17 July 2019 - Moths go to School

After the moth release.
An early morning inspection of the trap was encouraging and there were a number of colourful species that might interest Year 6 primary school children. Persuading the moths into the collecting tubes and then attaching a label with the common name written on it seemed the best way to give the children some basic information.  It was the names that attracted me in the first place after all - so the plan was to include 'moths to expand vocabulary'.  

Moths tend to settle in the darkest part of the tube - next to the white screw-top cap - and that is where they are most difficult to observe - so a back-up of projected images showing each species more clearly was useful. 

Dun-bar (Cosmia trapezina)
This Dun-bar (Cosmia trapezina) did not represent itself in its usual colours of brown or ochre and this monochrome version was puzzling at first.  A common moth at Shandy Hall with a scientific name that introduces geometry, referring to the quadrilateral with two sides parallel - the trapezium.

Clay (Mythimna ferrago)
The Clay (Mythimna ferrago) seems to be on the increase.  Generally numbers for all species have been discouraging this year but The Clay seems to be doing well.  Feeding on dandelion and chickweed, or grasses generally, it is quite easy to identify with the two white dots showing quite clearly.

Bright-line Brown-eye (Lacanobia oleracea)
The Bright-line Brown-eye (Lacanobia oleracea) displays both line and eye - the bright line at the base of the wings, looking like very sharp teeth and the brown/orangey spot make it distinctive.  Both parts of the scientific name refer to vegetables, living as the larva does on the roots of greens. 

Slender Brindle (Apamea scolopacina)
The Slender Brindle (Apamea scolopacina) is not common in the garden and only shows its beauty with close inspection.  Click on the image to enlarge the photoraph and the complex patterns that can be seen on the wings are remarkable.   The second part of the binomial (the specific epithet) refers to 'scolopax' - the woodcock; the bird with 360 degree vision.    

(Aethes cnicana)
This was an unknown moth when it was taken to Husthwaite Primary School.  Two of the girls tried to match the moth to the appropriate Lewington drawing in the Micro-moths Field Guide they found it very difficult as the moth will not stay still.  Also it is important to help the children to understand that no harm should befall these hapless insects and they should be disturbed as little as possible. When I returned home I photographed it as well as I could and I am pretty sure that Aethes cnicana is the correct identification.  There has only been recorded in the gardens in the last ten years and that was more strongly marked. The photograph is not ideal as the moth is illustrated is from the side, but the patterns seem consistent for it to be a Thistle Conch (Aethes cnicana).

11 July 2019 - A Footman Awaits

Common Footman (Eilema lurideola)
'In early use, a runner in attendance upon a rider of rank;... a servant who ran before his master's carriage, called more fully a running footman.'  The Oxford English Dictionary also has 'A man-servant in livery employed chiefly to attend the carriage and wait at table.'

It is the second definition that perhaps gives rise to the common name of this family of moths - enrobed in livery as it might seem to appear.  The way the lead-coloured wings wrap around the abdomen bring to mind the silhouette of a liveried servant.  If disturbed this moth will throw itself hither and thither in short spasms of movement but rarely takes flight.  If undisturbed it can remain in the same position all the day long.

Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis)

A Burnished Brass is always a welcome sight to the garden.  Photographing it on this colourful egg-box gives it a rather different atmosphere.  This moth has two varieties - one where the burnished pattern is divided clearly (as shown above) and the second where the glinting pattern covers the whole ring.  There is a Slender Burnished Brass as well but this is a rare immigrant.  Feeding on nettles it is useful and helpful addition to the garden.

Parornix species
A long time was spent trying to identify this very small visitor.  The attitude the moth adopts when resting and the white markings on the wings seem so distinctive that it surely should appear in one of the field-guides, or on one of the moth-blogs.  But I couldn't find it.  Charlie Fletcher told me that this family Parornix can only be clearly identified by dissection and then I remembered we had seen this moth before - just here to be exact - when Jane Wu our UPenn intern recorded how hard it was to be certain which family it belonged to.

