20 June 2018 - Pineapple Scented Moth

Gold Swift (Hepialus hecta) female

Mother Nature must follow this blog, for just as soon as I made the claim that no new species were left to be found at Shandy Hall she threw not one, but two new varieties our way. It’s more exciting than I could have imagined and I feel a bit like an explorer, even though I haven’t gone any further than the garden perimeters and have done nothing out of the ordinary. But nature works in unpredictable ways, and I’m simply grateful that I got to experience this once during my time here.

It took us a while to identify this moth as a Gold Swift (Hepialus hecta) – probably because there isn’t any gold on it. When we finally did make an identification, it was only with the help of the wonderful Mr. Charlie Fletcher, as we mistook the moth for a strange variation of a Map-winged Swift. It turns out the female Gold Swift is considerably duller than her male counterpart, as is the case with many birds and insects. The male Gold Swift spends his time flying around at dusk, spreading his pheromones into order to attract females with his pineapple like scent. Interestingly, the female disperses her eggs while in flight, across the bracken which is its main foodplant. Its scientific name is a little overemphasised, with both “hepialus” and “hecta” meaning feverish and hectic on account of its erratic flight patterns.

Rufous Minor (Oligia versicolor)

The second new species is the Rufous Minor (Oligia versicolor). It’s a tricky moth to identify, because there are two other species that closely resemble it: the Marbled Minor and the Tawny Marbled Minor. These two species can only be told apart through dissection, but this Rufous Minor is distinctive enough that such measures aren’t necessary. What distinguishes it are those pale brown oval and kidney-marks, and the reddish brown tufts on its thorax. It flies from June to July and can be found throughout England, Wales, and southern Scotland –although it is most likely under recorded due to its resemblance to the aforementioned breeds.

And with that the number of species at Shandy Hall reaches 429! Exciting times!

Post by: Gabriella Morace [UPenn intern]

19 June 2018 - National Moth Nights

Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa)

Last weekend was National Moth Night, an annual three-day Lepidopterist extravaganza. At Shandy Hall, we celebrated by trapping on both Thursday and Saturday night –not an unusual occurrence, but done with a bit more zeal this time.
In our first trap on Thursday, we had quite a few stunners! 

Although the Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) is rather common in Britain, it is an unequivocal beauty. It gets its scientific name from the way that it quivers before taking flight. Resting, this moth has plicate wings (meaning that they are folded like a fan), which Linnaeus felt was its way of shrinking into itself, as if fearful.

Green Arches (Anaplectoides prasina)

We were graced with another grassy sojourner, this time a Green Arches Moth (Anaplectoides prasina). This moth is a beautiful deep emerald with complex etchings on its forewings. The one pictured here is in near perfect condition, although its plethora of color and intricate markings make it tricky to focus a camera on.

Barred Yellow (Cidaria fulvata)

The Barred Yellow (Cidaria fulvata) has been featured on the blog on a number of occasions, and it’s no wonder as it is a very pretty and striking moth. In Humphreys & Westwood, the entire life cycle of this moth is depicted, from caterpillar to chrysalis to moth. I’ll only include the illustration of the adult moth in this blog, however, because drawings of larvae and an oblong don’t make for particularly thrilling content.

Flame Shoulder (Ochropleura plecta)

On Saturday night there was a storm earlier in the evening, but thankfully it cleared up just in time to set the trap. Here a worn Flame shoulder (Ochropleura plecta) clings to a paintbrush. Its name comes from its pale costal streak and literally means “pale twisted rope.” Its picture in Humphreys & Westwood beautifully showcases this beam of light on its shoulder.  I've added another image (directly below) of one that was photographed from the first trap to show how the colours are much richer when the insect is freshly hatched.

Flame Shoulder (Ochhropleura plecta)

Flame Shoulder (illustration)
And an illustration to show the moth in flight.

Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria)

A prime Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria) was in the trap as well; a sophisticated and understated moth.

