26 May 2020 - New Species in the Garden

(Isotrias rectifasciana)
This moth perplexed me.  I didn't think I had seen it before but no matter how carefully I compared my photograph with the drawings in the Field Guide (illustrations by Richard Lewington) and the photographs in Manley's British Moths I couldn't be sure of its identity.  It was small with brown, speckled markings on a creamy ground with three bands across the wings. After an hour trying to weigh up which it was, I gave up and sent the photograph to Yorkshire expert, Charlie Fletcher, who informed me it was Isotrias rectifasciana.  The Norfolk Moths website gives it the title of 'Hedge Tortrix' and records that it is scarce.  This is the first time this little moth has been recorded at Shandy Hall and brings the number of different species to 439.

The scientific name is descriptive isos meaning 'equal'; trias meaning 'group of three' - referring to the bands on the forewings; rectifasciana or 'the straight band' across the centre where other members of the Tortricids have an oblique  mark.  The food plant is not known but it is probable that hawthorn might satisfy the caterpillar.
 
Broom Moth (Melanchra pisi)
This moth caused a lot of head scratching as well.  At first it was hoped that a Knot Grass (Acronicta rumicis) had been drawn to the light of the trap - a moth that should be in this locality but has not yet been seen.  It wasn't a Knot Grass but a Broom Moth (Melanchra pisi), a moth that has only been seen once before in 2013.  I am glad to know it is still around.  The description of its habitat and food source can be seen here, on the blog that was posted by our intern, Jane Wu, on that occasion.
 
Scorched Wing (Plagodis dolabraia)
The following three strikingly marked moths were photographed with relative ease.  The Scorched Wing (Plagodis dolobraia) is always a delight but will take to the wing at the slightest provocation. I waited for it to crawl up the wooden strut of the collecting cage until it felt contented to settle.  A few purposeful but gentle wing beats indicating that it was now going to remain in the chosen spot. 
 
Small Magpie (Anania hortulata)
Like the first moth in this little group, the Small Magpie (Anania hortulata) is a micro moth even though it looks more the size and shape of a macro.  Since it was last recorded on the blog it seems to have changed the first half of its scientific name from Eurrhypara (meaning 'greasy' and referring to the glossy sheen of the wings) to Anania (meaning 'without pain' or ironically 'with pleasure'). 

 
Small Angle Shades (Euplexia lucipara)
The third moth is the Small Angle Shades (Euplexia lucipara) a very compact and attractive moth with clear and uncomplicated markings.  The scientific name refers to the position of the wings when the moth is completely at rest. 'well woven' or 'plaited' (eu plexis) they form a small ridge to make the insect resemble a leaf; lucipara refers to the 'bringing forth of light' in the form of the yellowish marking.  The moth has two generations and the caterpillar will feed on ferns, bracken, nettles, currants, birches, sallows - all found in parks and gardens throughout the country.

Other species in last night's trap were : Gold Spot, Poplar Hawkmoth, Green Carpet, Silver Ground Carpet, Spectacle, Heart and Dart, Straw Dot, Pale Tussock, White Ermine, Buff Ermine, a couple of pugs and more cockchafers than I have ever seen before.

21 May 2020 - A Selection

Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata)    
Photographing moths for identification is sometimes straightforward - the moth is clinging to an egg box in the trap and when the box is taken out and laid on a table or on grass, the moth doesn't move and can be photographed easily.  Some species are even more compliant and can be persuaded to be moved into a more aesthetically pleasing pose using a paint brush and then re-positioned on a leaf or flower head. Others take flight at the slightest disturbance - the beautiful Waved Umber (Menophra abruptaria) that I was very pleased to see was gone in a second and no record of its capture remains.  

The Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata) remains emphatically still, relying on its camouflage as protection and very useful for the photographer.  But if the moth happens to be resting in an awkward place not suitable for an indentifying image then it will not easily be persuaded to move to a better position.  It flutters and dashes, first to one side then another, displaying some beautiful patterns and then closes up into its characteristic 'bird dropping' pose.  Spuler, A (1869-1937) a German entomologist, suggests the scientific name refers to the Greek word 'killix' meaning 'an ox with crooked horns'.  Is this what can be seen etched in white on the dark grey blotch of colour on the forewing?


Silver-ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata)  
The Silver-ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata) is a flighty creature and I had to follow this one around the garden until it came to rest.  A common moth in North Yorkshire, it can be seen in flight during the day as much as night.  The scientific name means 'the yellow stream in the mountains' referring to the wavy lines or 'rivulets' on the forewings.

Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)
The Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata) is another moth that relies on instant flight if disturbed. It will gently move its wings before completely settling in a new position, but the opportunity to record it in a photograph needs to be undertaken swiftly.  The word 'brimstone' (also referring to the similarly coloured butterfly) is another word for sulphur.  The Brimstone Moth's scientific name includes the Greek 'graptos' meaning 'marked or painted with letters' - presumably a reference to the markings on both upper and lower surfaces of the forewings.

Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta puta)
This moth was coaxed from the moth trap onto a lilac leaf with ease.  The Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta puta) is found all over England and Wales. Its defence is in its woody colouring.  The scientific name is probably from 'agrotes' meaning 'of the field; the 'puta' part being related to 'the goddess of pruning of trees'. Or, again, it could refer to 'putris' the rotten wood that the markings resemble.

 
White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda )
A particularly striking example of a very attractive moth - the White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda), a moth that can be found on the wing late at night. The caterpillar's speedy crawl is referred to in the 'lubricipes' (swift-footed) part of the scientific name.  The 'spilos' (spot) and 'soma' (body) makes reference to the spots on the abdomen, not on the wings of the adult.  The White Ermine is especially welcome as the larvae feed on nettles and dock.  Last night I found one on the curtains in an upstairs room with no open windows, so how it got there I cannot imagine. (Yesterday morning a European Hornet, not the invasive Asian species, was also discovered inside, buzzing and bashing against the old kitchen window.)

 
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda)
The Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) appears to have crash-landed onto the side of the moth trap, with its legs sprawling in front of its head and abdomen.  This moth will cling to the surface it is resting on and prefers to simulate lifelessness if it is moved.  Before insecticides it was very common in the hop fields in Kent but numbers have declined.  It is still a common moth however, and one that is instantly recognisable.

(Pseudoswammerdamia combinella)

'Rare and local resident' is the description of this moth on the Yorkshire Moths Flying Tonight website but it seems to have a little sanctuary in the gardens in Coxwold as I have seen it every year since moth-trapping began here ten or so years ago.  Instantly identified by the bright orangey-coloured spot it is not easy to photograph and I had to capture it in a tube, persuade it to land on the screw-top and then quickly get a picture before it took off.
 
Pebble Prominent (Notodonta ziczac)   
The 'ziczac' part of the scientific name for the Pebble Prominent (Notodonta ziczac) is a reference to the markings on the caterpillar which form a zig-zag pattern, emphasised by the larva's resting attitude.  The Pebble Prominent was very common when moth trapping began at Shandy Hall but numbers seem to have decreased.  The food source - sallows, willows and poplars - is still available in abundance so something else is responsible.  This moth was very agitated when it was gently moved from the trap and it only became quieter when it was released from the inspection tube

Mottled Pug (Eupithecia exiguata )
If disturbed, this pug moth will find another place to repose quite quickly but that doesn't mean it will be easy to identify.  According to the field guide's description the moth has a 'forewing warm grey, leading edge curved. Central spot conspicuous, rather elongated with a series of small black wedges beyond it.  A narrow, pale outer central cross-band, angled near leading edge, with two straw-coloured smears extending towards outer edge.  This combination of of features is diagnostic'.  Which doesn't mean that this is definitely a Mottled Pug.  It's one of many species that are very similar and cause difficulties for the amateur enthusiast. However, it is very similar to another from Shandy Hall gardens that regional expert Charlie Fletcher identified, so I think it is one is correct.

17 May 2020 - Return

Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi)

Cold night after cold night made setting the moth trap a pointless exercise - nothing was to be found.  Apart from a group of Bee Moths (Aphomia sociella) emerging from a winter spent in a bee or wasp nest; and a Streamer (Anticlea derivata) sunning itself on a wall in early April, I have seen nothing else - although I do recall seeing a Silver Y zipping through the flowers on one of the warmer days of the month.

438 species have been recorded in the gardens at Shandy Hall - the last was on 22 May 2019 - and this selection from last night's trap is modest.  The Poplar Hawkmoth seems to do well in Coxwold and it is often found in the trap from May to early August.  No matter how often this moth appears its striking appearance does not diminish 


Sandy Carpet (Perizoma flavofasciata)
The Sandy Carpet (Perizoma flavofasciata) is probably attracted to the Red Campion in the quarry garden as it is the food plant for the larvae.  The scientific name refers to the yellow bands or girdles (perizoma) that decorate the fore-wings in a yellow colour (flavo).  Not found too often in overnight moth traps - it tends to fly in the early evening but rests overnight.  

Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum)
A regular visitor to the gardens, the Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum) is distinctive and easily identified.  The caterpillar feeds on nettles, honeysuckle and a wide range of other plants and then overwinters as a pupa to emerge in mid May.  The marking varies but often has a 'saddle' of black dots across the ridge of the resting wings. 