Beautiful Hook-tip (Laspeyria flexula)
For some reason this moth seems to embody an idea of excellent design.  The sweep of the wings, the placing of the double spots, the earth coloured tinge to the tip of the hook all combine to give the observer a sense of satisfaction.
The Beautiful Hook-tip was one of 23 species that were transported to Carlton Miniott primary school today for years 1 and 2 to have a closer look at moths.  Each species was persuaded into a plastic tube with an identifying tag giving each their name and the children seemed to find the whole experience interesting.  Now, returning to Shandy Hall, it is time to set them all free.

1 July 2019 - National Garden Scheme Moths

(Pseudargyrotoza cowagana)

Not a name to forget.  Certainly a very long name for a very small moth.  What secrets can be unlocked by finding the derivation of the scientific name? 'Pseudos' is the Greek for 'a falsehood' and the 'argurotoxos' refers to Apollo - the bearer of the silver bow.  He also had a golden bow with which he overcame the serpent Pthon.  If this moth is observed with a raking light, tiny silver scales can be seen on the forewings.  This moth had not been photographed before but was recorded by Dave Chesmore (moth expert and enthusiast) on one of his first visits to Shandy Hall - before this blog-posting ritual was born.  There were four of these little moths all showing the distinctive circular splodge of yellow on their backs.
'Conwagana' is a tip-of-the-hat to Conway, an 18th century entomologist who was a good friend to Fabricius, the most distinguished student of Linnaeus. Quite a lot of myth and scholarship for one moth to carry.

Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella)
I was pleased to quickly identify a moth I had seen only once before - the Codling Moth.
A full description of its identity can be seen here.  The little dots of tarnished gold make its identity certain.

Riband Wave (Idaea aversata)
The number of moths caught in the moth trap on the night of 28 June was a little more promising than the previous five weeks or so.  Many of the traps set earlier in the year have been empty - completely empty - and this is cause for concern.  Just over 50 people turned up to visit the gardens in the early evening (the best time) and there was a sufficient variety of moth species to provide interest.  

The Riband Wave (Idaea aversata) arrived in plenty displaying a smattering of spots on its fawny wings and also the characteristic 'kink' in the third band on the edge of the wing.  It is a very common and very delicate moth that just needs a quick observation and then released before it damages itself against the perspex.
Mount Ida pertains to where the Greek gods and godesses observed the Trojan Wars and the 'aversata' part of the scientific name comes from 'aversus' - belonging to the under part. Linnaeus wrote 'punctum in pagina inferiore magis saturatum' - the spot more deeply coloured on the underside of the 'page', the 'page' meaning the surface of the wing.  A very bookish moth.

Small Angle Shades (Euplexia lucipara)
The Small Angle Shades always looks as if it has just come back from a good scrub and polish and then has been neatly folded. Its scientific name refers to the plaiting and weaving that the moth's resting position displays (can you see the 'fold' in the photograph?) and the second part (lucipara) refers to the 'light brought forth' as a golden mark beneath the black/purple colouring.
The larva feeds on foxglove, nettle, ferns and sallows in particular.

This week will bring a trap on Thursday and (hopefully) a sufficient number of moths to show to primary school children ...

22 June 2019 - Cold Moon

Shoulder-striped Wainscot (Mythimna comma)
The moth evening arranged for early June was a complete wash-out.  The gardens open in the evenings and a moth identification and release has been part of the evening for near enough ten years now.  June is such an unpredictable month and the rain and wind this year seem to have reduced the moth population to a mere fraction of what might be expected.  Next week we will  have another attempt...
Meanwhile here are four examples of moths that are high on the list of those you might find flitting like fairies in the shrubbery.
The Shoulder-striped Wainscot has two black stripes running centrally down the forewings, following roughly the line of the abdomen.  A vein of white can also be seen that divides into two or three branches and a small white spot.  The caterpillar feeds on grasses, including Cock's-foot.

Ingrailed Clay (Diarsia mendica mendica)
Not only is the Ingrailed Clay (Diarsia mendica mendica) extremely variable in its appearance but it also resembles a number of other species just to add to the general confusion.  This example is particularly strongly marked and the white box shape near the kidney mark can be clearly seen.  The larva will feed not only on primroses and violets, but will chew its way through hawthorn, sallow, hazel and blackthorn.  It is very common and a regular visitor to the gardens in Coxwold. 