Post by: Gabriella Morace [UPenn intern]

16 June 2018 - Moth from Dr Seuss

Pale-shouldered Brocade (Lacanobia thalassina)

The warm weather we experienced earlier this week brought new and old moths in similar measure –well new to me, that is. While I don’t think that we’ve identified all the moths that have ever graced the Sandy Hall gardens, I don’t anticipate discovering any new ones this summer. What, with 427 species already accounted for and climate change affecting the world in subtle but disastrous ways, the chances of a new moth turning up are slim. However, even if the species itself isn’t new, the individual moths are and each one offers up a new story to tell about the Shandy Hall ecosystem…

This Pale-shouldered Brocade (Lacanobia thalassina) is a subtle stunner, with its dark colors and delicate markings. It’s name means sea-colored (thalassina) vegetable-eater (Lacanobia), which might seem strange considering that its brown in color, not blue or green. The “sea color” here refers to its reddish brown hue, an allusion to Homer and his description of the sea being “wine-dark.”

Green Silver-lines (Pseudoips prasinana)

This is the Green Silver-lines (Pseudoips prasinana), one of two verdant visitors to the garden the other night. There are very few species of green British moths, so I feel very fortunate to have two in one catch! The Green Silver-lines and the Green Oak Tortrix (Tortrix viridana) are from two separate families of moth: the Noctuidae and the Tortricidae, respectively. The Noctuidaes, or Owlet moths, are the second largest family and are typically medium sized night-flyers. Their larvae are known as 'cut worms' and can do considerable damage to roots and plants. Tortricidea, or Tortrix moths, on the other hand, are generally quite small yet their larvae can completely defoliate trees.

Green Silver-lines (illustration)

Green Oak Tortrix (Tortrix viridana)

Although the Green Oak Tortrix is not a new species it has only been recorded once before at Shandy Hall - and that example was very worn.  This specimen is as bright and as green a moth as you could wish.

Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor)

Finally, there is the Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor), who is no stranger to the gardens and blog, but so gorgeous I can’t resist including a picture. This whimsical moth looks like it flew right out of a Dr. Seuss tale!

Post by: Gabriella Morace [UPenn intern]

15 June 2018 - Flames like Twigs

The Flame (Axylia putris)

It’s now been over a week since I arrived at Shandy Hall and just when I thought was getting a handle on things, a few new moths arrived that threw me off my game. There were a few mystery moths and a particularly enigmatic bird dropping micro, however none are new to the garden –but that doesn’t mean they don’t have new insights or information to offer the blog!

The Flame (Axylia putris) is an impressive piece of work; it looks almost exactly like a broken piece of twig. Axylia means 'cut wood' and putris means 'rotten', referring to the marking on the forewings and their resemblance to frayed, decaying timber.  It can be found in British Moths and their Transformations by Humphrey's and Westwood under the name Xylina putris. The genus Xylina is no longer, but it translates as 'from the woods' - an apt name considering woodland is its main habitat although it can be found in hedgerows and suburban habitats.

The Snout (Hypena proboscidalis)

The Snout (Hypena proboscidalis) is another interesting looking moth. Its name, unsurprisingly, mocks its rather long and unusual nose. This moth eats a healthy diet that consists entirely of nettle, and can be found virtually anywhere the plant grows. 

The Snout (illustration)

Marbled Minor (Oligia strigilis)

The Marbled Minor (Oligia strigilis) is a common moth, but one with so many different colors and slight variations that it can be difficult to identify.  On this prime individual, we can clearly see why it is called a Marbled Minor with its swooping black, white and grey markings.

(Celypha lacunana)

Celypha lacunana is one of the three 'bird-dropping' micro moths we found in the last moth trap.  Its name has changed entirely since the publishing of British Moths and their Transfomrations by Humphrey's and Westwood, in which it is identified as Oporinia tortricella.  As for the other micro moths. I was able to identify an Epiblema trimaculana with the help of Charlie Fletcher

Among the usual suspects were Buff Ermines, White Ermines, Silver-ground Carpets, Common Pugs (I think) and Plum Tortrices. No Poplar Hawk-moths and I have to say –I missed those gentle giants! Nothing too flashy in the trap this time, but I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next catch!

