27 July 2016 - A Moth Like Agate

(Ancylis achatana)

The moth above, Ancylis achatana discovered on 21 July, has been confirmed by Charlie Fletcher and is also new to the gardens at Shandy Hall. So many of our new species are found outside the trap, on the plastic guard that holds the light.  If not there then on the white sheet that the trap is placed upon. It means I have to be extra careful. 

This moth looked to be no more than a speck among the many bird droppings on the sheet. I would have paid no more attention to it if it weren’t for the reddish tint near the tip and the unusual shape of the midbody fascia which is joined up with the first pair of costal streaks via a diffused, angled band. This species used to be more concentrated in the South but is possibly expanding northwards. It feeds on hawthorn and blackthorn. 

The name ancylis, derived from ‘agkulis’ or angle, describes its hooked wings. Achates means a banded gemstone such as agate, which the markings resemble.

(Tinea trinotella)

Captured in our trap on 23 July, this minimalistic moth is identified as Tinea trinotella. Its hallmark feature is, as the name suggests, the three (tri-) dots (nota) on the forewing – although the third one seems to have gone missing in our picture. I like the shape of Tinea’s. Everything looks rounded off; even the tornal angle is eased into. You wouldn’t expect to find a yellow Mohican  on such a subdued body, but it is there, just visible in the photograph; also its strange appetite for wool, birds’ nests, and animal matters. ‘Wool, Birds’ Nests, and Animal Matters' - sounds like the name of an Indie album. 

The moth has appeared on our blog before as part of a two-trap venture at Barley Studio and Keith Barley’s garden in Warthill, but this is the first time it has been found in our own gardens.

(Agriphila straminella)
To conclude, a correction has been made: a post from 2011 had mistaken a Crambus perlella for an Agriphila straminella.  A real A. straminella is pictured above.

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

26 July 2016 - Moths and Yoga

Northern Spinach (Eulithis populata)

The trap on 21 July also contained a Northern Spinach (Eulithis populata). ‘Eulithos’, of goodly stone, highlights the ground color resembling sandstone. This moth is highly variable and our sample represents one of the lighter ones. Slender cross-lines come in at one-half and two-thirds, with the outer one dipping twice to form a W. 

If you look closely, the two lines enclose a row of tightly linked round cells that resemble microscopic images of plant epidermis. Diagonal apical streaks and inconspicuous vein marks are also seen. The tip of the abdomen is raised. Bilberry is the foodplant, on which they can sometimes be found after dark - the name populata or poplar is incorrectly given as the foodplant.

(Caloptilia stigmatella)

The second moth on this post was caught earlier in the month and has just been confirmed by Charlie Fletcher as a Caloptilia stigmatella. It rests with its forelegs almost at right angles with its body and its head highly raised – ‘phalakasana’, if you do yoga. Also notable is the long antennae brushed back to trace the length of the whole body and the sharp tornal angle. The ground color is a rich reddish brown, with a triangular white patch in the middle. 

The name comes from ‘kalos’, the Greek for beautiful, and ‘ptilon’, meaning feather or wing; the name giver was probably impressed with the neatly colored wing. Stigmatus, or marked, refers to the white patch.

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

25 July 2016 - Arrowheads and Spears

(Evergestis pallidata)
Our next showstopper is the Evergestis pallidata, one of the bigger micros with astonishing markings. Shaped like a bulgy arrowhead, the creamy colored moth is fashioned with “hieroglyphs” in thin black lines, recalling for me the benzene rings I used to draw in organic chemistry. The termen is sharply delineated; an oblique and ink-washed streak shoots out from the apex. ‘Euergēs’ means well made and ‘esthēs’ garment – funny how we like to imagine these markings that are part of their anatomy (more like tattoos really) as items of clothes, e.g. argyresthia ‘silver dress’, the use of ‘cloak’ in several vernacular names, and so on. The second part of the name, pallidus means pale, and -ata a suffix for geometry. The larvae for this species live in flocks and feed on Winter-cress. The adults enjoy a fairly long flight season from May to September.

(Evergestis pallidata) The Grey Pearl

Here’s an illustration of our moth in the Humphrey book. I like how the wings are tinted with pink to suggest a pearly gloss.