Purple Thorn (Selenea tetralunaria)
The scientific name of the Purple Thorn (Selenea tetralunaria) refers to the four 'lunar' spots to be seen on the wings of the adult - the shape of one can be clearly seen in the photograph.  The moth ends to remain static once in its daytime position, anchored to an egg-box on this occasion. The shape and attitude of the wings are balletic as if a perfect pose has been found and now needs to be displayed.  A moth of great beauty.

Rustic Shoulder-knot (Apamea sordens)
Is it a Rustic Shoulder-knot or is it not?  The photograph above shows a clearly marked example of a moth that one would assume is easy to identify.  What can be determined by the scientific name?  Apamea is the name of a town in Asia Minor where Theodore, one of the ancient Fathers of the Church, lived.  It is a name that has no entomological relevance.  The second part of the binomial sordens means 'dirty', which it isn't.  If the image is enlarged, three black lines (on the shoulders and where the wings join) can be seen which would fit.  If the website for Yorkshire Moths Flying Tonight is consulted it can be seen that the Rustic Shoulder-knot should be plentiful at this time - but this is an isolated example.  If I can't be certain then perhaps an email to Charlie Fletcher will reveal all... 


Flame Carpet (Xanthorhoe designata)
Beautifully marked and as fresh as a daisy, this Flame Carpet (Xanthorhow designata) has just emerged after overwintering as a pupa.  The food of the larva has not been established although (in captivity) the caterpillar will eat wallflowers and other plants of the cabbage family.

Green Carpet (Colostygia pectinataria)
And another carpet, but this time a green one.  Records show that this species arrived in Yorkshire in 1997 and is now common.  It's scientific name makes reference to the River Styx (Stygia), the black River of Hate in the Underworld which comes from the black lines (or rivulets) on the wings. Pectinataria refers to the comb-like antennae of the male.

Muslin Moth (Diaphora mendica
A very furry moth is the male Muslin Moth (Diaphora mendica) with wings that resemble the garb of a Carmelite mendicant friar - hence the scientific name.  The white female of this species, not the grey male, is the one that is being referred to.  Although the White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda) comes to the garden as a common visitor, I have not yet been able to identify a female Muslin moth. 

Pale-shouldered Brocade (Lacanobia thalassina)
This first trap of the year closes with a Pale-shouldered Brocade (Lacanobia thalassina), another moth I have not found easy to identify.  It seems to be a question of 'getting your eye in' and a gap of nearly a year is quite a long time.  However, let us hope the weather is kind - warm sun, occasional refreshing rain, little wind and some luck and the number of species to identify and record may increase.  Sadly we have no intern from UPenn this year (you know why, of course) but hopefully the partnership will be restored in 2021.

27 September 2019 - National Moth Night

Large Wainscot (Nonagria pilicornis)
If I hadn't turned the camouflage tent upside down this morning I would certainly have missed seeing this freshly emerged Large Wainscot drop onto the grass.  At first I was sure I hadn't seen a wainscot moth this size before but I soon discovered that it had been seen once before at Shandy Hall when a rather battered example was recorded.  That was seven years ago.  With its larvae feeding on the leaves of reed mace it is a stately and rather magisterial moth that can be found in muddy areas where the common reed grows.  In the old reference books the scientific name is Nonagria pilicornis which refers to the Greek island (Andros) that was once called Nonagria; cornis usually indicates an association with a 'horn' but no further enlightening information can be found.  The present scientific name is Rhizedra lutosa - 'the muddy feeder on roots'.


Large Wainscot (Rhizedra lutosa)
The Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata) is relatively common in Yorkshire.  'To wash off the greenish/yellowish colour' is the Chloroclysta part of the name, with the 'siterata' meaning 'pertaining to corn' - the inference being that the green colour of the forewing turns yellow after death.


Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata)
The Carpet moths are not always easy to positively identify - until a mental search image is in place. The autumnal coppery-red colour that underlies the green of the wings, just visible in the photograph, along with the shape of the wings, makes this garden visitor recognisable.  The female adult overwinters.


Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa)
Every Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa) seems always to be crisp and fresh with clearly defined markings and an alert and purposeful approach to life.  Some moths hide, some play dead, others become agitated and remain restless while the Lunar Underwing retains its poise.  The scientific name is specific - the omphalos is the navel, the middle point; and 'celis' refers to a stain that exists on the hind wing that is disc-shaped or lunar-shaped. Which can't be seen in the photograph... 