Post by: Gabriella Morace [UPenn intern]

12 June 2018 - National Garden Moths

National Garden Scheme visitors (Homo sapiens)

The weather on Thursday was absolutely beautiful and it followed on from a warm night, which was fortunate for us because Friday was the National Garden Scheme open evening. While the good weather may not have lasted, neither humans nor moths were deterred by the chillier evening and we had a considerable number of moths to display and present to those who attended the event. 
Everyone was excited by the moths, especially the children, and all exclaimed interest and delight at the many different colors and variations. The kids took to the Poplar Hawk-moths (Laothoe populi), which are large and docile enough to be gently handled. As they anxiously cradled the moths, you could see how thrilled they were to be holding something so elusive and wild in the palms of their hands.

Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina)

Adults and children alike were especially captivated by the Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina) and Peppered Moths (Biston betularia), because of their unique and beautiful camouflage mechanisms. The scientific name Pterostoma palpina means 'very long and clothed in dense rough scales', and to an untrained eye you could completely gloss over the Pale Prominent, thinking it was nothing more than a piece of wood.

Peppered Moth (Biston betularia)

The Peppered Moth is one of the most widely studied moths and is considered to a good example of natural selection.  As you may already know, during the Industrial Revolution in England the trees in the cities became blackened with soot.  In order to escape predators the Peppered Moths needed to blend into the background. The dark-colored moths thrived in this changing habitat but the lighter colored ones died as they could no longer be hidden from predators.  We captured two with varying degrees of melanin.  The scientific name refers to Biston, a mythological figure who was the son of Mars and ancestor of a Thracian tribe who worshipped Bacchus; betularia refers to the birch, one of the food plants.

Straw Dot (Rivula sericealis)

The moth that captivated me the most was the Straw Dot (
Rivula sericealis): a simple moth, but a beautiful one with its eye-catching copper shading. Rivula refers to the rivulet shapes on its forewings, while sericealis describes its silky and glossy texture.

A huge thanks to everyone who came to Friday’s event! Looking forward to our next open evening on 29 June!

Post by Gabriella Morace [UPenn intern]

7 June 2018 - First Catch

Blood-vein (Timamdra comai)

My first morning examining the moth trap I learned that long, unruly hair and micro moths do not mix well. After tying up my hair, the second thing I learned was that there were many more moths in the trap than I had imagined there would be – even after researching what to expect the night before. While none of the moths were new to the garden, they were all new to me, and the following are a few of my favorites.

The first moths to catch my eye were the Poplar Hawk Moths, because of their sheer enormity in comparison to the rest of the brood. They have been featured on this blog before, so I won’t touch upon them now. The second moth that caught my gaze, however, was a lone Blood-vein (Timandra comai). This moth is stunning with silvery white wings, a red gash stretching across them, and a pink trim; all of which works together to give this delicate moth the appearance of being bloodshot. 

Beautiful Golden Y (Autographa pulchrina)

Another favorite from this first catch was the Beautiful Golden Y (Autographa pulchrina), as well as its relative the Silver Y (Autographa gamma). To me, these moths have the disposition of some old and alien creature, forgotten by both nature and time. 

Small Magpie (Eurrhypara hortulata)
There were two Small Magpies (Eurrhypara hortula) in the trap as well. The Small Magpie is a very fashionable micro moth, with statement black-on-white detailing and slight pop of color. The scientific name refers to the sheen (rhupara meaning 'greasy') on the wings  and the food plant is the nettle in apple orchards (hortulus).  Any moth that lives on nettles should be praised. 

The rest of the catch consisted of too many Buff Ermines to count, as well as some White Ermines, Common Swifts, Green Carpets, a Burnished Brass and a Brimstone. What an exciting thing, to suddenly be able to know and distinguish the often overlooked inhabitants of the world around us! Looking forward to getting to know more. 

Post by: Gabriella Morace (UPenn intern)

28 May 2018 - Regulars to the Gardens

White Ermine (Spilsoma lubricipeda)

The days are hot - the nights are not.  Last night registered only 10 degrees in the gardens but there was hope that there might be a good catch to give some idea of the moth population this May.  The White Ermine is one of the easier moths to identify and is very common.  The scientific name 'lubricipeda' means 'swift-footed' and this may refer to the speed the caterpillar covers the ground although Linneaus does not say specifically that this is the case; 'spilsoma' means 'spots on the body' (abdomen).  In Humphreys and Westwood's British Moths and their Transformations the White Ermine is not mentioned.  The scientific name in the index leads us to the Spotted Buff Ermine which is a little confusing... 

