14 August 2016 - 400th Species at Shandy Hall

Nettle-tap (Anthophila fabriciana)
This trap is the first since Tung Chau, our UPenn student, left after her stay as intern at Shandy Hall.  She would have recognised all of the different species that came to the light apart from two, the first of which is shown above - a Nettle-tap. 

This small micro moth can be found all over the world and can generally be seen by day. The ones in the garden in Coxwold tend to cluster round the stand of tansy plants (Tanacetum vulgare) and there is an earlier photograph on the blog which shows this.  This is the first time it has been seen in the mercury vapour light trap.  It is like a miniature Poplar Hawk moth. 

Common Marbled Carpet (larva)

A caterpillar interlude brings up-to-date the development of the Common Marbled Carpet caterpillars which, when last seen on 30 June, were almost too small to see.  There have been three inexplicable fatalities of the original number but the rest seem to have passed safely through one instar (the shedding of the skin to advance growth). One has a rather fetching stripe of cherry-pink running from true legs to pro legs. 

Orange Swift (Hepialus sylvina)

Here is an Orange Swift perched on a sprig of Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) both, in their separate ways, being beneficial to the gardener.  Herb Robert is a rabbit repellent, a source of nourishment for the bullfinch (they hover and eat the seeds later in the year), and (apparently) very good to jazz up a salad for human beings.  Similar to the Common Swift, but larger, Tung would have recognised the family - the Hepialidae.

The Orange Swift has the Ghost Moth as a fellow member of the Hepialidae family, the most primitive family of moths.  The adults do not feed and the larvae overwinter twice.

The adult hovers in the air in the manner of a pendulum, swaying fitfully from one side to the other and this is linked to hepialos - a fever.  UK moths has the first half of the scientific binomial as Triodia.

The larva of the moth feeds on the roots of bracken and dock so it must be a welcome addition to the species in the gardens - and this is number 400 for the list.

1 August 2016 - Old Lady in Earth Closet

Old Lady (Mormo maura)

Tung Chau, our University of Pennsylvania student, has now finished her time at Shandy Hall.  Over the last two months she has managed to identify 25 new species of moths for the gardens - a fine contribution to the total list of 398.  I looked through the list on the Yorkshire Moths Flying Tonight website and realised that a good number for this time of year have now been recorded and identified.  I was wondering when the next might show itself and was astonished by a speedy response. 

On a spar of wood above the door of an outbuilding (Sterne's old earth-closet) I noticed what I thought was a Svensson's Copper Underwing - the wing-tip just showing but too far above ground for me to be sure.  I reached up, cupped the moth in one hand and took it to a handy cage where it settled, allowing me to photograph it.  An Old Lady!  A moth I had been hoping would put in an appearance one day but not a moth that is drawn to the light of the mercury vapour lamp, making it unlikely that I would find one.  But now...species number 399 recorded.

The name comes from the Greek mormo - a hideous she-monster, companion to the goddess Hecate; a bugbear or bugaboo.  Maura is a reference to an inhabitant of Mauritania.

The words to describe this grim, children-biting horror have been around a long time - a recent version being 'Boogieman', the evil character in John Carpenter's Halloween.

A Bugaboo!!! by Richard Newton (1792)

In his dictionary of slang, Francis Grose defined a Bugaboo as a scare-baby, a terrifying monster that bit children. The photograph above is of a print by Richard Newton who depicts Pitt riding on the shoulders of King George III.

That this sombre-coloured, large and innocent moth should have inherited all these unpleasant associations seems a little unfair.  

Welcome to the earth-closet, Old Lady.

31 July 2016 - China Clay

Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata)

My final, farewell trap of the summer attracted a great number of species, some of which have enjoyed a steady presence since my very first week (Diamond Back, Poplar Hawk-moth, Snout, Flame Shoulder), while others have come and gone (Smoky Wainscot, White Ermine, Double Square-spot). It is hard to believe that in the past two months I have seen and committed to memory some 200 species, most of which I had no prior knowledge. And my work ethic was pretty much informed by the thought that nature alone composes the sacred calendar of the moths – I am merely the scribe.