Barred Sallow (Xanthia aurago)

There are a number of Sallows and the majority have all visited Coxwold gardens at some time or other over the last few years.  They tend to remain static when the trap is opened but if disturbed they tend not to immediately fly, preferring to take the line of least resistance.


Pink-barred Sallow (Xanthia togata)
The scientific name refers to the yellow ground colour (Xanthia) and the Roman toga (togata) which is suggested by the broad purplish band across the forewings.  This is not particularly clear in the photograph above but the arrangement of markings and blotches on the moth's wings are more reliable for identification than the colouring.  This moth is common and can be seen all over the county and indeed the country, wherever sallows grow.


Pink-barred Sallow (illustration)

The illustration of the moth in flight was a useful identifier for the collector, if the moth was destined for the display cabinet, but not much use to the naturalist as this was not the resting position. As a little work of art it merits some attention.  


Rosy Rustic (Hydraecia micacea)
The Rosy Rustic overwinters as an egg and then the caterpillar emerges in April.  It eats a wide variety of plants including Broad-leaved Dock, Field Woundwort, potato, strawberries, and hops by tunneling into the plant stem and descending to the roots.  Here it pupates without a cocoon and emerges as an adult to look like it does in the photograph above.  For some reason I have to re-learn this moth's name every year..


Rosy Rustic (illustration)

The patterns on the wings of the Rosy Rustic are clearly seen on the illustration of the moth in flight.

Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavaga)
Gortyna is the name of a town in Crete.  What memories the name evoked to Ochsenheimer the lepidopterist we may never know but the moth that now carries the name of Gortyna is rather beautiful.  The patterns on the wings are consistent and the moth is well distributed throughout the country flying between late August and October.  'Flavaga' is yet another word for 'yellow'.


Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae)
I thought the moth on the left was new to the garden.  I couldn't recall seeing a species that carried a tiny white saddle-shaped marking at the mid-point on the wings. That is until I saw and recognised the moth on the left - a very nicely marked Green-brindled Crescent which also has the same marking in the same place.  This is a good example as to how confusing identification can sometimes be.  The variety of markings on the Magpie moth or the Garden Tiger moth are part of why they are delightful but they don't confuse or mislead  Had that moth on the right not been there I might still be scratching my head over the mystery of the one on the left.  The scientific name? Allophyes means 'changeful'.  A lesson learned.

Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina)
What could be more delightful than seeing one Mervielle du Jour in the trap?  Two is the answer.  Here is that magnificent moth from two angles.  Autumn is definitely here when this moth appears.


Common Marbled Carpet (Chloroclysta truncata)
On the inside of the tent I found a moth with stitching along the base of its forewings. It seemed the best place to photograph it as it was so obligingly positioned next to the stitch marks of the tent.

It is now time to release the moths from last night's trap.

Below, as an extra for National Moth Night, is an image from Humphreys and Westwood's British Moths and their Transformations  pub. in 2 Vols by William Smith of London. 1843. It is a hand-coloured illustration of the recently re-introduced Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini).  The first half of the scientific name Catacola means 'beautiful beneath'; the second half is a reference to the ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) which Linneaus (wrongly) thought was the food plant.


Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini)





19 September 2019 - Some of the Usual Suspects

(Agonopterix arenella)

Agonopterix arenella is not an easy moth to see as it is quite small.  It is also not straightforward to identify as it is similar to Agonopterix alstromeriana (uncommon)  and Agonopterix yeatiana (very scarce). Agonopterix assimilella is another from the same family which is also uncommon.  Agonopterix arenella has been identified once before in the gardens - and in the same month of September - so I can confidently record that this is its second appearance and the other possibilities are all sufficiently different and can be discounted.


The Flame (Axylia putris)
The Flame (Axylia putris) or more simply 'Flame' is a straightforward identification.  The September version is smaller than its other appearance in June and July but otherwise its straw colour, with a dark kidney mark with its likeness to a dry stem are all consistent.  The scientific name refers to the moth's appearance being similar to decayed wood (putris).  It is a common moth and one that can be expected to turn up in the moth trap during the early Autumn.


Green Carpet (Colostygia pectinataria)

Resident. Common. Well distributed throughout England, Wales, Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland (Field Guide to the Moths of GB and Ireland by Waring and Townsend).  This pretty little green moth loses its colouring quite quickly but the markings on the wings are distinctive.  It feeds on Bedstraw and also Goose-grass.