(Helcystogramma rufescens)

Quite a different vibe is given off by the Helcystogramma rufescens. Not an arrow but a spearhead this time, the moth is almost uniformly reddish and overlaid with a light vein mark that branches at one-half like the Wainscots. Remember that thing where you try to touch your nose with your tongue? This moth does that very well, curving its palps all the way up to the crown of the head (don't try this at home). The antennae flatten out against the wings and are quite long, about half the wing length. Rufescens, or reddish, describes its ground-color.

Helcystogramma rufescens - Illustration
It is named the ‘dwarf wainscot’ in this old illustration, under the genus Cleodora. Kleodora, was a prophetic nymph, who could tell the future by throwing pebbles. Does the oracle foretell the incoming of more new species?

The number of species is now 387.

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

22 July 2016 - Bulrush Nibbler

Limnaecia phragmitella

‘It’s an upside-down Flame!’ was my first reaction to this moth, though in truth the two are nothing alike. Swayed by the four apple-seed-looking dots in a line and the pale tip with evenly spaced black streaks, I went straight to the Gelechiidae family, but realized that none of their dots had the right configuration. Knowing I was missing the obvious, I took a break and saved myself from what the Chinese call ‘drilling into a bull’s horn’, or persisting blindly, often to a dead end.

A casual leaf through Lewington's guide minutes later revealed its identity: Limnaecia phragmitella although it is represented in the book as having more of an ashy color and less conspicuous markings. Ours is a peacock compared to that one.

‘Limnē’, marshy lake; ‘oikeō’, to dwell. The generic name outlines its zones of activity in the fens and marshes. Phragmites australis, its designated foodplant, is responsible for the species name, though the real foodplant is bulrush.

Small Yellow Wave (Hydrelia flammeolaria)

I have saved this magnificent Small Yellow Wave (Hydrelia flammeolaria) for last because the grand, fire-and-water spectacle is a good relief for the eye after squinting at micros for too long. Not many moths have this lasagne of white and yellow. The Sandy Carpet (Perizoma flavofasciata) is one, but it lacks the black dots and is much bigger. This moth is about the size of a Small Fan-footed Wave and rests in a similar position, with both pairs of wings showing. My only reservation was about the shape of the abdomen, but it may have been just a difference between eggs and no eggs.

The juxtaposition in its name can be broken down into hudrēlos, meaning watery, and flammeolus, flame-colored. The dripping gold is more apparent on the wings of a freshly hatched moth, but you can catch a glimpse of it in ours at the base of the wing where it meets the thorax.

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

21 July 2016 - Very Small

Elachista atricomella

A trap earlier this week welcomed a new wave of moths, many of which I was seeing for the first time: Swallow-tailed Moth, Small Fan-footed Wave, a plume moth yet to be verified, a Parornix sp., and a new species confirmed by Dave Chesmore: Elachista atricomella.

Inconspicuous as it is, we still managed to spot it wrapping its wings around the whole of its trunk and limbs, lying almost flat against the eggbox like a beached seal. It has one of those neat labial palps that curve up around its face, and the entire forewing is covered in mottled grey. A white fascia is found at one-half and is interrupted in the middle by the ground color. A triangular white patch marks the angle of the tornus and from there diffuses down to the apex.

Elachistos means very small, and atricomella may be split into ater, meaning ‘black’, and coma, ‘the hair of the head’, although the second part may be a misnomer because for it to be the correct species the hair on the apex of the head should be brown, not black. The closest illustration I can find is under the name Microsetia exiguella, though here again the moth is described as having a black head.

Elachista atricomella (Illustration)

When the larva feeds, it makes a narrow white mine and moves from one leaf to another as it grows. One of its foodplants is the cock’s-foot grass (Dactylis glomerata).

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

20 July 2016 - Chalky White Moths

Gypsonoma dealbana
Tuesday's moth trap was sizeable in number as well as species, a few of which caught my attention immediately. Gypsonoma dealbana, is unlike any other ‘bird-dropping moth’ we’ve had so far (e.g. H. pruniana, H. nubiferana) in that it has a more extensive white patch that clothes about two-thirds of the moth. It is further distinguished by the oblong black dot in the center of the white, the orange quarter circle at the apex, and white ‘hairs’ on the head. I thought its name had an ethnic root but it is actually from ‘gupsos’, meaning chalk, and ‘nōmaō’, to distribute, both denoting the broad white fasciae. ‘Dealbo’, whitewash, reiterates this meaning. It is more active in the south of England so ours is a good find. The first sample in VC62  was not recorded until 2000. The caterpillar goes through several stages of feeding, first in a silk tube on the underside of leaves, then buds and catkins, then spun shoots.