Heart and Dart (Agrotis exclamationis)

This most common of moths doesn't normally have such a heart-shaped mark to identify it by.  The dart too is clearly seen.  The Heart and Dart can be found all over the country and has two generations a year.  According to the Field Guide there could be hundreds in the moth trap - this was the only one.

Marbled Minor (Oligia strigilis)
The fourth moth that can be expected to be seen in June through to August is the Marbled Minor.  Another moth that has a wide variety of different wing colours and patterns but the one in the photograph is quite a good exemplar.
The scientific name can be broken down into 'oligis' small - hence 'minor' and 'striga' a little line. 'Stringere' means to draw and the strigil is that implement that Roman bathers used to draw across their skin to keep their bodies smooth. 

This blog dates from 20 June and there is another trap waiting to be examined this evening.  If there is anything of interest (which there is bound to be) the next post will reveal all.

1 June 2019 - Twenty-plume Moth

Twenty-plume Moth (Alucita hexadactyla)
Apologies for the murky image of the Twenty-plume Moth (Alucita hexadactyla). My excuse is that I had to photograph it in a plastic tube as it is almost constantly in motion - little darting runs, one after another and no settling down into a resting position.
This is only the third recorded at Shandy Hall, the last sighting being in August 2013, even though it flies throughout most of the year.  Here is a link to the naming of the insect.

Tinea trinotella
Tinea trinotella has a gnawing larval stage - hence the Tinea ('gnawing worm') part of the binomial.  The larva feeds on honeysuckle by making a small hole in the unopened bud and then taking up residence inside the vegetable envelope where it will stay, changing colour from yellow to red and then finally pupate.

Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda)

The Pale Tussock rests in a characteristic way with both fore-legs thrust out in front of the head and with its orange antennae sweeping back.  It is a dynamic and attractive moth that has a scientific name reflecting the fact that it is a beautiful (kallos - greek for beauty) insect arriving in (ear) the Spring. Pudibundus means modest; but it can also mean the opposite ie immodest or disgraceful with legs thrust forward in a rather shameless way.  The fact that this is the male of the species adds even more mystery to Linnaeus's naming of the moth.  

(Aethes smeethmanniana)
This choice of only four species represents a better night for trapping.  A warmer evening encouraged the following list of moths to take flight : Buff-tip, Single-dotted Wave, Green Carpet, Silver-ground Carpet, Poplar Hawk-moth, Elephant Hawk-moth, Common Pug, Brimstone, Buff Ermine, White Ermine, Heart and Dart, Common Swift and Aethes smeethmanniana.

The last moth in the list was described by Bowen Chang (UPenn intern) a few years ago.  Follow this link to learn more.

National Gardens Scheme evening opening at Shandy Hall for moth trapping this coming Friday.

27 May 2019 - Moths Survive and Arrive

Peach Blossom (Thyatira batis)
It is a wonder that this moth survives to fly into the trap.  The pupa rests either on the soil (or just underneath) during the winter months and hatches to be on the wing in May.   How such a delicate organism can survive on the surface of the soil is beyond me.  Make sure a bramble or two is growing in your garden as that is the food-plant for this moth.  

The caterpillar stays on the bramble while small but hides in leaf-litter when maturing.  This may save it from the becoming the nestling blue tits next meal.  I have been watching the adults feed their chicks in the nest under the lintel.  Each visit to the nest is accompanied by  a caterpillar dangling limply from the adult's beak - and the visits are like clockwork.  One adult arrives, chicks make frantic noises, caterpillar is taken through the gap in the stone, adult emerges.  The other parent bird follows usually within half a minute.  Then, often less than a minute later, the first parent bird returns with another caterpillar.  Is this a reason why moth numbers are down?  Head for the leaf litter, small caterpillars. 

Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina)
The Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina) is a common moth but not one to spot easily unless a moth trap is used. It resembles a piece of broken wood and it is not completely clear which end is which. Like the Peach Blossom this is another moth that has an overwintering pupa, the caterpillar feeding on aspen and willow.