Spotted Buff Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda)

Here (above) is that illustration of the Spotted Buff Ermine showing that the marking is consistent with what we now identify as the Buff Ermine (Spilosoma lutea).  The bristly marks on the edge of the right side of the drawing and the tufts beneath give a glimpse of the caterpillars of this moth - very hairy.  The sort that cuckoos like - and one has been heard this year in Coxwold.

Another moth that is always a shock to the senses is the Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor). The adult is a regular visitor to the gardens and we will look out for the caterpillar later in the year.  The binomial refers to 'evening love' (deilephila) and Elpenor - one of Odysseus' companions who was turned into a pig by Circe.

Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor)

The illustration (below) captures the shape but is a little wayward with the colouring of ths moth.  Overall it is a mixture of green and pink that creates such a vivid showing and not this purplish tint.

Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor)

I was determined to identify the 'bird dropping' tortrix (photograph below) but even now I am not entirely certain.  The diagnostic details are the black spots on the forewings - not the grey-coloured splashes but the smaller ones, on the edge of the wing.  I have compared it with previous certified examples (by Dave Chesmore and Charlie Fletcher) that our UPenn students diligently put forward as examples of this species and it seems to match.
The following week Charlie kindly corrected me....It is Epiblema cynosbatella.  There is a tiny glimpse of the yellow palps.  

Epiblema cynosbatella

And just one more to include in this post - the Gold Spot.  A shining beauty of a moth that has a variant (Lempke's Gold Spot [Plusia putnami gracilis]) but the difference is slight.  Except of course to Barend jan Lempke who was a lepidopterist in the Netherlands...

Gold Spot (Plusia festucae)

The other species in the trap were five Poplar Hawkmoths, May Highflyer, Sandy Carpet, Grey Pug, Mottled Pug, Clouded Bordered Brindle, Silver Y, Golden Y and two cockchafers.

Our new intern from University of Pennsylvania arrives soon so more traps will be set, more blogs will be written and (possibly) a few more species will be added to the list of 427 at Shandy Hall.

15 May 2018 - Ferruginous Brimstone

Brimstone (Opisthograptis luteolata)

A very common moth that can be seen throughout the summer months is the Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata).  It can be disturbed from grasses and plants during the day and is immediately recognisable by the bright yellow (luteolis) fore and hind wings.  The first part of the binomial means 'painted or marked with letters' (graptis) 'on the back' (opisthen).  Its not the easiest of moths to photograph as it takes flight at the slightest provocation and there is something desperate about its gentle fluttering.

(Rumia crataegata) Brimstone Moth

Rumia crataegata is the scientific name that the moth was identified by in the nineteenth century - the crataegata part referring to the hawthorn which is a food plant for the caterpillar.  'Rumia' was the patron saint of nursing mothers but I can find no connection with that word and the world of moths.

However the description of the moth (Humphreys and Westwood) is a lesson in scientific description: the costa of the forewings, marked at the base, before and beyond the middle, and at the tip, with ferruginous patches; from the second and fourth of these patches arise two slightly dusky strigae of lunules (variable in intensity), and the third is connected with an oval patch of gray scales, bordered with rusty red; the hind wings slightly marked with dusky.

Brimstone Moth wing markings

The two photographs here were taken by Bowen Chang when he was at Shandy Hall (2014) as an intern from the University of Pennsylvania - they show how the markings of mysterious, rusty letters vary in intensity.

Brimstone Moth lunules

7 May 2018 - A Head of Wool

Eriocrania subpurpurella
At the time of writing this moth needed to have its identity determined by Charlie Fletcher - a man who knows his moths.  To begin with I thought it might be a worn Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner (Cameraria ohridella) as its wings were shiny in the sun and I remembered the sparkly clouds of tiny, day-time moths in the Museum Gardens in York a couple of years ago.  That particular moth is on the wing in April and May so it was an option, but the moth in the photograph has short antennae and a line of dots along the fore-wing.

If it was a member of the Tortricidae then I would have thought I would have spotted it somewhere in the usual sources: Manley or Lewington, Yorkshire Moths or UK Moths, but I still couldn't find it. 