I was aware that the number of species photographed and identified has been slowly climbing, but I had no idea it was so close to 400. And still they come. 
Today, we found another new species: the Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata).

Most pugs that end up in the trap are either too worn or too ambiguous to identify. This one though, with its delicate small size and triangular wing shape, seemed worth a try. Double-striped Pug was my first guess, but even then I could not reconcile the velvety red and black pattern on the official photographs (UK Moths and Yorkshire Moths) and the markings on our moth seemed neither here nor there. One can sort of see the remnants of the central cross-lines and the shading along the trailing edge, though I don’t know how much of it was my own imagination.  Fortunately Charlie Fletcher confirmed the identity.

‘Gumnos’, meaning naked, and ‘skelos’, the leg, refer to the spur-less posterior tibia. Rufus, the color red and fascia, a band, define the characteristic tint of the markings (much faded in our sample). It is a common and widely spread species and feeds on holly and gorse.

Tung Chau (UPenn) identifying moths
With that addition, the species count has risen to 398, that is, 25 new species since I arrived! I am leaving today for London but I refuse to say my goodbye because, unlike us, there is no end, no geographical barrier to the world of moths. A few days ago, I received from my father a picture of a moth in our house in China. It was a Clay, a frequent visitor to our trap here. I know the moths will keep coming, that they will keep brewing changes in a world that will one day, so to speak, come into light.

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

29 July 2016 - La Plume de mon Jardin

Brown Plume Moth (Stenoptilia pterodactyla)

This magnificent plume moth from the trap on 13 July was confirmed as a Stenoptilia pterodactyla, a new species (number 397) for Shandy Hall. The wings on this moth, so sculptural at rest it is hard to fathom how they are able to beat in the air, are held at a different plane from the rest of the body. The shape of the wings is best described by its scientific name, where ‘stenos’ means narrow and ‘ptilon’, wing lobes. The torso, itself a slender pod, is propped on legs that look like slim stilts and the moth barely touches the ground. The whole thing is so evenly bronze-colored that from afar it looks less like a living thing than part of an electrical circuit.

Brown Plume Moth (Illustration)

It is distinguished from the rest of the plume moths by its reddish-brown color (hence the common name ‘Brown Plume’) and two black spots where the forewing starts to cleave into lobes. The larvae feed on Germander Speedwell, which we have in our gardens and is pictured below.

Germander Speedwell 
(Veronica chamaedrys)

Post: Tung Chau (UPenn)

28 July 2016 - Pleasant-Looking Pod Lover

(Caryocolum blandella)
Another uncommon moth found! 

The Caryocolum blandella, despite its distinct appearance, took a long time to identify because it did not appear in the sources I normally consult. A black ‘seatbelt’ wraps around its basal part; it dilates towards the tornus and is interrupted in the middle by the white ground color. The distal edge of the ‘belt’ merges with two black dots. Another set of dots that comes in at about two-thirds swim in a bronze tint. A white ‘V’ appears just below. 

It is named after the plant family Caryophyllaceae, which includes its foodplant. Karuon means a nut or a pod, and colo, to inhabit. Blandus means pleasant-looking. It is closely related to C. blandulella, which is only active in the sand dunes in Kent and Hampshire.

Red Campion
One of the food plants is the Red Campion.  Ever present, the flowers are now nearly all finished and the pods are crammed with seeds.  A beneficial plant for both the quarry and the moths that live there.

Holly Tortrix (Rhopobota naevana)

The Holly Tortrix (Rhopobota naevana), by contrast, has a rather muddy appearance that blends in with the rest of the tortrices. What got my hopes up for a new species for Shandy Hall was the shape of the tip, which looked like someone had given it a good pinch so that air could puff up the rest of the body. But I could not make much out apart from that. There seems to be a blotch at one-half that joins with the costa and the body:head ratio looks to be atypical. 

‘Rhōps’ is Greek for a shrub and ‘boskō, bot-‘ means to eat – named after the larvae’s feeding habit. 'Naevus', a mole on the skin, refers to the disc of dark scales on the hind-wing of the male.

Post: Tung Chau

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)