth to be seen was very prettily painted. The Feathered Ranunculus (Polimixis lichenae) was quite active as it was being photographed, making little darting runs rather like the Mouse Moth.  The scientific name refers to the mixture of colouring on the wings (mixis) and polus meaning 'much'; another interpretation could be that the moth is promiscuous (polumix) but this seems unlikely.  This moth has not been seen at Shandy Hall but it can occasionally be seen in North Yorkshire.

Black Rustic (Aporophyla nigra)
The Black Rustic has a powerful presence with its inky colouring and little white squints of kidney marks with just a hint of orange mixed in.  The moth feeds on heathers and clovers and can be found over most of the country - but only during September and October.

Red Underwing (Catocala nupta)
The Red Underwing is always worth seeing.  Two were found on this Monday morning, one very active and restless and the other much more restrained.  It is a big moth and can be found near willow, aspen and poplar and especially on riverbanks.  The trap had been placed in the perfect location. The moth that was released flew high into the air and found a resting place at the top of a tall willow leaving a flash of red and white in the morning light. 

Merveille du Jour (Griposia aprilina)
Here is that special moth, the Merveille du Jour.  Even photographed with an egg-box as a background it transcends its location and almost pulses with colour.

Another trap was set on the same night - in Wormingford.  As soon as a couple of moths have been passed before the eyes of the experts a full list will be posted on the next blog.

28 September 2015 - Leamington Spa Moths

Nigel Hutchinson with moth trap
The weather forecast was not promising, although in early evening the sky was largely clear, a waxing moon rising. The moth trap looking like an alien spacecraft touched down on the lawn. An otherworldly cool glow filling the garden like stagelights for all-night performances. Overnight it rained more heavily than predicted, with a consequent drop in temperature. In the morning only nine moths and two crane flies in the trap.

Patrick unpacking with care and identifying most moths. I realised at this point how conditional identification is, are they old, are they worn? Puzzled too that not all micro-moths are as small as their name suggests. 

Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa)

The Underwing family well represented. The Large Yellow (Noctua pronuba) with its buttery surprise flashes of colour the commonest. Lesser Yellow Underwings (Noctua comes) too, convincingly camouflaged. They may be curious to us and worthy of study, but to other creatures they're just food! Subtle details of patterning identified the Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa). Intrigued by this, omphalos is the Greek word for 'navel'. Omphalos stones were the 'navel of the world' where contact could be made with the gods, such as at Delphi. Is this the origin of the moth's name? Why?

Silver Y (Autographa gramma)

Snout (Hypena probosciscidalis)

The Silver Y (Autographa gramma), the Snout (Hypena probosciscidalis) with a clearly visible 'nose' much finer than the name suggests and the 'does-what-it-says-on-the-tin', Light Brown Apple Moth, (Epiphyas postvittana), fittingly caught near a Bramley apple tree.

Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana)

A Common Wainscot too, although its name (Mythimna palens) suggests a store of fables and more solid architectural detail.

Common Wainscot (Mythimna palens)

Vine's Rustic (Hoplondrina ambigua)
Looking no more aggressive than any of its companions, a Vine's Rustic – (Hoplondrina ambigua), named from the Greek 'hoplon', a weapon. Dusky, delicate patterning, why a weapon? In contrast, a Square-spot rustic, (Xestra xanthographa). Named in Latin by some romantic charmed by the marks of two 'kisses'?

Square-spot Rustic (Xestra xanthographa

Very few moths, but a first layer of stories and speculations.

Post by : Nigel Hutchinson

22 September 2015 - Caterpillar Interlude

White Ermine Moth (larva)
A walk in the quarry and Nancy Campbell's phone proved to be handy when this black bundle of energy charged across the grass pathway in front of us.  First thought was that it was a woolly bear, the larva of the Garden Tiger Moth, but it really wasn't hairy enough and the orange line down the centre of the creature's back indicated a different species.  We left it to its own devices but I wished a clearer image had been taken.

White Ermine Moth (larva)
A second example, later the same afternoon, was a little less frantic in its wish to find either more food or a suitable place to weave a cocoon.  The orange stripe running down the larva's back can be seen quite clearly and this seems to be the identifying feature.  During late Spring the trap attracts hundreds of White Ermines and they are always evoke a positive response from those who have not seen them before.  Gentle moths that are not easy to remove from the trap as they tend to just drop and remain as if dead.  The quarry must be alive with caterpillars at the moment but still not often seen.