Argyresthia retinella

This 5mm micro looked like it was in the middle of a yoga routine when we barged in with the camera, trying to tame the lens to focus. The precarious resting position has been achieved by standing on two legs, with its head lowered and abdomen raised. Like other species in the genus, the Argyresthia retinella has an oily, pearly gleam. The ground color is a silvery white, dabbed occasionally with tiny black spots. A shaky longitudinal streak runs from the base to just beyond one-half, ending in a blob. Another diffused dark patch starts from the apex and cuts off at around the tornus. Like the Cherry Bark Tortrix from our last post, this moth also flies in the afternoon sun.

Its name, ‘arguros’ means silver and ‘esthēs’, a dress, both account for the color of the forewing. Rete, a net, describes its netted pattern. On ‘Yorkshire Moths Flying Tonight’ it is classified as ‘scarce and local’, so once again, we are in luck!

Both species are new to Shandy Hall gardens and the total is now 385.

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

18 July 2016 - Moth Like a Butterfly

Latticed Heath (Chiasmia clathrata)
When you have an uneventful trap, like the one we had on 15 July, all you need is a moth like the Latticed Heath (Chiasmia clathrata, synonym: Semiothisa clathrata) to brighten things up. As its name suggests, the inky bands on its wings crosshatch to form a loose web. This impressive lattice is then capped off by grainy patches towards the basal and the outer end. This moth rests in two positions: with its wings flattened out or propped up like a butterfly. The larvae feed on clover, which is plentiful in the top garden. We are just in time for the second generation, which flies between July and September. 

Latticed Heath (Chiasmia clathrata)
Its name, Semiothisa stems from ‘sēmeion’, a mark, and ‘ōthizō’, to struggle. Hübner apparently meant it as a struggle for dominance between the light and dark bands – I thought about cells and the different lineages encroaching on and retreating from one another, giving rise to the controlled chaos we now see. A conflicted moth, then. Clathratus means furnished with a grate, same idea as its common name.

Latticed Heath and St. John's Wort

Cherry-bark Moth (Enarmonia formosana)

Drizzled in metallic orange and grey, the Cherry-bark Moth (Enarmonia formosana) is an oddball among the tortricidae which, as I now seem to complain, “all look the same.” This moth, in contrast, is instantly recognizable. It continues to amaze me how markings can exist with such precision on such a tiny scale. No smudging, no spillover; it is as if someone had made a work of inlay out of all the different colored scales and delineated them with gold wires. Something else it reminds me of, the contrasting black and gold – lacquer, maybe. The moth gave every appearance of being docile; not budging when prompted to move, then all of a sudden it shot out into the air and disappeared, leaving us with this one photograph of its effervescent beauty.

Cherry-bark Moth (illustration)

In the Humphrey's book of illustration, this moth comes under a completely different name: Carpocapsa woeberana (The Weberian). Fig 7 shows the adult, Fig 8 the larva. The red-headed green caterpillar feeds beneath the bark of fruit trees, especially where wounded or loose, thereby causing the plant to decay.
The chrysalis is shown in Figs 9, 10, and 11. 

Cherry-bark Moth caterpillar and pupae

Enarmonios means ‘in harmony’ and formosus ‘beautiful’ – a generous compliment if you compare it to some pretty derogatory names like D. mendica (Ingrailed Clay), meaning a bland-looking beggar. It likes to fly in afternoon and evening sunshine, so these past few days must have done it good. I imagine it in all its radiance flying toward the sun, becoming one with it…

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

17 July 2016 - Wings and Shears

Donacaula forficella

A busy trap on 11 July yielded a total of 58 species. At least two new species were recorded, including one that had only been recorded twice in our part of North Yorkshire (VC62) previously. A couple are still awaiting confirmation so stay tuned for more possible new ones! 

Pictured above is the uncommon Donacaula forficella. The first record of this moth in our area was made in 2008. After putting in an appearance in 2010, it seemed to have deserted the area altogether – until today. Its hallmarks are the long palpa, the apical streak, and the black dot at two-thirds. Its name comes from ‘donax’, Greek for reeds, and ‘aulē’, a courtyard or dwelling place, both denoting the habitat of its founding species – reed is also the larval foodplant but that was not known until later. Forfex means a pair of shears, which I thought was a description of the oblique streaks but is actually referring to the resting position where the wings overlap slightly, resembling the blades of a pair of scissors. Tellingly, the name forficella was conceived in 1794, long before the creation of the genus in 1890. This means our moth once belonged to another genus. The illustration below shows it under the genus Chilo, which at that time possessed five species but had since dwindled down to one.