Canary-shouldered Thorn (Ennomos alniaria)

The Canary-shouldered Thorn (Ennomos alniaria) is unmistakeable - however the scientific name is difficult to pin down.  Ennomos means 'legal' and alnus means 'relating to the alder family' upon which the larva feeds - according to Linnaeus and we don't argue with him. The moth is a startling yellow colour and comes to light quite regularly at this time of year. If not seen in the moth trap it is difficult to spot in the wild as it blends into the background like an early autumnal leaf.

Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavago)

Thistle, foxglove, ragwort and mullein (all of which can be found in the garden at Shandy Hall - or just over the drystone wall) are food for the larvae of the Frosted Orange moth.  The adult flies until late October. The patterns on the wings are consistent and once seen it is easy to identify. Gortyna is the name given to a town in Crete but the reason for this is not apparent.




26 August 2019 - Winnowing Fan

Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)
I had to chase this Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata) across the lawn as it had taken off from where I was planning to photograph it in search of sanctuary.  Fortunately the spotted flycatchers have had their two broods and have now left for Africa otherwise there would have been one less of this species.  It is a male moth - you can tell as the tip of its abdomen is curled and raised.  The caterpillar feeds on Enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) which will cheer the heart of many a gardener as this plant is persistent in attempting to take over as much of the garden as it can.  Every larval banquet is welcome.
The scientific name doesn't reveal much - to be wanting (from the Greek 'ekleipo') in the face ('opos'); sileceata means 'having the colour of yellow ochre' which I couldn't spot in this example.


Pale Eggar (Trichiura crataegi)
The egg of the Pale Eggar overwinters on the leaf of the food plant (usually birch) but the caterpillars also can be found on hawthorn, blackthorn,  as well as crab apple and hazel.  It is a neat, compact moth with distinctive stripes across its wings.  The 'tufted tailed moth that eats hawthorn' is the meaning of the scientific name.  This moth has turned up on pretty much the same date for the last three years.

Copper Underwing (Amphipyra pyramidea)
There are two Copper Underwings in the UK and they are very similar.  To determine which is which requires the underneath of the hind-wing to be examined, which is a skill I do not possess.  The Field Guide gives advice but it seems a considerable amount of practice is required before the examiner becomes confident.  The moth photographed is either Svensson's Copper Underwing or just plain Copper Underwing.  The scientific name refers to 'flying around the fire' (amphipyra) and also to a conical hump on the back of the larva.  Ingvar Svensson (1919 - 2011) identified the species that then took the name of the highly respected lepidopterist.  The moth is quick in every movement.  It will run for cover and when it takes off it flies fast and straight.

Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis)
 Understanding the scientific name for this moth has changed the way I look at it.  The common name is Mother of Pearl, which is pleasant and descriptive enough as the wings of the moth have a lustrous sheen to them, but when it is understood that Pleuroptya ruralis refers to the winnowing fan used in the countryside (ruralis) to separate the chaff from the grain it somehow makes it seem more valid.  The Mother of Pearl is a micro-moth despite its size and is very common. It possesses the ability to curl its antenna (see the photograph) and I seem to remember seeing one of its kind searching with its proboscis so I assume the adult does feed.  The common nettle is the food plant for the caterpillar.  

18 August 2019 - Goths and Magical Numbers

Feathered Gothic (Tholera decimalis)

Click on the photograph of the Feathered Gothic (Tholera decimalis) and the enlarged image will show the feathery antennae which confirm that this is a male of the species.  Not an uncommon visitor to this part of Yorkshire this muddy-coloured (from the Greek tholeros) insect comes to light as an adult and is mainly found on moorland.  The 'decimalis' part of the scientific name refers to 'the tenth' - but which tenth is being referred to is a mystery. 

Sallow (Xanthia icteritia)
More than a hint of Autumn is carried on the wings of the Sallow (Xanthia icteritia) and this is the first of its kind this year.  The moth is coloured so beautifully to disappear among the leaves - camouflaged and safe.  The scientific name opens up a digression which is revealed here


Gold Spot (Plusia festucae)

There is the Gold Spot (Plusia festucae) and there is the Lempke's Gold Spot (Plusia putnami) and they are very similar. Reading the differences and variations that are visible on the moth's wings might seem to guarantee an identification - but then we learn that each variety will sometimes carry marks found on the other.  I am pretty sure this is not Lempke's as the markings that look like a little keyboard have only one white key and not four. B J Lempke (1901-1993) was a Dutch lepidopterist whose name is now linked with this sub-species.



Magpie (Abraxas grossulariata)
The final species from last night's trap - which had not a single micro moth to be found - is the Magpie.  I always associate this moth with one that I saw as child.  It was inside a greenhouse, in the garden of a dahlia grower in Bilborough, Notts.  It was so bright and extraordinary I found it difficult to believe it was a moth.  The scientific name is examined here.