18 September 2015 - National Moth Night Pt 3

Martin Huxter with actinic light
I peered out of the back bedroom window at the glowing moth trap in the garden and it looked like a carousel with no punters at an out-of-season funfair. It was nearly one in the morning on National Moth Night and the trap had, in theory, been luring the local moth population for nearly five hours. The lamp was surprisingly powerful and the blue-white glow picked out not just the leaves on the shrubs in my garden and those of the neighbour's cherry tree, but even the tops of the poplars out the front seemed to have a bluish tinge. 'They’ll be flying in from far and wide tonight', I thought and I was sure some of the early flyers were already in.

I went to bed fully expecting to dream about moths, which I did, eventually, but as I lay in the darkness trying to get to sleep I pictured the air around the trap teeming with moths, glinting like shoals of fish in the deep. I imagined I had a long, extendable arm that went through the house and out into the garden, on the end of which a luminous blue crab-like claw swished a net from side to side – trawling the air. 

I was out at eight o’clock Sunday morning to check the trap which I opened with a ridiculous amount of caution. To be fair though I didn’t want to lose a single specimen and I certainly didn’t want to crush one between the old egg boxes that provide dark resting places for daylight shunning moths. It looked devoid of life apart from two dozy wasps and a frozen crane-fly and there was nothing on the first three boxes I removed. Regarding moths people tend to fall into one of two categories: those with no interest in moths who might use words such as ‘drab’ and ‘dull’ to describe them, and those for whom moths are mysterious, poetic, shimmering and burnished. The former group is probably in the majority, and although I am firmly with the latter I would always find it hard to get excited about the first two rather sombre-looking moths that I removed from the trap. But my first glimpse of the third individual had me frantically leafing through my moth identification book. It was a beautiful, small, delta-shaped moth with a crisply defined pattern of three or four subtle shades of oxide green, pale ochre, and undulating thin white lines running across the wings, outlining and sharply delineating the main changes of tone. It was a Green Carpet (Colostygia pectinataria)

Green Carpet  (Colostygia pectinataria)
The markings were exquisite and I kept looking at it in its little glass observation phial as if it was a piece of Anglo-Saxon jewellery. After it had been properly documented it felt vaguely reckless to let it go, and I was annoyed when it flew over the garden fence and disappeared behind the neighbour's shed. The next one was also lovely: a rather graceful, pale coppery moth, clearly evolved to resemble a dead leaf. This turned out to be a Dusky Thorn (Ennomos fuscantaria).

Dusky Thorn (Ennomos fuscantaria)

All in all though these were not the rich pickings I had hoped for. Only six moths: one Green Carpet ; one Dusky Thorn; one Brown-Spot Pinion (Agrochola litura); one Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba); one Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa); and one Copper Underwing (Amphipyra pyramidea) - although this last one has not yet been confirmed and could be a Svensson’s Copper Underwing (Amphipyra berbera)
I was disappointed, and when Patrick came to record the results and dismantle the trap I felt a mild sense of shame, ridiculous I know, that my garden had proved such a poor moth habitat. He assured me that there are so many variables affecting the movements of moths that you can never predict what you will get, and that even over at Shandy Hall they trap next to nothing on some nights. I’m determined to get a better haul next time though and I may resort to positioning the trap nearer to my neighbour's garden and hope to lure some from their side too.

Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa)

Despite the initial poor results I really enjoyed the experience, especially the identification of the specimens, which for a novice is extremely challenging due to the tendency of many moth species to resemble each other very closely. Add to this the fact that key identifying features can be lost through wear and tear as a moth ages, and that there is often considerable variation between individuals of the same species, then it will not be surprising that my results had to be checked not just by Patrick but by an expert entomologist as well. But positively identifying a moth, having checked and re-checked a specimen against hundreds of illustrations, until eventually you can place the moth in its jar directly over a life-size image of one of its kind, is a strangely rewarding experience. It’s one of those moments when Art, Science and Nature are all in harmony.