Donacaula forficella

Also new to us is the Freyer’s Pug (Eupithecia intricate arceuthata). Getting this identification right was complicated. Apart from the raised, dotted, and slightly brownish abdomen and the white and wavy subterminal line, there didn’t seem much to go on. But, here it is, its wing-flat resting state echoing the gliders that pass over here sometimes. As mentioned before, this elegant repose is characteristic of the genus and is graced with the name eupithecia, literally, a ‘goodly dwarf’. Intricata or Intricatus denotes the unusually high number of bands on its forewing, although to me all members of the pug family seem mind-bendingly intricate. It is one of three subspecies of E. intricata, along with the Edinburgh Pug and the Mere’s Pug. It is a bit strange to find one now because the flight period is listed as May-June.

Freyer's Pug (Eupithecia intricate arceuthata)

Both moths have been confirmed by Dave Chesmore and can be happily added to our list which now has 381 species.

Post : Tung Chau (UPenn)

15 July 2016 - Gothic in Dead of Night

Gothic (Naeina typica)

Today we had a visit from a Gothic (Naenia typica), which brought all the medieval terms to mind as I tried to pin down what it is exactly about this moth that makes it “Gothic”. 

The left tower of Notre Dame de Chartres appears before me with its soaring spire and jewel-box-like exterior. Is it the branching vein lines that remind me of the openwork on the arches? Or is it better to liken those to the radiating petals on a rose window, each delineated by a thin black border? Or, rather, should I take them to be rib vaults intersecting at the keystone that is the oval mark? 

The longer I look at it, the more I am captivated by the beautiful netted effect of markings and the dark shading. Bowen (UPenn intern 2014) has written beautifully about the mythical origins of its scientific name (a reference to Naenia, the Roman goddess of funerals) and its hermitic behaviour. This moth is not easily attracted to light (no vampire reference there) and is drawn instead to sugar as part of its feeding habit.

This moth has been seen once before in the York Museum Garden in 2014, but it had not been seen on home ground. So join me in welcoming species number 379.

11 July 2016 - Spot the Difference

(Eudonia mercurella)
Last Thursday we had one of the most productive traps since I arrived. An impressive 45 species including Clay, Agapeta hamana, Aethes rubiferana, Dark Arches, Green Pug, and the majestic Garden Tiger were captured. This made a stark contrast to the night before, where the only notable finding was a Purple Clay. A good number of Barred Straw, Udea Olivalis, Silver Y, and Silver-ground Carpet were fluttering about upsetting all the others, so we might have lost a couple species before they could be identified.

Garden Tiger Moth (Arctia caja)

A series of coincidences led to my cousin unearthing a Burberry 2013 F/W design that I could swear was a tribute to the Garden Tiger. Recalling Valentino’s “Camubutterfly” line in 2014, I wondered if it could be another bout of Lepidoptera invasion of the fashion industry. The official claim, however, let us down in saying that they took their print from giraffes – Giraffes! Our moth’s association with other animals does not stop there. Its scientific name Arctia caja is derived from ‘arktos’, meaning a bear, named for the hairy appearance of its larva. Caja is the female form of the Roman name Caius, as in Caius Julius Caesar.

Red Barred Tortrix (Ditula augustiorana)

The Red-barred Tortrix (Ditula augustiorana) has been recorded once before in 2012 but not properly photographed. This moth is so energetic and loves to dart around so much that even today’s photograph had to be taken with extra caution. It is one of the few micros listed as “Grade 1” on Flying Tonight, meaning it is easily identifiable even to inexperienced observers. The characteristic bold, viewfinder-like spot on its dorsum gives it away, as does the reddish-brown cross-band halfway down the body.

Marbled Orchard Tortrix (Hedya nubiferana)
Plum Tortrix (Hedya pruniana)

We were also presented with some tricky, spot-the-difference type of exercises. Suspecting they might be different species, I submitted the following pairs to Charlie Fletcher, who confirmed that they are indeed different. Out of the two Hedya’s, one is a pruniana (Plum Tortrix) and the other possibly a nubiferana (Marbled Orchard Tortrix). The latter is usually longer-winged, but the rest of the markings are hard to tell apart. The other pair (lucky I checked) turned out to be from different genera: one is a Scoparia pyralella and the other a Eudonia mercurella. The two are of similar size and shape, but the S. pyralella has a orange-brown tint that is absent in the E. mercurella. The latter supposedly has a broad X in between the termen and the second cross-line, which I failed to see.