But (thanks to Charlie) we have it - Eriocrania subpurpurella. A common moth but one that is new to the gardens at Shandy Hall.  I clicked back on the Yorkshire Moths website and, using the link, I invite you to do the same.  Enter a search for Eriocrania and then scroll down that entry until you see a group of images.  There you will see the Las Vegas version of this moth and perhaps understand why they can be difficult to identify. I fear the little one that was trapped last night is from humbler stock than the Yorkshire Moths example.  Its scientific name means 'purplish woolly-headed one' and indeed the woolly head is visible in the photo.

Eriocrania subpurpurella and Yellow Fumitory
Recorded on Plate 120 of British Moths and their Transformations by Humphreys and Westwood, the moth can be seen adjacent to the flowering stem of Yellow Fumitory (Pseudofumaria lutea), which grows in abundance here in the garden.  I can't find evidence that it is a food plant - broom is mentioned in one source - but the proximity of moth and plant in the illustration may indicate there is a connection of some sort.

We can now record 427 different species to the garden in Coxwold.

Least Black Arches (Nola confusalis)

When the Least Black Arches (Nola confusalis) was recorded on the blog in 2014 it was a complicated entry.  The moth can be found in Humphreys and Westwood but listed under the different scientific name of Nola strigulalis which refers to the markings (strigulae) on the wings.  Four years ago I hadn't realised how many moths get re-named as lepidopterists adjust their understanding of groups and families.

Other species last night included the Muslin Moth, Clouded Drab, Garden Carpet and the tiny, impossible not to recognise, piece of perfection called Pseudoswammerdamia combinella, looking exactly the same each time it is seen.

(Pseudoswammerdamia combinella)

6 May 2018 - One Pretty Streamer

Streamer (Anticlea derivata)
May is still early for many moth species - the rise in temperature of the last couple of days has brought out the butterflies but last night's mercury vapour light attracted only 20 or so moths - mainly Clouded Drabs (Orthosia incerta) and Hebrew Characters (Orthosia gothica).  A couple of pugs have been confirmed as the variety known as Brindled (Eupithecia abberviata), identifiable by the misty overlay of brown on the wings.  This species was recorded last year for the first time at Shandy Hall - it must be on the increase.

The only other species of note was the reliable Streamer (Anticlea derivata) which has been photographed obliquely to try to show the pink tinge the moth carries on its wings.   

Brindled Pug (Eupithecia abbreviata)
Both of these pug moths are the same species - that line of brown colour just visible on the top (costal edge) of the moth's wing (below) which confirms its identity.

A trap will be set in the quarry tonight in the hope of better rewards. 

Brindled Pug (Eupithecia abbreviata)

21 April 2018 - March Dagger

(Diurnea fagella)
The first trap of 2018 was set following the hottest April day for many years - however the overnight temperature had dropped considerably and when I went out at 6am this morning the dew had saturated the lawn with an icy coldness and expectations were low. Visitors were due to arrive mid-morning and introducing moths and moth-trapping to a new audience having only Clouded Drabs, Hebrew Characters, Yellow-line Quakers and Early Greys as examples might not demonstrate why this caper is so interesting.  Fortunately, to the discerning eye, an Early Grey is a thing of beauty and so it was to the guests.  Four Early Thorns added welcome variety and then, lurking at the bottom of the trap, one that was unfamiliar. 

I went through all of the photographs on this blog to see if I could see one already recorded.  The head and upper thorax was as black as pitch and I began to wonder if it was a moth and not a sawfly or a species of caddis.  The Lewington guides were riffled through as was the Yorkshire website but I couldn't spot its like.  Fortunately an email to Charlie Fletcher was responded to and the moth was identified as a poorly marked Diurnea flagella the 'daylight-flying, lover-of-beech-trees'.   

(Diurnea fagella)

Humphreys and Westwood in British Moths and their Transformations Vol 2  has the moth on Plate 110 and there (above) can be seen the standard variety (fig 9), the larger variant (fig 10) and the female (fig 11).  The description informs the reader that the female of the March Dagger (as it is described) is smaller than the male but it doesn't record that she is flightless.  The wings are somewhat short in the illustration but the moth is unquestionably airborn so perhaps her restrictions were not common knowledge.