That afternoon I started to think about the moth themed paintings I would like to do and the experience had certainly given me plenty of ideas. Back in the garden I started to see the patterns on moths’ wings everywhere, as if so much close observation had burnt them onto my retina. They were in the mottled greens and golds of rosebush leaves; in the colours of the overripe fruit on the compost heap; in the textures of moss and lichen and even damp paving-stones. Later, sitting inside and leafing through my moth book, looking at pictures of the ones that got away, then returning to the now familiar gorgeous wings of the Green Carpet, I realised that my own carpet was very dull and very drab indeed.

Post by: Martin Huxter

18 September 2015 - National Moth Nights 1 & 2

Canary-shouldered Thorn (Ennomos alniaria)

National Moth Nights took place last week and a trap was set for each evening. Three different sites were chosen: Shandy Hall, York Museums Gardens and the back garden of artist Martin Huxter.  Shandy Hall trap was rewarding in the variety of species that were found and a bright sunny morning to make identification a pleasure. 

Shandy Hall trap with Martin Huxter

Large Yellow Underwing, Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Brown-spot Pinion, Straw Dot, Lunar Underwing, Magpie, Canary-shouldered Thorn, November Moth, Silver Y, Flame Shoulder, Flounced Rustic, Common Rustic, Rosy Rustic, Eudonia sp., Mouse Moth and Hebrew Character. 

Flame Shoulder (Ochropleura plecta)
York Museums Garden moth-trapping on the following day was a bit of a wash-out - except for the Underwings.  There must have been over 200 altogether with Large Yellow and Broad-bordered Yellow being in the majority. There was a Common Garden Carpet and a Marbled Carpet, a Straw Dot and that was it. Valiant support from Tim Gates and Richard Baker made the process less of a trial in the pouring rain.  We crouched beneath the portico and hoped to find something special but it was not to be.

13 September 2015 - Poison Hemlock Moth

(Agonopterix alstroemeriana)  The Alstroemerian
The blog title 'Poison Hemlock Moth' is rather dramatic for such a delicately marked and innocuous creature.  This moth appeared as the bead-curtain in front of the door of the second-hand bookshop at Shandy Hall was disturbed.  It took flight, landed on the door and then flew to the tree peony bush and posed obligingly upon a leaf.  The markings are so clear that there is no doubt in my mind as to its identity and Agonopterix alstroemeriana is now species 371 to be recorded in the gardens. 

This busy, active moth feeds on  Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) where the scientific name refers to the Greek word konas (to whirl) which in turn reflects the vertiginous state that hemlock apparently induces.  As far as I know there is no hemlock growing in the gardens here which makes the moth's appearance somewhat strange as it feeds exclusively on this plant.

The Alstroemerian (Depressaria alstromeriana) with Mallow plant
The illustration from British Moths and their Transformations shows the moth flying away from a Mallow plant, perhaps in search of its poisonous preference.  Its name 'The Alstroemerian' makes reference to C. Alströmer, a naturalist who was a pupil of Linnaeus. The different first half of the binomial (depressaria) concerns a long and complicated argument as to the folding position of moths' wings, so complicated that I could dedicate a whole blogpost to it - but I won't as I still wouldn't understand it.

9 September 2015 - Plume, Veneer, Mullein and Farewell

Common Grass-veneer (Agriphila tristella)
The Common Grass-veneer (Agriphila tristella) is another of those moths that have been recorded but not photographed. It must have been caught in the early days of trapping at Shandy Hall when the moths were identified by Dave Chesmore (thereby guaranteeing accuracy) but the obsession of recording had only just begun.  So here it is amongst this little gallery of images that date from a couple of weeks ago.

Plume Moth (**)
The Plume Moth is a particular favourite but this one has slipped by without certain identification.  I am pretty sure it is Stenoptilia bipunctidactyla but I could easily be wrong as there are a number of these spectacular micro-moths.  I remember seeing a White Plume Moth (Pterophorus pentadactyla) in our back garden in Bilborough when aged about 5 years old.  It left an impression.  

Mullein caterpillar (and something else)

The Mullein Moth caterpillar can be seen bottom right but the main purpose of the photograph was to try to record the flight of the Hummingbird Hawkmoth that can be seen as a blur in the middle of the image.  Don't look too hard as it is not worth the effort.  The moth appeared about a month ago and was spotted by a visitor to the gardens who identified it correctly as it zipped in and out of the jasmine flowers.  The Mullein Moth caterpillar munched on the figwort leaf oblivious of its own flighty future.