(Scoparia pyralella)

Post : Tung Chau (UPenn)

7 July 2016 - Painter's Palette

Barred Yellow (Cidaria fulvata)

Today’s trap looked like a painter’s palette. A stunning 38 species responded to the call of warm weather and perched, seemingly content, on the egg boxes in the trap. Once again, Ermines, Minors, Golden and Silver Y’s, Heart and Dart, and Silver-ground Carpet proved themselves to be regular visitors. Catching up in numbers are Barred Straw, Snout, Large Yellow-underwing, and Small Dotted Buff. Species that occurred only sporadically in the past month all decided to check back in today – Lychnis, Riband Wave, Common Footman, Rivulet, plus a good variety of micros: Epiblema trimaculana, Eucosma cana, Udea Olivalis, Celypha laculana, Garden Pebble, Garden Grass Veneer, and Plum Tortrix. 

In the spirit of our upcoming exhibition in which artists are asked to represent their version of ideal beauty, this blog will focus on the painterly moths. Named after the agricultural goddess Ceres, the flashy Barred Yellow (Cidaria fulvata) resembles a cartoony foxtail with its rich orange hue and brushy white apex. Unmistakable as a masterpiece, this moth is a delight to identify. It passes the winter as an egg on the foodplant (a wide range of roses) and hatches May-June into a jade-colored caterpillar.

Clouded Border (Lomaspilis marginata)

On second thought, who needs color to impress? This is the statement made by the Clouded Border (Lomaspilis marginata), which resembles an atonal black and white Robert Motherwell painting. The “clouds” refer to the thick, meandering dark border which comes in, as its scientific name suggests, hems (loma) and spots (spilos). Jane Wu (earlier UPenn intern) compared the pattern to a Rorschach inkblot test, which I thought was brilliant because in this test, as in cloud-watching, we see what our mind wants us to see.

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

4 July 2016 - National Moth Scheme

Dave Chesmore identifying moths
“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” So I was told by Dave Chesmore, who kindly showed up on National Garden Scheme Day to help us identify moths caught the previous night. It was a perfect description of the schizophrenic shuffle between pouring rain and blinding sun we have been getting. We had decided to set two traps instead of one to ensure the best variety and number. During one of the longer sunny spells, some twenty people hovered around the trap to see what we had managed to attract.

Figure of 80 (Tethea ocularis octogesimea)

A total of 26 species were identified and passed around the group. Beautiful and Plain Golden Y, Heart and Dart, Buff Ermine, Marbled Minor, Middle-barred Minor, and Silver-ground Carpet came in multiples. Just starting to pick up in numbers – Large yellow-underwing, Garden Grass Veneer, Light Emerald, and Common Wave. And the rest of our showstoppers – Barred Straw, Snout, Brimstone Moth, Silver Y, Small Fanfoot, Peppered Moth, Willow Beauty, Buff Arches, Flame, Common Swift, Burnished Brass, Figure of Eighty, and Flame Shoulder. A Ghost Moth was found in the tent over our trap in the top garden that morning but did not stay long enough to meet the crowd’s gaze.

The Figure of Eighty (Tethea ocularis octogesimea) is one of the moths that I remember from my first look at the Lewington illustrated field guide. Everything about this moth (except perhaps the photograph above which I took of the markings - at the worst possible angle) seems to be in service of the ‘80’: the subdued sepia ground color, the central cross-lines that sandwich the number, the scientific name octogesimus meaning ‘eightieth’, and the cylindrical resting position, all point to the figure in white. It is described as having a rosy tint, which is much faded in our sample.

Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria)

A pageant is brought on by our two Beauties. The Mottled Beauty (Alcis repandata) is new to me and makes a good comparison to the Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria), which has an outer cross-line that is more zigzag toward the leading edge and splits into tiny dots on each vein. The Mottled Beauty, in contrast, has a smoother outer cross-line that dips twice as it goes toward the leading edge, forming a fat W. The Mottled Beauty was one of the few that visited our trap in the top garden, quite some distance from its cousin the Willow Beauty in the quarry trap. The former also flies earlier in the season (June-July). Despite their resemblance, the two actually belong to different genus: Alcis is the name of a daughter of Aegyptus, the Egyptian king who was born to the heifer maiden, lo, and the river-god Nilus; she had 50 brothers. Peribatodes is from ‘peri’ which means ‘round’ and ‘batōdēs’, overgrown with thorns, probably describing its habitat.