March Dagger is species number 426

17 April 2018 - Herald

Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix)
A surprise clinging onto the back of an empty picture frame, in what serves as a garage for the mower, was an overwintering Herald.  What to do for the best? I know you are advised not to be concerned about preserving life-forms artificially, but I have generally believed that Androcles was behaving very sensibly when he extracted the thorn from the lion's foot.  One good turn deserves another.  Who knows when I might need help from the brotherhood or sisterhood of moths? If I leave the Herald in the garage where I found it there is no easy way out. The garage shed is a bit disordered and as a result there are a large numbers of spiders and webs. If I leaned the frame against a wall outside, it could be too early in the year for the delicate insect - especially with the drops in temperature we have experienced this Spring.

I left the door ajar - it was gone in the morning.  What a beauty to start the year.

26 October 2017 - Old Wood

Red Sword-grass (Xylena vetusta)
The promise was that there would be no rain, no rain for two or three days.  And warm, it said.  It wasn't.  But the weather didn't prevent a new species arriving in the garden - the Red Sword-grass (Xylena vetusta).  With my mix-up over the Turnip Moth and the Dark Sword-grass I thought I had recorded this moth some time ago - but I was as wrong as the weather forecast.

The Red Sword-grass is quite distinctive with its dark brown and rich clay colouring and its resemblance to a sliver of wood.  It emerges from the chrysalis in October and November and then hibernates to reappear in the early months of the following year.  The scientific name is straightforward : Xylena meaning 'wooden'; vetusta meaning 'old' - like a piece of old wood. 

Red Sword-grass 
According to records this moth is neither scarce nor common, if anything it is increasing in number in Yorkshire and can be found scattered locally throughout the county. 
Humphreys and Westwood (British Moths and their Transformations) declare that the moth is rare (in 1843) but can be found in Darenth Wood in Kent.  The wood is now under the protection of the Woodland Trust so the chances of it still being found there are quite high.

Red Sword-grass and larva (illustration)

The caterpillar of the Red Sword-grass  can be seen feeding on sedge (Carex) behind the wing of the illustrated moth.  The species count is now 426.

16 October 2017 - Turnips and Mangel-wurzles

Turnip Moth (Agrotis segetum)
I have only seen the Turnip Moth once before and that was at Bottengoms Farm (on the Suffolk / Essex border) when Ronald Blythe kindly invited me to trap in his garden.  I had hoped to be able to show him how many different species there were floating through the foliage and perhaps peering in through the windows at night.  The night was cooler than one would have wished but there were just enough species to show there were many about which he (and I) knew nothing.  One was a Turnip Moth.  The scientific name can be broken down to 'grassland countryman' (Agrotis) and 'field where a crop is grown' (segetum).  This reveals the true nature of the caterpillar which will munch through turnips and mangel-wurzles at considerable speed.

I assumed the moth photographed (above and below) at Shandy Hall was a Sword-grass as the wings seemed to enfold the thorax like chocolate.  But it didn't look like either of the sword-grass moths that have been identified here already.  Could it be a Pearly Underwing (Peridroma saucia) ? Possibly, but that moth is not common and yet 'may appear almost anywhere' - according to the Field Guide.

On consulting British Moths and their Transformations Humphreys and Westwood pub. 1843 the following description was found : 

'This variable insect measures from 1½ to nearly 2 inches in the expanse of the fore wings, which are of a brown colour, very inconstant in its hue, sometimes being nearly black, and considerably irrorated with darker shades; near the base of the wing are several indistinct  irregular darker fasciae, one of which runs more distinctly across the wing at the base of the spear-shaped stigma; the basal stigma is oval and rather small, circled with a dark line; the ear-shaped one is large and dusky, and followed by a double undulated fascia across the wing, and the margin is marked with a row of small semi-oval black spots.' 

Turnip Moth (above)
And there (above) is what has been described so carefully.  Mr Fletcher revealed the true identity so I can be sure it is correct and that we have now recorded 425 species 

Turnip Moth (illustration)
The illustration shows (Agrotis segetum) but the name is listed as Common Dart.