Mullein Moth (caterpillar)

And now a 'farewell' from Ariel...

My time at Shandy Hall concluded with the smallest trap we've seen yet. There must have been only 20-30 moths in the egg-cartons, and they were all ones we'd seen before: Underwings, Square Spot, Bird-cherry Ermine, Barred fruit-tree Tortrix, Flounced Rustic, and Snout. This dearth of moths was probably due to the full moon last night, which was enormous and bright; it clearly overshadowed the smaller light source of our trap. But on the positive side, I was able to recognize all of these moths, and I've noticed that the amount of deeply-colored and strange-shaped ones is only increasing as summer draws to a close; which means the pictures you'll be seeing in this space will only get more interesting as time goes by. Included is a photograph of the moonrise last evening; it's the point of light in the left, and you can see the sunset on the right.

Post : Ariel A Smith [UPenn]

3 September 2015 - From Mouse to Monroe

Mouse Moth  (Amphipyra tragoponigis)

Moth: An insect with two pairs of broad wings covered in microscopic scales, typically drably coloured and held flat when at rest. Oxford Dictionary.

Such a description of Moths, in particular the words ‘drably coloured’, were exactly what I expected to find when the suggestion arose to catch some in a trap, in our Barley Studio grounds one summer's night in August.

Helen Whittaker and moth trap

The first moth to appear (see above) was found by Kennet Barley who delivered it to me in a sun-glasses case.  He had found the Mouse Moth (Amphipyra tragoponigis) in the Studio van that afternoon, before we set the trap.

I have to admit that my initial thoughts were, 'Mmm, those dusty brown things, usually dead and partially disintegrated, often on window cills - why?'  However to keep me keen I was told that there was more to moths than we realise, and to wait and see what our catch delivered. The question was, would any of these dust-bags really fly into our trap, and relax on the egg boxes provided until their photo-shoot the following morning?

And here was my revelation. Not only did we catch over twenty different species of moths, they were all shapes and sizes, and colours.  On close inspection, the brown ones were just as beautiful as the others!  They were all absolutely stunning, and very much an equal to their relations, the more celebrated butterflies. These moths were quite incredible to watch too, as they bounced up and down, heating their wings ready to escape. One of the most interesting facts I learnt is that some moths eat and others don’t, due to the fact that they don’t have any feeding mechanism. Their sole purpose as adults is to reproduce…

Ignoring this quandary, if one returned to this planet as a moth, the ones that caught my eye the most were:

Gold Spot (Plusia festucae)
The Gold Spot – the rust colour spoke of fire, and flames – often suggested as an attraction for moths.

Magpie (Abraxas grossulariata)
The Magpie – this moth had a bold pattern, with lots of contrast that reminded me of a stained glass window.

Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis) 
Mother of Pearl – simple and reflective, quite glass-like.

White Satin (Leucoma salicis)
The White Satin moth added a bit of glamour to the occasion - the Marilyn Monroe of moths.

Post by: Helen Whittaker [Barley Studio]

Keith Barley and moth trap
Patrick arrived fully equipped with white sheet, moth trap and a mound of torn up egg cartons. With his usual gusto Patrick proceeded to set the scene with full instructions. Little did I know of what was in store for my evening’s entertainment. As instructed I turned on the light before dusk and continued with my domestic routine. At intervals I went to view the activity, which increased at an alarming rate to the extent that I was mesmerised and captivated by the spectacle unfolding before me. 

Between the hours of 10pm and midnight my trap was like Piccadilly Circus with moths flying in from all directions, most crash-landing onto either my head, the top or side of the trap but more commonly into the mass of Russian vine (Fallopia baldschuanica) which has invaded from my neighbour's garden. The foliage was alive with the rustling of moths hiding from the magnetism of the bright light. Despite having passed the time when I should have been safely tucked up in bed, I continued to watch. I was amazed at the number of moths that once having entered the trap eventually found their way out, apparently no longer captivated by the bright light which had left impressions in my vision when I blinked my eyes. 