The moth below is the Waved Umber (Menophra abruptara), a regular to the garden but generally only seen once a year.  Both moths are described in an earlier post (2011) where the derivation of their scientific names is recorded,

Waved Umber (Menophra abruptaria)
Small Square-spot (Diarsia rubi)
This moth is included in today's post as it happens to be a particularly good example of what it is supposed to look like.  On other occasions I have been stumped when trying to identify it as the varieties are many.  The small square spot between the white kidney marks is pretty clear.

Eyed Hawk-moth (Smerinthus ocellata)
As this is the resting position for the Eyed Hawk-moth I thought it sensible to photograph it with the 'eyes' not showing.  They are beneath the fore-wings and can be seen here.  Like the Poplar Hawk-moth this moth has feet like velcro and it can be very difficult to move if you should wish to see it more clearly.  Treat it with care.

Other moths found in the trap included:  Green Carpet, Flame Carpet, Small Magpie, Common Pug, Muslin (female), Willow Beauty, Common Marbled Carpet, Lesser Swallow Prominent, Brown Silver-line, Common Swift and a few cockchafers.  Moth numbers are looking up.

22 May 2019 - Blondin of the Bushes II

Nemapotogon schwarziellus
The photograph in the previous posting reveals that the measured moth is more likely to be what the Norfolk Moths website refers to as the Sandy Long-horn (Nemapotogon schwarziellus).  Charlie Fletcher finds this variety more common than N swammerdammella - which is good news for Shandy Hall as it means that is another species to add to the list, taking the number up to 438.  Herr Schwarz was a German entomologist about whom I can find nothing other than he died in 1810.  Apparently the caterpillars live in movable cases (rather like a caddis fly I imagine) for eighteen months, feeding on dead leaves.

Schwarziellus seems not to be recorded in Humphreys and Westwood but there is a page of illustrations that show both the 'metallics' and the 'non-metallics' of the species as some have shiny wings that glint in the sun.

14. Adela swammerdamella / 15. A. panzerella /16. A. Robertella
The three longhorns selected in the illustration are described as 'species with the wings destitute of metallic gloss'. The Swammerdamian (14) can be found 'flying in swarms up and down like gnats' during May and June.  The flowering stem is Rock Cress and possibly serves only as decoration.

PS.  Charlie Fletcher confirmed that moth 15 (panzerella) in the drawing was renamed as schwarziellus.  G W F Panzer (1755 - 1829) was a German entomologist.  

21 May 2019 - Blondin of the Bushes

(Nematopogon swammerdamella)
Pure chance that I happened on this moth at 6.30pm as it rested on Hydrangea petiolaris - a climbing hydrangea that originates in Japan.  The little moth has spectacular antennae and they seem to act like a tight-rope walker's balancing pole as the insect clambers among the unopened flower heads.  There has been only one other of this species recorded at Shandy Hall and that was when Helen Levins was here as an intern in 2012.  The scientific name makes reference to nema (thread) and pogon (beard); Swammerdam was a Dutch entomologist.

Not a new moth for the gardens but a delicate, complex little piece of the environment that although not uncommon throughout the county, will not be seen very often.

When I sent the image to have it verified by Dr Fletcher he asked about the moth's size.  If the antennae and body length could be recorded then it might not be swammerdamella but the somewhat scarcer N schwarziellus.  

I could only guess the measurements but decided that if the moth decided to take to the air at a similar time to last night, I would try to get an accurate recording.

The result (below) has been forwarded for scrutiny.  Two squares = 1cm.

Longhorn measurements

14 May 2019 - Studies in Grey

Muslin Moth (Diaphora mendica)
The gap in posting does not represent idleness on my part.  Traps have been set, Hebrew Characters (Orthosia gothica) have been identified and recorded but that is all.  It is difficult to compose an account of the delights of moth-trapping when all there is to be seen is a moth that has been recorded many times already.  The reason for this paucity of results is largely due to the cloudless nights and the attendant drops in temperature.  Moths don't like the cold - or it seems all except Hebrew Characters don't like the cold. However, last night there was a change and a Muslin Moth (Diaphora mendica) appeared.  An account of a previous acquaintance with this species can be found here  This moth's colouring is more grey than the brown that it displays in the photograph.