Green Arches (illustration)

Also new to me is the Green Arches (Anaplectoides prasina). As the name prasina (leek-green) suggests, its brilliant green color stands out against the clay ochre of the others. It was first recorded here in 2012 by Helen Levins and made another appearance last year around this time. I could have sworn I snapped an image of it for identification but later realized that that was done in my head, not on the camera…So, to make up for it, here (above) is an illustration of our moth under the name Polia herbida.

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

30 June 2016 - Eggs Hatch

Commom Marbled Carpet caterpillars on clover.
What is known about the Common Marbled Carpet?

The guides inform that the moth has two generations, May-June and late August-early October. It visits the flowers of Ivy and over-ripe blackberries.  When the eggs are laid we now know that they hatch after 23 days and the emerging caterpillars seem to be happy munching  on clover.  The caterpillars are very small, cream-coloured and move in a looping fashion.  Each 'step' is a waving, questing, searching process with the head as far in front of the body as possible.  When new contact is made with the fore-legs, the rear claspers are brought up behind to form a neat inverted U-shape.  The movement is surprisingly rapid. When the caterpillar is at rest it tucks its head into its body and adopts the shape of a question mark. The larvae are precise and neat.

The menu for the Common Marbled Carpet caterpillar is varied : bramble, bilberry, birch, sallow, privet, hawthorn and dock.  We will encourage a taste for the last food plant mentioned as soon as they have grown a little. 

29 June 2016 - Overlooked Little Moth

Small Dotted Buff (Photedes minima)

Strangely enough, the Small Dotted Buff (Photedes minima) has been recorded here before but no-one has photographed or recorded it properly on the blog. A delicate, creamy creature, it has a distinctive arrangement of black dots along the central cross-lines: a straight inner row and an outer row that curls into a question mark. It is common and widespread, which is probably why Jane Wu (U Penn intern) caught 29 of them in one night in 2013.

Like an overly enthusiastic child, it fluttered all around the garden and had us adults chasing after it. So what better name for it than Photedes, ‘phōs’ meaning light and ‘ēdos’, delight, echoing its cheerful play in the day? It is even childlike in size, which is hinted by the second part of its name minimus meaning ‘smallest’. Here this species is being compared to other members of the genus Noctua, among whom ours is indeed a midget. In the early 19th century, it was claimed to be an uncommon moth and was once grouped to the genus Acosmetia, which has now shrunk to just one species. The illustration below shows our moth in flight.

Small Dotted Buff (illustration)

Aside from that, today’s trap largely replicated the one from yesterday, showing a decline in the number of Silver-ground Carpet and Poplar Hawk-moths while keeping up a steady supply of Burnished Brass, Large Yellow Underwing, Marbled Minor, and Middle-barred Minor. We had hoped for more micros to show but the cold last night must have dampened their spirit.

Moth identification and release at Shandy Hall on Friday 1 July.  Gardens open for National Garden Scheme from 5.30.

27 June 2016 - Difficult Identification

(Phycitodes maritima)
This moth was captured on 25 June. It has greyish silver wings, ‘seeded’ at one-half and two-thirds down, and palps that curve around clayish black eyes. I believed that I had identified it as a Phycitodes maritima, but because of the poor condition of the insect I could not get a solid confirmation from Charlie Fletcher, who nonetheless said that maritima is more than likely to be correct. Whether it counts as our 378th species or not, it is definitely worth an honorary mention as no member of the Phycitodes genus has been recorded at Shandy Hall before.

Phycitodes maritima (top view)

Created in 1917, the genus Phycitodes is a fairly new one. ‘Eidos’ or the prefix ‘od-‘ means form or shape, so Phycitodes means a genus resembling Phycita. The latter’s name is taken from ‘phukos’, a sea-weed from which a red dye was prepared, or ‘phykītis’, a precious stone showing the same color. This can be confusing as the our species is by no means red and can only be said to resemble the other in the shape of its labial palpa, the way its wings are folded, and the presence of black dots. When looking up the illustration for it, I found that the genus Phycita used to be a lot bigger and encompassed species which are now considered very much akin to ours, such as Homoeosoma nebulella and Phycitodes binaevella. So, here is a plate of all the Phycita’s! And you can try to guess which one is our maritima.