At one point I witnessed the one that got away.  It was large, had delta-shaped wings, like a Vulcan or Victor bomber and the larger hind-wings curled upward at the tips. It did enter the trap but disappointingly was not there during Patrick's ritual of investigation the following morning. However I was not to be disappointed for as we upturned the egg-boxes we came across a large beastie that baffled his knowledge of the moth fraternity. It turned out to be a Pine Hawk-moth which was surprising as I can only see one Pine tree from where I live.

Pine Hawkmoth (Hyloicus pinastri)
I have become familiar with scenes in the life of toads, snails, slugs, owls, rats and mice in my nocturnal neighbourhood, but to be introduced to a new hidden world of the night-time activity of moths has given me enormous pleasure and specifically justifies the reason why one should not need to spend your evenings in front of a television.

Like most things in nature I was once again astounded by the beauty of symmetry and geometry that have evolved in the patterns and markings found on the wings of moths.

Blood-vein (Timandra comae)

Keith Barley [Barley Studio]

27 August 2015 - Playing Dead

Pale Eggar (Trichiura crataegi)

Today we investigated a trap that seemed at first to be overflowing with wasps. At the beginning of the summer, we would trap out on the lawn at the top of the garden, but the wasps set up a nest there; so for the past few weeks we have been trapping in the quarry at the very back of the garden and it appears the wasps have finally infiltrated that area as well. Luckily, it was easy enough to coax them out of the trap using paintbrushes (they are quite dozy in the morning) and examine a catch that was, at last, not completely inundated by Underwings.

This trap was actually quite varied in comparison to what we've been getting recently. There were the typical Large Yellow Underwings, Common Rustics, Mother of Pearls, and other familiar faces - but there were also a few more distinctive moths, and the arrival of a new species, which brings Shandy Hall's total up to 370. The former included the Small Phoenix, Feathered Gothic, Green Carpet, Svensson's Copper Underwing, and the Centre-Barred Swallow. The latter is the Pale Eggar, an unobtrusively quiet little grey moth that we found resting on the side of the trap.

The Pale Eggar sits with its wings folded up in a little triangle, and comes in varying shades of grey. It has a distinctively darker middle section outlined by two black edges; a checkered border along the very bottom of its wings; and a distinctively fluffy head that almost looks like a furry cape. Its scientific name is Trichiura crataegi. Trichiura references its tufty and visible tail, and crataegi is one of its foodplants, as listed by Linnaeus - hawthorn. The one that we caught was no doubt unpleasantly surprised to find itself in captivity and at first attempted to play dead, but eventually couldn't resist righting itself in the container and allowed us to capture a few decent photographs.

Pale Eggar (Illustration)

Post : Ariel A Smith (UPenn)

25 August 2015 - Thief in the Garden

Cloaked Minor (Mesoligia  furuncula)
The last overnight trap in the Yorkshire Museum Gardens produced two species that are both new to me - the Cloaked Minor (Mesoligia furuncula) and Ysolopha sylvella.  I am waiting to hear from Stuart Ogilvy to determine if they are new to the gardens as well.  

The Cloaked Minor identification needed Charlie Fletcher's expert eye - I thought it was a Tawny Marbled Minor (Oligia strigilis).  The moth flies from late July to early September and the caterpillar feeds on grasses including Tufted Hair-grass and False Oat-grass.  The scientific name means 'little thief'.  The one we caught is fresh from the chrysalis and the markings are beautifully detailed.

Cloaked Minor varieties (illus)
The illustration shows both dark and pale varieties of the Cloaked Minor moth.  
The plant is Milk Parsley.

Ysolopha sylvella
A micro moth with clear and distinct markings is always welcome - you generally recognize it if you have seen it before. If you haven't then there is a good chance that the Field Guide to Micromoths will contain an illustration and present you with that gratification that comes with identification.  The Ysolopha sylvella above could have walked straight out of the pages of the Field Guide - but still there was a possibility that it could be Ysolopha alpella...

Choetochilus sylvellus (19) Hypsolopha asperella (11)
In British Moths and their Transformations (1845)an earlier classification can be found and the common name was the Wood Autumn.  Fig 11 was the Chequered Hook-tip.  Is alpella a later version of asperella?  I am completely stumped.