Bee Moth (Aphomia sociella)

In the house another species of moth was found clinging to the muslin curtain close to the window, as if in homage to our earlier catch.  A Bee Moth (Aphomia sociella) was easy to identify by its resting position, a pose common to the Galleriinae family.  Another characteristic is that this group of moths produce larvae that feed on the combs inside wasp and bee nests.

Moth activity is taking place in the gardens at Shandy Hall but it is not abundant.  Another trap will be put out tomorrow when the forecast is for a cloudier night.

21 April 2019 - Moth in Wolf's Clothing

Brindled Beauty (Lycia hirtaria)
It was a little premature to announce the appearance of the full moon on the occasion of the previous moth-trap. Good Friday was the correct date - and this moth and that date couldn't be more appropriate.  The Brindled Beauty (Lycia hirtaria) makes only its second appearance at Shandy Hall and this is a fine, strongly marked, male specimen with pectinate (comb-like) antennae.  The description of the first recording in 2014 can be found here along with the record of the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) - a moth very similar in appearance.

The Lycia part of the scientific name is derived from the Greek for 'wolf' (lycos) and the wolf is the animal that howls at the full moon.

Brindled Beauties [illustration]

The male and female of the species were drawn in flight for the Humphreys and Westwood edition of British Moths and their Transformations - another word we associate with the wolf and the lycanthropic state.

The Brindled Beauty is recorded as being a scarce and local resident in Yorkshire but it seems there may have been an increase over the last couple of years. 

Twin-spotted Quaker (Anorthoa munda)
This Twin-spotted Quaker (Anorthoa munda) is so clearly marked that it serves as a good identity image for this relatively uncommon species. Sometimes this moth will appear in a rusty-red version and sometimes the twin-spots may not be easy to see.  It tends to spend its time in woodland habitats and is the least likely of the Quakers to be seen in the garden.
When first recorded in Coxwold the scientific name was Orthosia munda.  UK Moths now identifies it as Anorthoa munda and I can't seem to find the reason.

Small Quaker (Othosia cruda)

The photograph of the Small Quaker is included purely because it is a particularly fresh and crisply marked example.  It has retained the Orthosia name unlike its cousin above.

The other moths in the trap included two Garden Carpets (Xanthorhoe fluctuata) that dashed off as soon as the egg boxes were moved; an Early Grey and a few other Quakers.

(First swallow spotted in Coxwold on Saturday.)

18 April 2019 - The Cold Moon

Streamer (Anticlea derivata)

Despite the heat of the day, the full moon and clear sky made the temperature drop last night and the 12 Hebrew Characters, a Satellite and this Streamer was the sum total to be found this morning.  The Streamer has been trapped, identified, photographed and recorded already and this link will take you straight to the page and a fuller report.  The two photographs are similar in that they show the moth in their egg-boxes.  The Streamer has a tendency to launch itself into the air if disturbed.  The other member of the Anticlea family is the Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) which was recorded a few weeks ago.

The weather forecast tells of even warmer days over Easter so I will try another trap on Saturday evening and see whether numbers and species improve.  Orange-tips have appeared after their eleven months as overwintering pupae and Brimstones flit around in a seemingly haphazard fashion - but it is moths we want to see.

9 April 2019 - The Missing Chestnut

Red Chestnut (Cerastis rubricosa)
The Red Chestnut (Cerastis rubricosa) is new to the garden.  It is a common moth and it is widespread throughout Yorkshire but it hadn't been seen at Shandy Hall before.  How can this be?  Most probably because trapping tends not to be as active in this still chilly month.
Last night's trap nearly didn't take place but with the forecast being poor for later in the week I thought I had better seize the opportunity. On inspection just after 6am things did not look too promising. 

There were over 60 moths in the trap and I carefully went through them all to make sure they were all accounted for.  Here (photograph below) are the moths after they have been persuaded to leave the safety of the egg-boxes and have been transported to the base of the trap with a soft paint-brush.  Most remain in this semi-catatonic state and most are from just a few species - Hebrew Character, Common Quaker, Small Quaker and Clouded Drab - but three were different.