Other moths in the trap were also difficult to identify and it took some serious squinting to make out a P. perlucidalis, a S. ambigualis, and a Small Square-spot. Buff Arches and Riband Wave were also nice finds as they were new to me.

On Friday evening (1 July) the gardens at Shandy Hall are open for the National Garden Scheme. We will set the trap on Thursday night and hope that there will be something for visitors to see before the moths are released.  All are welcome.

Post : Tung Chau (UPenn)

26 June 2016 - New 'Bird Dropping' Moth

Epiblema trimaculana
Though to me the scenery may not change much from day to day, the moth world is seeing a total revamp. The first of the summer for the Barred-fruit Tree Moth, Common Footman, Common Wave, Coxcomb Prominent, Large Yellow-underwing, Phlyctaenia perlucidalis, Straw Dot, and Uncertain have all made an appearance, while some previously abundant species – Small Square-spot, Diamond Back – have diminished in number. A total of 38 species were recorded, including one new: Epiblema trimaculana, identification confirmed by Charlie Fletcher.

E. trimaculana (from above)
This is the second Epiblema species I have seen, the other one being E. cynosbatella. Comepared to the latter, E. trimaculana has a narrower forewing, lacks the yellow palps, and, as suggested by its name, shows three (tri-) spots (macula) in the ocellar region of the forewing. Below is our moth illustrated under the name Spilonota trimaculana, showing the slipperiness of the naming system and the degree of similarities between the so-called ‘bird dropping’ moths. From now on, I shall get a nervous twitch in the stomach whenever I see a member of this family – not from the appetizing nickname but the difficulty of identification. It brings our species count to 377.

E. trimaculana (illustration)
The Common Footman (Eilema lurideola) is a rather Lego-looking piece of a gem. Wearing a conspicuous grey and yellow, this moth has a fashion sense that informs both its common and scientific name. I learn that it got the former from the long livery of the footman, which is echoed in the involuted forewings at rest. The same is implied by its scientific name, where ‘eilēma’ means ‘a veil’ and luridus pale yellow (from the costal streaks).

Common Footman (Eilema lurideola)

Post : Tung Chau (UPenn)

22 June 2016 - Not a Threadbare Carpet

Dark Marbled Carpet (Dysstroma citrata )

We are in luck to finally get a photograph of the Dark Marbled Carpet (Dysstroma citrata) here at Shandy Hall.* Having decided that this moth was a worn Broken-barred Carpet, I had to struggle with myself for quite a time when I was informed of its true identity by Dr. Chesmore. Staring into the jagged lines in the subterminal area is like beholding a print of Katsushika Hokusai’s waves, the thrusting vigor of which is then checked by a more somber inky overtone.  

It was great fun trying to decode the moth's scientific identity as, through the years, it has undergone many changes since Linnaeus coined the name Phalaena citrata, where ‘phalaina’ is a term used by Aristotle for a moth, and 'citrata' a reference to the orange colour displayed on its forewings. It then came under the genus Chloroclysta: ‘khlōros’ meaning greenish yellow and ‘kluzo’, to wash off or away, both vividly describe the ground colour and wavy markings of this insect. We believe that one of the three moths illustrated below pertains to our species, as two of them bear the names marmorata and immanata, which are listed as synonyms to D. citrata, though with the different generic name, Polyphasia.

Dark Marbled Carpet - but which one?

The last two traps have held many wonders for me: the mouse-like appearance of the Brown House-moth, the perky resting position of the Barred Straw, the sequin shimmer of the Gold Spot and Burnished Brass, and the most stunning and visceral of them all – the Blood-vein. I cannot help but wonder how such flagrant beauty can survive in nature, though perhaps I should refrain from venturing any more anthropocentric judgments.

(Crambus lathoniellus)

I have also taken a liking to micromoths for their dazzling variety and their fine markings that will put to shame even the most scrupulous ceramic glazing. Four were new to me – Crambus lathoniellus (above), Timothy Tortrix (Aphelia paleana), Plutella porrectella, and Eucosma cana, each with a distinct resting position, palpus, head shape, and patterning, making identification a great joy.

*We had the moth listed as having been identified by Dr Chesmore at Shandy Hall, but  that was before this blog was started and we had no photographic proof.
Post : Tung Chau (UPenn)