Moths caught in the trap

The three aren't all visible here, but two are.  One is part of the cluster on the right and is a White-marked, the new visitor from last week putting in another appearance; the other is just inside the inner rim at about 6 o'clock.  That is the Red Chestnut. The rubricosa part of the name means 'having the colour of red ochre' - ochre being a clay mineral that is coloured by hematite, which derives its name from the Greek for 'blood'.  Sanguine or red chalk writing is one of the earliest in man's history.  This is a moth with the weight of history on its wings.

The fact that it flies only until the end of April probably accounts for why it has  been missed in the past as species can come and go quite quickly.  For example last week there were a number of Early Greys that came to the light - now there are none. 

There was one other individual - the overwintering Satellite moth which is one of the easiest to identify with its distinctive 'dots' or satellites on either side of the kidney mark.

Satellite (Eupsilia transversa)
We have already identified and recorded: Chestnut, Dark Chestnut and Beaded Chestnut. The 'Red' was the missing one and becomes species 437 for the garden.

30 March 2019 - Frosty Moths

Box of Moths

Before setting up the moth trap last night I went to that trusty source of internet information known as Yorkshire Moths Flying Tonight.  A list of possible moth-visitors to the gardens, woods, meadows and parks of this large county is there to refer to and I hoped that my memory might be refreshed and that I might recognise the majority of those found this morning.  What I did discover was a larger number than I had anticipated especially as the grass was frozen. 

The first photograph gives a smattering of what turned out to be quite a number of different species and a number of each variety too. I placed one of each apparent species in the box, checked its identity and then compared the known with the remainder - of which there were around sixty.  

Some were simple - the Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) for example. Straightforward to identify, I photographed it and left it in peace remembering the last time I encountered this moth it didn't take kindly to being disturbed.  The scientific name comes from Anticlea, mother of Ulysses, who was so distressed by her son's absence at the Trojan War that she died of grief; badius means 'brown or dun-coloured' from the ground colour of the moth. 

Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata)

The two examples of the Common Quaker (below) show how individuals of the same species can lead to uncertainty.  The markings on the moth on the sage leaf are rather muted compared to the one in the second photograph. 

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)

The Small Quaker is reasonably easy to identify as it is considerably smaller than others of the same family. The wings are lightly speckled with black and this helps too.

Orthosia means 'to make straight' referring to the line at the base of the wings.  It is also an epithet of Artemis, goddess of the hunt.  The second part of the binomial crudas means 'unripe' or 'premature' referring to the adult's flight so early in the year.  Milton's poem Lycidas which is a lament for a drowned friend states: 'I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude...'

Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda)

The Hebrew Character is common in the gardens at Shandy Hall and common throughout the county.  The name refers to the black markings on the wings which vary a little from moth to moth but are generally consistent.  There must have been at least twenty of this species and all looked freshly hatched.

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)

Hebrew Character (illustration)

The illustration from British Moths and their Transformations by Humphreys and Westwood (1843) shows the moth in flight.

Pale Pinion (Lithophane hepatica)
The Pale Pinion is not a common species and it was encouraging to find six in total.  Hepatica refers to the liver colouring to the wings which is not readily visible in the examples I found this morning.

Pale Pinion (illustration)

Clouded Drab (Orthosia inserta)

The scientific name for the Clouded Drab includes the word 'inserta' or uncertain.  This moth appears in a number of versions and is not easy to identify but I think this one is correct.

White-marked (Cerastis leucographa)

Finally - before the PS - here is the first new species of the year.  A White-marked.  This moth is exactly as the name describes, as you can see from the photograph.  Although lepidopterists have bred the moth in captivity, it seems that the caterpillar has never been seen in the wild.  Stitchwort, dock and sallow have fed the captive larvae but where the moth lays its eggs and what the larvae feed on, is a mystery.  Described as 'Local' both for the county and the country it takes the species count to 436.

Morel Fungus
PS  A surprise in the garden.  Could this unusual fungus (or truffle as some insist it should be called) be a source of nourishment for moths?  The extremely scarce Waved Black (Parascotia fulginaria) is a consumer of fungus so maybe this odd little organism has a particular place in the mothy scheme of things.

Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)

PPS The Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) has overwintered as a pupa and the warm weather has probably encouraged the adults to emerge.  The caterpillar feeds on honeysuckle.

That covers the first trap of 2019.